Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Six by Sixteen: Education or marketing?

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Image by Rob on Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons Licence

Six by Sixteen is a “new” initiative by the Ontario Federation of Agriculture to get kids cooking. The idea is that all children should be able to cook at least six things by the time that they’re sixteen.

It was much lauded when it was announced last year. Then their website sat as a placeholder for some time. Last week it was finally populated. There are some videos, links to where to find local food, and a section on healthy eating (which just takes you to links on where to find local foods, what local foods are in season, and Canada’s Food Guide). Essentially the website is a repository of links to pre-existing sites and materials.

I’d like to be excited about this. I think that food skills are very much lacking in our society. I want to applaud any effort to increase the profile of food literacy. I hope that OFA is successful in doing that with this site. However, I think that this initiative could be so much more than it is.

As this is an initiative to promote food literacy I think that more than producers should be involved. There should be dietitians and chefs involved, at the very least. Healthy eating is so much more than knowing where to find local food and having a copy of Canada’s Food Guide. Food literacy is about so much more than being able to boil an egg.

I really hope that OFA will start working with other groups to expand the content and reach of this initiative because it could be really great. As it stands, it’s underwhelming and seems to be more of a marketing tool for its partners than as a truly educational resource.

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Guys, we had it all wrong. This man has solved food insecurity!

Image from Pixabay

Image from Pixabay

You would think that I’d have had my fill of ranting about food insecurity and food bank-type “challenges”. Apparently not.

I came across another article last week in which the author bragged about how easy it was for them to follow the SNAP challenge. You know, the one that Gwyneth Paltrow made waves with her purchase of 7 limes on her meagre budget.

The author of the current article took exception to a couple of the rules; i.e. not using food purchased prior to the start of the challenge and not accepting free food. He complained that because of this rule he wasted three eggs and half a pound of spinach. I understand the frustration with wasting food but surely those could have been given to someone, consumed before beginning the challenge, or the spinach could have been frozen for use after the challenge. As for not accepting free food, I assume that’s to make it a level playing field as participants could have friends buy them lunch or have access to free food at meetings and events that people living in poverty would not have the opportunity to take advantage of. Yes, there is free food available to people in poverty through meal programs and food banks but how wrong would it be for someone playing poor for a month to use these services, thereby literally taking food from the people who need it the most.

Okay, to the point. Our author brags about how easy it was to make inexpensive nutritious meals. While he does make a good point that fast food isn’t as cheap as many people believe, he also fails to note that for someone who has a small amount of time and money (and perhaps limited cooking facilities and cooking skills) bulk purchases of nutritious foods may not be possible and quick and easy calories from McDonald’s might be the solution.

What really got my blood boiling was this:

“It’s about mindset, not money

I believe food insecurity is due to a combination of issues, but after living a month on such a strict budget I don’t believe money is one of them…

SNAP provides more than enough for a month’s worth of food, and that food insecurity is more of an education issue than a money issue.”

Such willful ignorance. To have the gall to accuse people who are living in poverty that it’s their “mindset” turns my stomach. Such an unfortunate conclusion to reach at the end of a challenge which is intended to help a person better relate to others, not proselytize to them. While there are many factors that contribute to food insecurity, income is number one. There’s also: time, knowledge, skill, confidence, access to food, access to cooking tools and facilities, space to store food, having a stove or a refrigerator, having recipes… Certainly, education can be a factor in helping people who are experiencing food insecurity but if it were the true problem then we’d see a lot more people with all incomes suffering from food insecurity. You can teach people how to cook and that soup is a great nutritious meal to make all you want but if they can’t read recipes, don’t have a large pot, a decent knife, ability to get to a store with affordable produce then they’re not going to be making soup.


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Get a haircut and get an unpaid job

Image from Pink Elephant

Image from Pink Elephant

I had a post percolating when the Bank of Canada Governor made the remark that students should work for free in order to gain experience. No. No. No.

In order to become a registered dietitian I had to complete three, 16 week unpaid internship placements. Not only were they unpaid, I actually paid tuition to my university to complete them. We were not supposed to work during our placements as they were essentially full time jobs (plus homework and documentation for the internship program). However, I had to pay rent, and eat, and all of those other annoying necessities of life, so I worked at a part time job on the evenings and weekends. While I’m a little bit resentful about the process, it wasn’t intended to be regular work. As interns we were meant to be learning from other dietitians in the field. We were not supposed to be completing work that should be completed by a paid employee. In some cases, this was how it went. In other cases, unfortunately, it doesn’t. In one of my placements the person who should have been my supervisor had left so I essentially did that job as well as assisting in finding their replacement. This was atypical and not intentional. However, I know of other internship placements at which organizations “save-up” work that should be done by a dietitian for the months in which they’ll have a dietetic intern.

Yes, we all gain invaluable experience as interns. However, we do still have expenses and it’s unreasonable to expect people to work at an unpaid internship without a source of income. It also doesn’t actually help when it comes time to finding a job. Trust me. Nearly every dietitian I know is working several part time jobs, is looking for work, is working in a position only vaguely related to our educational background, or some combination of these three. You can give students all the unpaid experience in the world but if there are no paid jobs after they graduate then it’s not going to help them.

I’m not sure how much this relates to other fields, but in nutrition I also find that because we are so hungry for experience and opportunities that many people and businesses expect us to give away our expertise for free. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked to give talks to groups without being offered any compensation. This just leads to a vicious cycle of dietitians working for free.

This is not a case of students needing to spend time volunteering. In order to be accepted to the dietetic internship program we had to have volunteer experience. More than one was the norm. I think that this is the case for many students. On top of full time course loads, and part time jobs, are memberships on committees and volunteer positions.

Even many people who are employed full time should take heed. While there are many wonderful employers out there there are also others who will milk employees for all that they can. I know a lot of people whose salaries would almost certainly be less than minimum wage if they calculated all of the unpaid overtime and lunch breaks they worked through. I think that the trend of judging how hard a person works by the number of hours they put in is dangerous and ridiculous. In most cases, work should be completed during working hours and if extra time is necessary, employees should be compensated. I know that my personal work motto aligns closely with that in the image above.

Everyone should be appropriately compensated for work. Forcing young people (and even not so young people) to work for free isn’t going to solve the problem. The problem is that there are just not enough good jobs.


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Got lactose intolerance? More dairy is the answer! (The role of industry in education)

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Last week I participated in a webinar about “dairy’s role in lactose intolerance”. It was presented by Today’s Dietitian and sponsored by Danone. This is a shining example of why industry should not have a place at the table in nutrition education and policy.

The first part of the presentation was fine. It was a review of lactose intolerance prevalence, methods of diagnosing lactose intolerance, symptoms, and so on. Of course, the importance of dairy products in a nutritious diet was impressed upon us. This, despite the fact that they aren’t truly necessary. Yes, dairy can be an easy source of protein, calcium, B12, and vitamin D (this because it’s added, not naturally occurring in dairy) but it’s still possible to obtain these nutrients from other foods.

The second part was where I started to get really annoyed. I should have expected it. It was a webinar developed by dietitians working for Danone but the blatant bias still irritated me. It was discussed how much lactose could be tolerated by those who are lactose intolerant (apparently about 12 grams in a sitting). Recommendations by the NMA (National Medical Association) apparently state that even those suffering from lactose intolerance should still aim to consume three servings of dairy products each day. Their recommendations include: gradually increasing exposure to lactose-containing foods, including low-lactose dairy products such as yoghurt and lactose-free milk, and using lactase enzyme supplements. No suggestion of alternative sources of the nutrients that are available in dairy products. Nope.

I think my favourite slide was the one listing a number of milk alternatives; such as, almond, coconut, soy, and rice “milks”. Descriptions that make them all sounds ever so appealing were used. Soy milk “Off-white/yellowish color”, rice milk “watery texture”. No mention of the nutritional aspects of the milk alternatives. Funny, as in at least one aspect, they are inferior, they all contain significantly less protein than cow’s milk. I think that presenting the nutrition information would have been much more informative than presenting subjective descriptions. I’m of the mind that it’s much better to let people make up their own minds as to whether or not they like a food and I’m pretty disappointed that a presentation by a fellow dietitian would disparage foods based on their own subjective opinion.

Finally, there’s part three of the presentation “lactose-intolerant friendly dishes”. Every single one of these dishes contain dairy. Good grief. My personal fave, “cheesy guacamole” containing both cottage cheese and cheddar cheese. Um… Since when does guacamole contain cheese??? Why on earth would suggested recipes for lactose-intolerant individuals take a naturally lactose-free dish and add lactose? And this is why many people don’t take dietitians seriously. Sigh.


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More on the return to home ec.

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I’ve been hearing a lot about the push for home economics (especially food skills) to return to high schools (as a mandatory course) in Ontario. I’m completely behind this idea. That being said, we were talking about that back when I worked in public health and that was more than two years ago (and I’m sure that the conversation predated my time). I’m not going to hold my breath.

 

I also think that we need to go further than reintroducing a re-vamped sexier home ec. in high schools. We need to catch kids when they’re young. Many elementary schools now have gardens which are a great way to teach children about growing, harvesting, and preparing food. They’re also great places for teaching children about math and other core subjects. I think that food literacy should be one of these school subjects. Children should receive more education about food and nutrition than the occasional food guide or guest dietitian presentation in health class.

 

If we want children to develop healthy habits for life then we need to show them what healthy living is. It’s not enough to ban cookies in the cafeterias. Our goal should be that no student should finish their school without knowing that carrots have green tops, they don’t come in cans, how to grow vegetables with or without a yard, how to prepare basic nutritious meals, how to slice and dice. We have to eat every day and we shouldn’t be allowing any more children to grow-up without the skills to feed themselves.