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Who’s Afraid of Ecohealth?

Posted: August 11, 2017

by Sarah Giacomantonio 

Parkes (2011)*  loosely defines ecohealth as “Diverse efforts representing ongoing quests to express the fundamental interrelationships of health and ecology in ways that reflect the reciprocity among humans, all species and the non-living components of the ecosystem on which we depend.”

When trying to think of the best way to explain ecohealth to someone who has never been introduced to this concept, I often think of the way Shrek describes what ogres are like to Donkey in the Disney movie, Shrek.

Shrek: Ogres are like onions.

Donkey: They stink?

Shrek: Yes. No.

Donkey: Oh, they make you cry.

Shrek: No.

Donkey: Oh, you leave em’ out in the sun, they go sproutin’ little white hairs.

Shrek: No. Layers. Onions have layers. Ogres have layers. Onions have layers. You get it? We both have layers.

Donkey: Oh, you both have layers. Oh you know, you know, not everybody likes onions… cake, everyone likes cake!

To me, this is a perfect representation of what ecohealth is, a layered system that is often not applied to research due to its complex nature and thus experiences lower rates of practice in comparison to well defined disciplines. Although it’s true, ecohealth, due to its complexity, can be intimidating to many, including myself.

When Donkey says, “You know, not everyone likes onions… cake, everyone likes cake!” for me, perfectly sums up how people innately prefer the l known over the unknown, being comfortable over uncomfortable, and can only use general descriptions of why this is.

In my experience, humans find the easiest way to avoid actually explaining how something makes them feel by using general terminology such as, like, dislike, happy, sad, mad, hate, or my personal favorite, whatever.  There is no detail to grasp, no means to ask more questions to find out what someone really thinks or worse, *gasp for sarcastic effect* actually feels about something.

To me, this is exactly why people shy away from ecohealth. As the Disney plot line shows, and the final product of hundreds of recipes that call for onions as a key ingredient illustrates, ogres have feelings despite their hostile exterior and onions taste a lot better than they smell.

Most importantly here, ecohealth is more than just an intimidating amalgamation of various (complementary) disciplines.  It is a collaborative platform allowing for effective communication across disciplines and should be seen as a safe space for all disciplines to work as allies, not against each other as enemies.

When you eliminate the aspect of discomfort and unknowing, that potent sting of onions turns a bit sweeter. Although, if you ask me, Shrek could definitely work on his approachability.

*Parkes, M. W. 2011. Diversity, emergence, resilience: guides for a new generation of ecohealth  research and practice.

EcoHealth Ontario (EHO) is a collaborative of professionals in the fields of public health, medicine, education, planning and the environment. We are working together to increase our understanding of the relationships between environment and health with the aim of finding ways to increase the quality and diversity of the urban and rural spaces in which we live.

Sarah is Master of Science in environmental science candidate at the University of Guelph, with a love of asking and answering aggressively, emotionally, unfiltered questions.