Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Another hot take on Canada’s new food guide

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You all know that I can always find something to bitch about. I’m that girl who’s always the one to find a bug in her freshly picked raspberries or the bone in her piece of fish. My mum will attest to that. It was a running joke in my family that if there was anything weird to be found in the food, I would be the one to find it. So, it should come as no surprise that I have lots to say about the new food guide. But… it may come as a surprise that I don’t actually have anything negative to say about it! In fact, I think it’s pretty fucking great.

In no particular order, here are the changes that I’m most excited about:

  • The addition of food skills (and food literacy). This is literally 85% of my job and it feels really good to have Health Canada supporting it as an important part of healthy eating.
  • The removal of juice as a serving of fruit. It’s going to be so nice not to have to deal with that terrible piece of advice anymore.
  • The removal of serving sizes and recommended number of servings. They confused people and it’s impossible to make recommendations that will work for the entire population. I can’t wait to no longer hear “I can’t eat ALL that” again.
  • I’m glad they got rid of the meat and alternatives and milk and alternatives food groups and lumped them into a proteins group from which they encourage plant-based sources of protein.
  • I appreciate the inclusion of Indigenous foods and ways of eating and the acknowledgement that many people in remote communities and on reserves may struggle to meet the recommendations in the food guide.
  • Following from that, I also appreciate the recognition that external factors, in particular, many social determinants of health, can affect the ability of people to follow a healthy diet.
  • I’m glad that water is recommended as the beverage of choice, again bye bye juice and chocolate milk 👋🏻👋🏻👋🏻
  • I like that the emphasis is on promoting health and only once is weight mentioned. As I’ve ranted about in the past, the food guide is not supposed to be a weight loss diet plan.
  • The photos included in the guide are really appealing. They look way more appetizing to me than the old cartoonish images did. Plus, they’re all about full meals and not just random foods.
  • The overall focus is on a healthy pattern of eating, not just individual nutrients. Much more in-line with how we actually eat. Plus it’s advised that we enjoy (wow!) our food.

My one concern (aside from a couple of very minor things) is that apparently Health Canada does not plan on making the resources for the general public available in print. I think this is a huge mistake. Not everyone has ready Internet access. Also, the old food guide was used in schools and other educational settings (including the food literacy classes I teach) as a teaching tool. I work in public health and we get MANY requests from schools, organizations, and individuals for copies of the food guide. I’m not sure how we’re going to educate people and incorporate the food guide into our programs if we don’t have a print resource available. I hope that Health Canada will reconsider this decision so that everyone has equal opportunity to benefit from the new food guide.


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Should the government allow industry to market to kids in schools?

 

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Last week I found out about a new food literacy initiative. According to the introduction to their online survey (which unfortunately only wants input from teachers, principals, and board of education consultants) this initiative will involve visits to schools to provide hands-on healthy eating education opportunities. This initiative is an undertaking of the Dairy Farmers of Canada.

I am all for getting food literacy education back into schools. I think that by educating children from a young age about growing, harvesting, preparing, and enjoying food we could prevent a lot of the unhealthy eating habits and chronic diseases that are so prevalent in our society. However, I don’t think that this should be done by any means necessary, and I see the provision of food literacy education by industry as highly problematic.

This is nothing against milk, or the Dairy Farmers of Canada. Milk is a nutritious food and can (although it doesn’t have to) be part of a healthy diet. I love lots of dairy products. I still don’t think that it’s appropriate for Dairy Farmers of Canada to be providing nutrition education in public schools.

From the Dairy Farmers of Canada website:

Run for farmers by farmers, Dairy Farmers of Canada is the voice of Canadian dairy farmers.

Dairy Farmers of Canada (DFC) is the national policy, lobbying and promotional organization representing Canada’s farmers living on approximately 12,000 dairy farms. DFC strives to create stable conditions for the Canadian dairy industry, today and in the future. It works to maintain policies that foster the viability of Canadian dairy farmers and promote dairy products and their health benefits.

Dairy farmers fund its operations, including promotional activities.

I think that makes it pretty clear what their mandate is. It’s not to provide unbiased nutrition education to children. It’s to promote their products to consumers. Make no mistake about it, that’s what they would be doing by providing food literacy education to children in schools. They would be marketing to the next generation of consumers.

Would it be appropriate for Coca Cola, McDonald’s, or Frito-Lay to provide food literacy education to a captive group of school children? Just imagine if KFC announced that it would be providing food literacy education to children in schools. Parents and the public would be freaking out. It’s no more acceptable for the dairy industry to be given access to children in schools just because some dairy products are nutritious. It’s highly inappropriate, not to mention ironic, for any food industry lobby group to be marketing to children in schools whether it be under the guise of food literacy education or not.

 


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Should feminists stay out of the kitchen?

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I read this article the other day and it made me go back and take a look at the post I wrote a little while back about how we need to stop glorifying the inability to cook.

The article is about how “real women” are still expected to cook and examines the role of women in sitcoms and cooking shows. It made me wonder if my original take was sexist. Did I only talk about women? I was certainly thinking about female characters like Lorelai Gilmore and Olivia Pope. I did also think about the importance of showing men cooking but maybe I didn’t make that very clear. I definitely didn’t think about the possibility that showing women who were incapable of cooking (or at least unwilling to cook) was actually a feminist act. And I really have mixed feelings about it right now.

I do not believe that a woman belongs in the kitchen. I do not think that it’s a woman’s measure of worth to serve the men and children in their lives. I don’t think that we all need to love cooking or spend as much time doing it as I do. However, I wonder if making a refusal to cook is truly a feminist act or more an instance of cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face. It may be levelling the playing field to have both men and women out of the kitchen but I think that’s more bringing everyone down a level rather than lifting everyone up.

As I said in my previous post, cooking is an important life skill. Food literacy is as important as any other form of literacy. What we prepare for ourselves is generally going to be more nutritious and less calorically dense than food we purchase ready-made and from restaurants. It’s better for us and better for our wallets. It doesn’t have to mean hours of slaving over a hot stove. A good home cooked meal can be as quick and simple as a vegetable frittata or stir-fry; ready in under 30 minutes.

We should be encouraging more people to get in the kitchen, not glorifying culinary ineptitude. On television we should be showing both men and women cooking for themselves, for their families, for their friends, and show children helping in the kitchen. In real life, we should be advocating to have mandatory home ec reinstated in schools. We (both women and men) should be taking the effort to prepare nourishing meals for ourselves because we are all worthy of good nutrition.


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So, Maple Leaf is going to promote food security. Bologna for all?

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My first thought when I saw that Maple Leaf was launching a new food security centre was: “do we really need another food security organization in Canada?” As much as I love that this issue is gaining traction and increased attention, there are already a number of organizations in Canada working to promote food security (on a national level: PROOF an excellent research centre in Toronto, and Food Secure Canada). Not to mention all of the organizations that are working to fight poverty, which is the root cause of food insecurity.

As I read the article, I was impressed by the academic names attached. Although, I do find it rather telling that of the seven board members, four of them are Maple Leaf employees. My inner (okay not so inner) cynic can’t help but wonder if this is more of a public relations exercise for Maple Leaf than a true effort to increase food security of Canadians. Indeed, by the current projects they plan to support, I don’t anticipate that they’ll reach their goal of reducing food insecurity in Canada by 50% by 2030.

The projects they plan to support through their innovation fund are: an urban farm, community food hubs through a provincial food bank, and FoodShare. All of which are fantastic initiatives which will bolster food literacy in participants, but will likely have little impact on food security rates in Canada.

Dare I suggest that Maple Leaf might better tackle food security issues by addressing internal employment practices. Their lowest paid employees are making minimum wage and it sounds as though many struggle to attain a healthy work-life balance. Both of these issues are important factors in promoting food security. Meanwhile, the CEO of the company made the list of the top 100 highest paid CEOs in Canada last year; pulling in a cool $5,239,735. This sort of inequity does not lend itself to promotion of food security. Perhaps Maple Leaf should work on getting their own ducks in a row, and ensure that their own employees are all food secure, before bragging that they’ll be spending the equivalent of less than twice their CEO’s salary on a new food security centre over five years. Additionally, rather than creating a new food security centre, they could donate the money to organizations like PROOF, Living Wage Canada, Food Secure Canada, and other organizations working to fight poverty across the country.

If we truly want to ensure Canadians are food secure we need to stop thinking about it as a food charity issue and start thinking about it as an income and equity issue. Food drives and food bank donations may make us feel good about ourselves and help to put a little bit of food in the mouths of hungry people but they do nothing to promote food security. If anything, these programs allow government off the hook as they can pretend that communities are doing their work for them by providing for those in need. As individuals we can make sure our elected officials are aware that we support a basic income guarantee and living wages. The media can help to get this message out there. Employers can help to ensure food security for their employees by providing job security, adequate wages, work-life balance, and benefits packages. The government(s) can create policies that will see a basic income guarantee and living wage put in place across Canada.


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Let’s stop glorifying the inability to cook

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Despite the proliferation of cooking shows in recent years it seems that most television programs glorify the anti-cooking life. Sure, there are shows like Masterchef and Chopped and all of the standard celeb cooking shows but those are far removed from the reality of the average home cook. They glorify challenges and gourmet meals, not getting supper on the table for a family after a long day of work.

When I think about pretty much any tv series or movie these days nobody cooks. It’s like a badge of honour to have an untarnished kitchen. A sort a bragging about being unable to cook. Can’t you just picture Olivia Pope curled up on her couch after a long day of falling in and out of love with the president with a big bowl of popcorn and a big glass of wine? Or how about all the shows that have an iconic restaurant, diner, or coffee shop where all of the characters meet on the daily? When I try to think of shows that feature regular family meals they’re all from my childhood and generally assume that it’s the woman’s job to feed the household. I don’t think that equality has to come at the expense of home cooked meals. My boyfriend and I take turns cooking depending on our schedules. Eating out is a treat, not a daily, or even weekly occurrence.

Being able to cook is something that should be considered an essential life skill. I can’t imagine anyone bragging about being illiterate. When people proudly proclaim their incompetence in the kitchen to me that’s the same thing. It’s bragging about being food illiterate. I’m not saying we all need to be gourmet chefs or cook every single meal at home from scratch but we do need a cultural shift. These shows reflect our reality and our reality mirrors these shows. Let’s stop aspiring to a life where the closest we come to cooking is reheating leftover delivery and start showing individuals and households where cooking is the norm.