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OUR HOMETOWN: Food brings connection to self, community, environment

Registered dietitian, Tatjana Bates, passionate about inspiring communities to enjoy food, community
Tatjana Bates is a registered dietitian with Interior Health, based out of Three Corners Health Services Society. She is passionate about food security and inspiring others to eat locally whenever they can, and eat fresh, whole foods. (Photo submitted)

For Tatjana Bates, she looks at food from a scientific perspective and an enjoyment one.

The registered dietitian, born in Yugoslavia and settling in Canada with her family when she was one, grew up in Nova Scotia. Since she was little, she has been fascinated with the human body and what our bodies need to care for themselves. Coming from a big family, her mother always made meals from scratch.

She completed her dietetics degree at Guelph University in Ontario and her master’s degree in human ecology in Halifax, graduating in 2000. With a love for the mountains and outdoors, Bates took a job in Prince Rupert before arriving in Williams Lake in 2002.

“I planned on coming [to Williams Lake] for one year, and 22 years later, I’m still here.”

In Bates’ early years, she worked several contracts, including as a clinical dietitian and food service manager at the Cariboo Lodge. She worked with the Pregnancy Outreach Program, Child Development Centre, Shop Smart Tours at Save On Foods and did private consulting.

Bates was the chair of the Williams Lake Food Policy Council in 2006 and founder of Cariboo Growers, which, from 2010 to 2017, was a food security initiative. She’s been a part of the annual Nutrition Fun Run/Walk since 2004 and the yearly Seedy Saturday since 2006. She oversees the Memory Community Garden and has been doing so since 2012.

Eventually, she began working as a public health dietitian with Interior Health and began leading food security initiatives in the city, one of the most exciting parts of her career, she said, especially as 20 years later, she sees the fruits of those seeds.

Bates said she especially noticed a shift in the community toward food security after the 2017 wildfires and the pandemic. Suddenly, people were witnessing empty grocery store shelves and realizing the importance of growing your own food.

For Bates, she looks at the food system, its availability and accessibility. She encourages people to shop locally whenever they can, grow their food and cook together.

“The real heart of my career is that it’s about the food and our connection to our food and our connection to our environment. That is the heart of everything.”

For families, this means role modelling. She described kids as “eaters in training” and said family mentorship is crucial. Regular meals and snacks should come from fresh, whole foods. To help remove the power struggle with kids, she also recommended children and teens get in on the meal planning. Let children pick a night when they choose what to eat and get them involved with the cooking.

While this may be easier said than done, Bates said, for herself, this means creating a meal plan (even if only a skeleton version) to help reduce stress during the week. Generally, Bates will spend her Sunday prepping and cooking her meals for the week, making larger quantities that she can freeze. She also gets creative with leftovers.

If she’s in a real lurch, though, she relies on a “cheater chicken,” she said, the precooked rotisserie chickens you can find at the grocery store. She’ll mix that with bagged salad and perhaps add a baked or microwaved potato or leftover rice. The cheater chicken also allows her to make chicken sandwiches.

In the summertime, she preps for the winter — drying and freezing herbs, stocking up on vegetables she can store during the winter, chopping up fresh farmers’ market vegetables and freezing them.

Today, she’s a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator with the Primary Care Network of Interior Health, based out of Three Corners Health Services Society. She works with northern Secwépemc communities, a job she describes as exciting and fun.

When not working or cooking, Bates spends her free time gardening and hiking, things she does to nurture herself. After all, she said, healthy eating and cooking aren’t hard work when you understand it’s a form of self-care and nurturing, she said — something we all deserve.

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Kim Kimberlin, Local Journalism Initiative

About the Author: Kim Kimberlin, Local Journalism Initiative

I joined Black Press Media in 2022, and have a passion for covering topics on women’s rights, 2SLGBTQIA+ and racial issues, mental health and the arts.
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