bite my words

Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Don’t let them eat KD; only the best for the poor

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I had a mixed reaction reading this article about a food bank rejecting “unhealthy” food items last week. Of course, I think that they should reject opened packages and half-eaten items. It’s extremely insulting that anyone would “donate” things like a package of opened pepperoni sticks to the food bank. A donation box is not synonymous with a garbage can. However, removing items such as Kraft dinner or candy is not right.

 

It’s understandable that the food bank staffer(s) doing this think that people relying on food banks deserve to have healthy food. I’m sure that this culling of donations is done with the best of intentions. However, it’s not the place of the food bank staff to decide what food items are suitable for patrons. They should certainly remove any potentially hazardous expired, damaged, or opened items. They should not remove items based on perceived nutritional shortcomings.

 

Everyone, including those in need, are deserving of a treat now and then. The food bank patrons can decide whether or not they wish to take a package of Swedish Berries. That’s not a decision to be made by anyone else. Removing these items in advance (and what’s being done with them? Are they just being pitched?) reeks of elitism. Also, considering that most donation boxes are only able to accept non-perishable food items, this leaves limited donation options. People who are donating may not be wealthy either, but they may be able to afford an extra box of Kraft Dinner to donate when it goes on special.

 

Another problem with the proclamation that food bank patrons deserve healthy food is that many people to not have the facilities or abilities to cook even basic meals at home. Do you know what to do with a turnip? A can of chickpeas? (Okay, I know that you’re not the masses). Many people don’t. Donating many of these items to food banks simply leads to more waste. I don’t want to discourage you from donating these things. Unfortunately, the reality is that these are often the last items to go.

 

If you really want to make a donation that will help, donate money or time to your local food bank or community kitchen.


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The true cost of healthy eating

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I’ve ranted about the problem with the over-simplification of food insecurity before but I’d like to expand on that rant. Someone recently shared a link to a recipe for Spicy Tuna Guacamole Bowls on Budget Bites. I thought that they looked yummy so I bookmarked the recipe. The recipe does look great, and I do plan to make it, but I have an issue with the costing.

 

The cost for each ingredient is based on the quantity used in the recipe. Obviously, most ingredients cannot be purchased in such exacting amounts. Thus, the cost presented for the recipe is not an accurate reflection of what the meal actually costs to make. Yes, you may already have some of the ingredients in your pantry, but let’s assume that you don’t.

 

I priced out the ingredients needed for the recipe at my local grocery store. It may not be the least expensive place to shop but we also need to bear in mind that if you are food insecure you may not have a car, or the time, to afford the luxury of shopping around. In cases where there was more than one option available I selected the least expensive item. Here is my costing:

 

Brown rice: $3.99

Cucumber: $.99 (this is not the lovely English cuke, but the kind with the skin you need to peel and the tough seeds because the English cuke was $2.99!)

Frozen shelled edamame: $3.69

Carrots: $2.89 (there were no loose carrots so I had to buy a whole bag even though the recipe only called for one)

2 cans of chunk light tuna: $3.58

Container of guacamole: $4.69 (In this case, an avocado would have been cheaper at $.99, on special, so we’ll go with that option.)

Cilantro: $2.49

Sriracha: $4.99

GRAND TOTAL: $23.61, or $5.90 per serving.

 

That’s not a bad price for a meal but it’s a far cry from the “$7.45 recipe / $1.86 serving” stated on the website.

 

Out of curiousity, I decided to go back an price out the Bittman infographic that prompted the original rant.

 

Romaine lettuce: $3.99

Potatoes: $1.89 (these were available singly so I weighed four of them)

Lemon: $.79

Whole wheat bread: $2.69 (I cringed to choose the cheap “whole wheat” not “whole grain wheat” variety. I also question the inclusion of this in the meal. Potatoes should suffice as a starch.)

Chicken: $14.30 (ouch!)

Milk: $2.28 (for one litre)

Olive Oil: $5.99 (This was the smallest, most affordable option. Fortunately, it was available in extra virgin.)

Salt: $1.99

Pepper: $5.19

GRAND TOTAL: $39.11, or $9.78 per serving.

 

Bittman had this meal priced at $13.78 total.

 

While many people will have some staples in their pantries, others will not, and these items will need to be replaced at some point. It’s also important to note that there is the hidden cost of labour incurred when preparing meals at home. The time spent grocery shopping and cooking and washing dishes is all time for which you are not being paid. It is time that would be saved by picking up a fast food meal.

 

This is not intended to discourage you from eating healthy and cooking meals at home. For those of us who are not food insecure, cooking for yourself (and your family) is probably the single most important thing that you can do for your health. It can also be a great way to bond with family members or housemates and involving children in food prep encourages them to enjoy new foods. With planning and budgeting, healthy home cooked meals are attainable by most of us. However, for those of us who are struggling to make ends meet, and for whom time and calories may outweigh cooking and nutrition, these calculations of meal costs are erroneous.


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Diet of privilege

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A few weeks ago I saw someone comment on an Instagram photo of rhubarb. They said they didn’t know why anyone would ever buy rhubarb anymore because it grows like a weed in their garden. It’s true, rhubarb is very easy to grow (as my parents can surely attest to) but not everyone has a garden. That comment really got under my skin. It was innocent enough but it came from a place of privilege. I’m fortunate that I can afford to buy rhubarb at the local farmer’s market and that I have parents who are always happy to share their crop with me. Not everyone is so lucky and I think that most of us could do with a reminder of that before we pass judgement or dole out advice.

I recall seeing a recipe for healthy sugar-free cookies posted by a dietitian on twitter a while ago. It was full of expensive ingredients like almond flour and chia seeds. Putting aside the fact that the recipe actually sounded rather revolting, how many people can afford to purchase all of these ingredients to make a batch of “cookies”? Sure, share that recipe with your friends, family, and well-off clients but bear in mind that many people can’t afford such things. By telling people that these types of recipes are the way to go if you want to eat healthy then you’re quite likely to discourage people from making any steps to improving their diets. Sugar-free gluten-free chia seed cookies can be a part of a healthy diet, but they are not essential to a healthy diet.


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Leo Glavine: Meet the social determinants of health

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I had another post scheduled for today but then I read this article and got all fired-up. Just to cement the fact that I’m never going to be able to get a job working in public health in this province – you know, a master’s degree is far more important than actual experience in this province – I have to say: I am appalled that our provincial minister of Health and Wellness would write such an ignorant column.

To boil it down, the minister, Leo Glavine, states that to earn healthcare Nova Scotians must first prove that they’re taking care of their own health. This seems to particularly apply to those with lower-income levels as they are the ones who would be applying for financial assistance. This is so backwards!

I find it highly disturbing that Glavine appears to be unaware that income is the number one determinant of health. A whole other raft of issues go hand-in-hand with insufficient income; lack of time (how does one find the time to exercise, grocery shop, cook healthy meals, etc. when one is working a couple of part-time minimum wage jobs in an effort to pay the bills?), lack of access to programs and services (part-time work means no benefits which means no access to dietitians – let’s not get into the fact that we are woefully under covered by the majority of health care plans anyway, fitness facilities and equipment – some might argue that no equipment is necessary, everyone can walk, walking is great but not sufficient for optimal health and besides, many people who are living in poverty may live in dangerous areas and places without sidewalks and even in the city, the state of sidewalk clearing has been abysmal this winter, other healthcare providers – with the current lack of family doctors many of us don’t have a primary healthcare practitioner regardless of income or benefits). You get the point.

Aside from the fact that the social determinants of health undermine what Glavine is saying, isn’t it the government’s job to improve population health? This is done by implementing programs and policies which are designed to improve the health of all Nova Scotians. To tell us that we should be making more of an effort to improve our own health is tantamount to victim blaming. Yes, there will always be people who are not going to exercise or eat enough vegetables. Is that reason to stop encouraging everyone to lead healthier lives. The burden of proof should not be placed on the individual. We should not be being asked to “improve our attitudes” by the minister. Our government should instead be looking inward and asking themselves why we, as a population are unhealthy, and what they can do to change that.


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Chocolate for charity

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I was disappointed to see the above tweet from Food Banks Canada. Following the link I found a contest on Oh Henry’s Facebook page (which tried to access all of my contacts and my timeline… no thank you!). The contest is to win “an NHL experience, plus weekly prizes”. For every entry received, Oh Henry will donate 50 cents to the food bank.

I’m sure many of you are thinking “that’s great! More money for food banks is fantastic!” There’s a part of me that thinks that as well. But there’s another part of me that is turned-off by the use of a charitable donation to garner positive publicity. It also doesn’t sit well with me that it’s a chocolate bar manufacturer donating to the food bank. Yes, they’re donating money, not chocolate bars, but it’s a bit of a slippery slope. It’s akin to the candy stores donating money to the childrens’ hospitals or the pop company donating money to fund diabetes research; a step away from the dietetic organization accepting funding from the food industry.

Do you really think that Oh Henry’s goal is to eradicate hunger? Call me a cynic, but I’m thinking that however much they end up donating to the food bank is going to be considerably less than any marketing campaign would cost them, plus it provides them with the opportunity to seem like a charitable organization. Let’s not forget that they are candy bar manufacturers. They are not Doctors Without Borders. They are not providing us with a nutritious (albeit an arguably tasty source of calories) food. They are putting their brand at the forefront of peoples’ minds. They are associating themselves with alleviating food insecurity. They are allowing people to feel like they are doing a good deed by entering a hockey contest.

I propose that instead of (or at least in addition to) entering Oh Henry’s contest that everyone donate at least 50 cents directly to the food bank or, next time you’re grocery shopping, pick-up an additional non-perishable item and donate it to the food bank.