Practice Blog

To share practice related stories, create connections and engage readers in the amazing diversity of dietitian experiences.

Pass the fermented walrus: Four insights into practicing dietetics on Baffin Island

A dietitian explores the challenges of adapting to a new culture when she moves to Iqaluit.

AP-headshot.JPGApril Peters is the Baffin regional clinical outpatient dietitian, working out of Iqaluit. She covers all of Baffin Island, which includes everything from hamlets, with as few as 130 people living in them, to Iqaluit, which has a population of about 8500. She previously worked as a community dietitian in Haida Gwaii and with CBORD nutrition software in Prince George. She is quite happy to be contacted at to answer questions or share resources.


If you are laughing about the fermented walrus, you should know – it’s a real thing. I’ll get into that later.

I knew I wanted to go north years ago. I was never an adventurous person growing up, but then it suddenly occurred to me that I didn’t actually have to stay in the town I grew up in. I haven’t stopped moving ever since. I’m always thinking, “Where else could I go that would provide that extra career challenge mixed with epic adventure?”

I started small, with a move from Vancouver to Prince George for my internship. I ended up working there for a while after internship, but when a short term position sprang up in Haida Gwaii, I pounced. I had always wanted to go there, and I thought working in a remote setting would be a good test of my skills/sanity.


I loved everything about Haida Gwaii: from grilling pineapple at the community events (it’s not just about the wieners, guys!), and helping people learn to cook in the community kitchen, to finding random fish skeletons in the forest. I truly enjoyed all of it.

I loved how it forced me to become more creative. When I was craving butter chicken but there was no chicken in the store for over a week, I learned to make paneer. If I magically ended up with more crabs than I could possibly eat (I know, my life is so tough), I would make crab cakes, crab ravioli, and crab salad sandwiches!  

Learning about the traditional foods served in Haida Gwaii was a highlight: ka’aw, herring roe on kelp, was one of my favourites. It was an interesting change to live in a community of 700 where sunny days are spent fishing and gathering food. We went hiking every weekend, and although we usually brought strips of dried fish, we could grab handfuls of huckleberries and bog cranberries on the way.

After living in Vancouver, often isolated from food production, island life was an amazing change. Most people on Haida Gwaii know where at least part of each meal comes from.


Sadly, I knew this position on the island was only for five months. But, around when it was coming to an end, a position in Nunavut was posted. Before I was even contacted for an interview, I prepared myself. I learned more about the northern food culture and read up on the prevalent health issues in the area.

I found out quite a bit – it becomes clear that there is a difference in diets when the local food guide includes narwhal. However, there are many things you just can’t figure out until you get up north and experience it firsthand.

Four insights into practicing dietetics on Baffin Island:
  1. It is not a cooking culture
It makes sense – there aren’t any trees for firewood. Country food (which is any of the traditional foods, including caribou, sea mammals, fish, seaweed, and berries) is traditionally eaten frozen and chopped. Understanding that many people did not grow up knowing how to cook is really important to consider when trying to understand people’s food choices.
It is easy to pass judgment when someone spends every penny they have on TV dinners and then goes hungry for days. But if someone doesn’t know how to cook from raw ingredients, they aren’t going to spend their limited funds on foods they can’t even prepare.
  1. There is a Nunavut Food Guide (check it out!)
“Country food is best” is the basic idea – for many years, people were told not to eat it because it’s high in fat. That is true, but a lot of it is healthy fat and traditionally the Inuit got all of their nutrition from country foods. Muktak is a great source of vitamin D, which many Inuit people do not get enough of. Fermented walrus is a great traditional food but it can come with trichinosis, so I haven’t tried that one yet. Curried seal? Yes please! Muktak? Chewy goodness! Arctic char? All over it.
These country foods can have an interesting effect on blood lipids. For example, it is common to see a total cholesterol around seven, with an accompanying HDL over three. Grab your calculator – that ratio is glorious. On several occasions, I have seen a patient with a high LDL, on no medications, but then I look down to see a sky-high HDL.
  1. The food up here is outrageously expensive
I paid $11 for three peppers the other day. The crazy thing is that this is a massive improvement compared to a couple of years ago, especially in terms of quality. As you might imagine, having grocery bills approximately 75% higher than anywhere else (if not more, depending on what you buy) is a significant barrier to healthy eating. In addition, high rates of unemployment and total devastation of traditional ways of life (there is currently a ban on hunting caribou, and transportation to hunting areas is an issue for many) can add to the problem.
The Nutrition North Canada program, which replaced the Food Mail program, has aimed to improve access to perishable, nutritious foods. I’m not familiar enough with the old Food Mail program to really say if we’re better or worse off now. Although, I think that the program could use some improvements as some foods that I feel should be subsidized (like mixed, frozen vegetables) are not. But, I will say, I was happily surprised at the availability of different foods – despite shutting my eyes and passing over my wallet at the till.
  1. Rickets is a major problem…and TB…and congenital sucrose-isomaltase deficiency
There are many health issues prevalent here that I had not really come across before I moved north. I didn’t realize rickets was still around, but now it is a regular part of my practice. Diabetes is beginning to creep up, but my impression is that it isn’t as prevalent (yet) as anywhere I’ve worked in the south.

This is by no means a comprehensive list, I feel like I learn something that blows my mind almost daily. Finding the balance between a traditional lifestyle and modern convenience is a work in progress! Having said that, I love my work here. It has enriched my career and my life. If you have ever considered working in a remote or new/intimidating area – go for it! You will not regret it.

Editor’s note: April’s sense of adventure is inspiring! Not many people have the courage to work in these remote areas, far away from their friends and family. Although, those that have done so seem to have nothing but great things to say about the experience.

Have you had an experience similar to this? Do you have more insights to share?

Please share your thoughts, comments and questions below. April and I would love to hear from you!

  1. Hi April,

    It is great to hear what you have been up to since graduating from the UBC program. You have shared some fantastic lessons here for dietitians (from newly graduated to "seasoned") on the importance of keeping an open mind to new experiences, and acknowledging and respecting the practice context in client work. Great job!
  2. It's so great to read your perspective of life in Iqaluit. I moved to Yellowknife 5 years ago as a new grad. While not as remote of course, it has been an amazing learning experience in so many ways!
  3. I haven't worked in the north myself but have had the honour to work with several colleagues who have, and to meet people from communities all over the north. I've learned so much from all of these people, and this blog post adds to it. What an articulate, witty and very insightful piece! Thanks so much for sharing, April!
  4. Great insight April. My daughter is a social worker in NT based in Yellowknife. She travels the ice roads out to the communities. I love visiting the arctic and I would love to do some outreach there, for folks with developmental disabilities...working on it!!
  5. Lacto-ovo isn't really a problem as a personal diet - I eat mostly pescetarian myself just out of preference and we save a LOT of money because meat is quite expensive. I also bring my own meals when visiting communities (1 week/month), which takes a lot of planning. However, I do try any and all country food as offered (including the fermented walrus just the other day! Bit chewy.) There is something to be said for honouring the culture, and country food is a huge part of the culture and a huge part of my job, so flexibility is key. I have definitely eaten a number of things outside my comfort zone (fish heads, anyone?)
  6. It is definitely an interesting post. I inspire the job you are doing April. I always wanted to work out of norm but still looking for such an opportunity. Being said that I always wonder how will be a life of a Lacto-ovo-vegetarian at such places?
  7. Inspiring blog April! I too hadn't thought about the change the northerners have experienced from eating their food frozen and raw to cooked. Thanks for all the links to resources.
  8. April,
    Thanks for your article. It's important for us on unusual paths to share what it's like. We need more adventurous RDs! I just returned "down south" from working as the Interim Health Director for a First Nations community on the BC-Yukon border. I has some similar experiences to you (and some very different).
    Keep up your fantastic work!
  9. This blog reminds me of my daughter's stay in Pangnirtung about 6 or 7 years ago.... we still have a print hanging in our living room. From my daughter, I learned about country foods and the challenges to access them - she talked about how it's more difficult when everyone lives in a settlement (it's easier for health and education services, but it means longer distances to hunt, fish and gather). I was really interested in reading about the lack of cooking - that makes explains why the preference is to eat meat/fish raw! And it's another good reason to talk about "food skills" instead of "cooking skills" or "how to cook"!!
  10. Thanks guys! There is certainly no shortage of new and interesting experiences in the true north, it's a heck of a ride. I was definitely inspired to do this by other people who have had similar adventures, so maybe this will inspire someone else to do something a little outside the norm ;-)
  11. April highlights EXACTLY why we need to suggest alternative paths for students and interns: life experience, challenging one's professional and personal capacities; and, understanding the many ways of living in our fabulous country.
    There are other paths to blaze outside of acute care clinical dietetics! Let's make that clearer to upcoming graduates!
    Side note: April- I miss you!
  12. April, I loved hearing about your experiences and more importantly your approach to new paradigms or differing values about food and notably cooking. Your openness to new experiences and learning is inspiring!

Leave a Reply

 Security code

Want to subscribe?

To subscribe to the blog with your DC account, please log in here


If you do not have an DC account, click Subscribe


Recent Posts


Tweet Tweet