Transmission of Traditional Food Knowledge

Experiences and perspectives of young adults


  • Sai Pavani Divarkarla Australian National University
  • Rosalie Aroni
  • Stewart Sutherland Wiradjuri



Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander


Nutritional interventions have been included in government policy to improve the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, whose social and emotional wellbeing (SEWB) is closely linked to culture. Given the connection of traditional food and food practices to culture, Country and community, promoting traditional food and food practices through community-led interventions may be a solution to improving health and nutrition interventions. However, a greater understanding of traditional knowledge transmission and acquisition is required. Currently there is a limited body of research on transmission of traditional food knowledge regarding young adults. The aim of this study was to gather the perspectives, attitudes and concerns of young adults regarding traditional food and food knowledge. This was achieved through in-depth, semi-structured interviews with young adults aged 25 to 35 living on Yuin land.  Results showed that traditional food knowledge was important for identity and SEWB by facilitating connection to family, community, culture and Country. Young adults had a strong desire to gain more traditional food knowledge and to transmit this knowledge to subsequent generations. However, this was limited by disconnection from knowledge-bearers and difficulties balancing knowledge acquisition with work and home responsibilities in their mainly Western cultural context.  Hence, interventions promoting traditional food knowledge amongst young adults have the potential to improve SEWB. However, as a pilot study, saturation was not reached, and larger-scale studies are required to support the results and conclusions.


Download data is not yet available.

Author Biographies

Sai Pavani Divarkarla, Australian National University

Sai Pavani Divakarla is a 2nd year Medical student at the Australian National University (ANU). Her interest in cultural determinants of health and culture-based and culture-specific healthcare delivery led her to join the Indigenous health stream in her degree. Additionally, her special interest in diet and nutrition prompted her involvement in this study. She has a strong research background owing to her undergraduate degree (Bachelor of Philosophy – Honours at ANU) <>

Rosalie Aroni

Dr. Rosalie Aroni is a social scientist whose research has focussed on health service delivery in relation to chronic disease (asthma, type 2 diabetes mellitus and cardiovascular disease) with a particular focus on culture and health. She is also an expert in qualitative and mixed methods research.

Stewart Sutherland, Wiradjuri

Stewart Sutherland is a Wiradjuri man. For over a decade he has worked in Indigenous health, in the arenas of trauma, mental health, cultural health, nutrition and raditional food sovereignty. His leadership in working with Indigenous communities and previous doctoral and subsequent research provided the team with strong knowledge at the coalface. He is currently working at the ANU School of Medicine as the lecturer of indigenous Health, where he is building on work of those before him, to ensure that Indigenous health and people are at the core.


Aksan, N. et al. (2009) ‘Symbolic interaction theory’, Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences, 1(1), pp. 902–904. doi:

Antonio, M. C. K., Chung-Do, J. J. and Braun, K. L. (2015) ‘Systematic Review of Interventions Focusing on Indigenous Pre-Adolescent and Adolescent Healthy Lifestyle Changes’, AlterNative: An International Journal of Indigenous Peoples. SAGE Publications, 11(2), pp. 147–163. doi: 10.1177/117718011501100205.

Australian Bureau of Statistics (2013) Australian Social Trends: Young adults then and now, Commonwealth of Australia.

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2018) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adolescent and youth health and wellbeing 2018. Canberra.

Battiste, M. (2016) ‘Research ethics for Protecting Indigenous Knowledge and Heritage: Institutional and Researcher resposibilites’, in Denzin, N. and Giardina, M. (eds) Ethical Futures in Qualitative Research: Decolonizing the Politics of Knowledge: International Congress of Qualitative Inquiry Series. New York: Routledge.

Berkes, F. (1993) ‘Traditional Ecological Knowledge in Perspective’, in Inglis, J. T. (ed.) Traditional ecological knowledge concepts and cases. Ottawa: International Program on Traditional Ecological Knowledge International Development Research Centre.

Bessareb, D. and Ng’andu, B. (2010) ‘Yarning about yarning as a legitimate method in Indigenous research’, International Journal of Critical Indigenous Studies, 3(1), pp. 37–50.

Blanchet, C. et al. (2000) ‘Contribution of Selected Traditional and Market Foods to the Diet of Nunavik Inuit Women.’, Canadian journal of dietetic practice and research : a publication of Dietitians of Canada = Revue canadienne de la pratique et de la recherche en dietetique : une publication des Dietetistes du Canada. Canada, 61(2), pp. 50–59.

Bourke, S. et al. (2018) ‘Evidence Review of Indigenous Culture for Health and Wellbeing’, The International Journal of Health, Wellness, and Society, 8(4), pp. 11–27. doi: 10.18848/2156-8960/CGP/v08i04/11-27.

Brockman, A., Masuzumi, B. and Augustine, S. (1997) When All Peoples Have the Same Story, Humans will Cease to Exist. Protecting and Conserving Traditional Knowledge: A Report to the Biodiversity Convention Office.

Castleden, H. and Garvin, T. (2008) ‘Modifying Photovoice for community-based participatory Indigenous research.’, Social science & medicine (1982). England, 66(6), pp. 1393–1405. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2007.11.030.

Closing the Gap Clearinghouse (2012) Healthy Lifestyle Programs for Physical Activity and Nutrition, Resource Sheet no.9. Canberra. Available at: (Accessed: 16 July 2019).

Commonwealth of Australia (2017) National Strategic Framework for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples’ Mental Health and Social and Emotional Wellbeing. Canberra. Available at: (Accessed: 15 July 2019).

Convention of Biological Diversity (no date) Traditional Knowledge and the Convention on Biological Diversity. Available at: (Accessed: 22 July 2019).

Corbin, J. and Strauss, A. (2008) Basics of qualitative research: Techniques and Procedures for Developing Grounded Theory. 3rd edn. London: SAGE Publications.

Cuéllar, I. et al. (1997) ‘Ethnic identity and acculturation in a young adult Mexican-origin population’, Journal of Community Psychology. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, 25(6), pp. 535–549. doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1520-6629(199711)25:6<535::AID-JCOP4>3.0.CO;2-O.

Davis, A. and Ruddle, K. (2010) ‘Constructing confidence: rational skepticism and systematic enquiry in local ecological knowledge research.’, Ecological applications : a publication of the Ecological Society of America. United States, 20(3), pp. 880–894.

Department of Health and Ageing (2013) National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan 2013-2023. Canberra. Available at: (Accessed: 16 July 2019).
Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (2019) Closing the Gap: Report 2019. Canberra.

Dockery, A. M. (2010) ‘Culture and wellbeing: The case of indigenous Australians.’, Social Indicators Research. Dockery, Alfred Michael: Curtin University of Technology, Perth, WAU, Australia, Springer, 99(2), pp. 315–332. doi: 10.1007/s11205-010-9582-y.

Douglas, J. (2015) Kin and knowledge: the meaning and acquisition of Indigenous ecological knowledge in the lives of young Aboriginal people in Central Australia. Charles Darwin University.

Dudgeon, P. et al. (2014) ‘Aboriginal Social, Cultural and Historical Contexts’, in Dudgeon, P., Milroy, H., and Walker, R. (eds) Working Together: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Mental Health and Wellbeing Principles and Practice. 2nd edn. Canberra, pp. 3–24.

Egeland, G. et al. (2013) ‘The value of Inuit elders’ storytelling to health promotion during times of rapid climate change and uncertain food security’, in Kuhnlein, H. et al. (eds) Indigenous Peoples’ food systems & well-being: interventions & policies for healthy communities. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Egeland, G. M. and Harrison, G. G. (2013) ‘Health disparities: promoting Indigenous Peoples’ health through traditional food systems and self-determination’, in Kuhnlein, H. et al. (eds) Indigenous Peoples’ food systems & well-being: interventions & policies for healthy communities. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Fleming, J. and Ledogar, R. J. (2008) ‘Resilience and Indigenous Spirituality: A Literature Review’, Pimatisiwin, 6(2), pp. 47–64. Available at:

Foley, W. (2005) ‘Tradition and change in urban indigenous food practices’, Postcolonial Studies. Routledge, 8(1), pp. 25–44. doi: 10.1080/13688790500134356.

Gee, G. et al. (2014) ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social and Emotional Wellbeing’, in Dudgeon, P., Milroy, H., and Walker, R. (eds) Working Together: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Mental Health and Wellbeing Principles and Practice. 2nd edn. Commonwealth of Australia, pp. 25–38.

Goodall, H. (2001) ‘Renewing country: Aboriginal people and their lands in rangeland environments’, The Rangeland Journal, 23(1), pp. 99–115. Available at:

Goode, J. (1989) ‘Cultural patterning and group-shared rules in the study of food intake’, in Pelto, G., Pelto, P., and Messer, E. (eds) Research methods in nutritional anthropology. Tokyo: United Nations University Press.

Government of NSW (2012) Child Protection (Working with Children) Act 2012. Australia.

Gwynn, J. et al. (2019) ‘Effect of nutrition interventions on diet-related and health outcomes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians: a systematic review’, BMJ open. BMJ Publishing Group, 9(4), pp. e025291–e025291. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2018-025291.

Haines, J. et al. (2017) ‘Understanding Elders’ knowledge creation to strengthen indigenous ethical knowledge sharing’, Information Research, 22(4).

Haslam, A. et al. (2009) ‘Social Identity, Health and Well‐Being: An Emerging Agenda for Applied Psychology’, Applied Psychology. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd (10.1111), 58(1), pp. 1–23. doi: 10.1111/j.1464-0597.2008.00379.x.

Houkamau, C. A. and Sibley, C. G. (2011) ‘Māori Cultural Efficacy and Subjective Wellbeing: A Psychological Model and Research Agenda’, Social Indicators Research. Springer, 103(3), pp. 379–398. Available at:

Jackomos, A. (2015) ‘International human rights day oration: Linking our past with our future: How cultural rights can help shape identity and build resilience in Koori kids’, Indigenous Law Bulletin, 8.

Kimberley Land Council Research Ethics and Access Committee and Kimberley Land Council Aboriginal Corporation (no date) Intellectual Property and Traditional Knowledge Policy.

Kuhnlein, H. and Burlingame, Barabara (2013) ‘Why do Indigenous Peoples’ food and nutrition interventions for health promotion and policy need special consideration’, in Kuhnlein, H. et al. (eds) Indigenous Peoples’ food systems & well-being: interventions & policies for healthy communities. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Kuhnlein, H. V and Receveur, O. (1996) ‘Dietary Change and Traditional Food Systems of Indigenous Peoples’, Annual Review of Nutrition. Annual Reviews, 16(1), pp. 417–442. doi: 10.1146/

Kwik, J. C. (2008) Traditional Food Knowledge: Renewing Culture and Restoring Health. University of Waterloo.

Larkins, S. (2010) ‘Strengthening culture, strengthening identity: Keys to healing for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people and securing their social and emotional wellbeing’, Family Relationships Quarterly, pp. 10–13.

Nakata, M. (2002) ‘Indigenous Knowledge and the Cultural Interface: underlying issues at the intersection of knowledge and information systems’, IFLA Journal. SAGE Publications Ltd, 28(5–6), pp. 281–291. doi: 10.1177/034003520202800513.

National Health and Medical Research Council (2000) Nutrition in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples: an information paper. Canberra.

National Health and Medical Research Council (2013) Australian Dietary Guidelines. Canberra.

O’Dea, K. et al. (1991) ‘Traditional Diet and Food Preferences of Australian Aboriginal Hunter-Gatherers [and Discussion]’, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 334(1270), pp. 233–241. doi: 10.1098/rstb.1991.0112.

Ohmagari, K. and Berkes, F. (1997) ‘Transmission of Indigenous Knowledge and Bush Skills among the Western James Bay Cree Women of Subarctic Canada’, Human Ecology. Springer, 25(2), pp. 197–222. Available at:

Schembri, L. et al. (2016) ‘The effect of nutrition education on nutrition-related health outcomes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people: a systematic review’, Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd (10.1111), 40(S1), pp. S42–S47. doi: 10.1111/1753-6405.12392.

Schwartz, S. J. and Unger, J. B. (2010) ‘Biculturalism and Context: What Is Biculturalism, and When Is It Adaptive?: Commentary on Mistry and Wu’, Human development. S. Karger AG, 53(1), pp. 26–32. doi: 10.1159/000268137.

Shepherd, S. M. et al. (2017) ‘The impact of indigenous cultural identity and cultural engagement on violent offending’, BMC public health. BioMed Central, 18(1), p. 50. doi: 10.1186/s12889-017-4603-2.

Shi, X. and Lu, X. (2007) ‘Bilingual and Bicultural Development of Chinese American Adolescents and Young Adults: A Comparative Study’, Howard Journal of Communications. Routledge, 18(4), pp. 313–333. doi: 10.1080/10646170701653677.

Stets, J. E. and Burke, P. J. (2000) ‘Identity Theory and Social Identity Theory’, Social Psychology Quarterly. [Sage Publications, Inc., American Sociological Association], 63(3), pp. 224–237. doi: 10.2307/2695870.

Stevenson, M. G. (1998) ‘Traditional knowledge in environmental management? From commodity to process’, Working Pa, p. 18.

Swan, P. and Rapheal, B. (1995) Ways Forward: National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Mental Health Policy National Consultancy Report. Canberra.

Thompson, S. J. and Gifford, S. M. (2000) ‘Trying to keep a balance: the meaning of health and diabetes in an urban aboriginal community.’, Social science & medicine (1982). England, 51(10), pp. 1457–1472.

Turner, N. et al. (2008) ‘From Invisibility to Transparency: Identifying the Implications’, Ecology and Society, 13. Available at:

Vallesi, S. et al. (2018) ‘“In Their Own Voice”-Incorporating Underlying Social Determinants into Aboriginal Health Promotion Programs.’, International journal of environmental research and public health. Switzerland, 15(7). doi: 10.3390/ijerph15071514.

Whap, G. (2001) ‘A Torres Strait Islander Perspective on the Concept of Indigenous Knowledge’, The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education. 2015/07/22. Cambridge University Press, 29(2), pp. 22–29. doi: DOI: 10.1017/S1326011100001368.

Wyn, J. and Harris, A. (2004) ‘Youth Research in Australia and New Zealand’, Young, 12(3).

Yamaguchi, A. et al. (2016) ‘Relationship between bicultural identity and psychological well-being among American and Japanese older adults’, Health psychology open. SAGE Publications, 3(1), pp. 2055102916650093–2055102916650093. doi: 10.1177/2055102916650093.




How to Cite

Divarkarla, S. P., Aroni, R., & Sutherland, S. (2020). Transmission of Traditional Food Knowledge: Experiences and perspectives of young adults. Mahika Kai Journal, 1(1), 96–129.