Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Is healthy food cheaper? Is that even the question?

 

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Continuing on with my ranting discussion about food security, I can’t help but comment on a study out of England that was getting huge media attention over the past couple of weeks. The study showed that “pound for pound” it was less expensive to eat healthy foods than to eat ultra-processed foods. The majority of the news stories concluded that poor people could be eating healthfully they just prefer to pay more for “taste and convenience”, according to one of the study’s authors. To which I say, check your privilege.

As I’ve said before, food insecurity is not a matter of simple math. While there are certainly myriad factors that contribute to our decisions about what to eat, lack of income is the root cause of food insecurity. Dismissing money as a concern on the basis of this study is wishful thinking more than anything. It’s also an insult to people who are struggling to make ends meet and feed themselves and their families.

Because some researchers went to the store and found that a pound of carrots is cheaper than a pound of french fries, the logical conclusion is that everyone should be able to afford to eat nutritious meals prepared from minimally processed ingredients? That seems like quite the leap to me. There’s no accounting for calories or ease of preparation in this comparison. Sure, a pound of vegetables may be less expensive than a pound of frozen ready-meals but I think that most people would agree that carrots do not make a balanced meal on their own. To make a nutritionally balanced meal, you’d need to round those carrots out with some dark green leafy veg, some protein like meat, fish, beans, or tofu (the authors acknowledge that meat and fish are the exception to their affordability rule), and a grain such as rice, quinoa, or whole grain bread. As most of these items need to be purchased in quantities greater than those needed for a single meal, it can quickly become more expensive to buy ingredients for a home cooked meal than it is to buy something already, or nearly, prepared. Yes, pound for pound, a bag of rice will be less expensive than frozen dinners but a bag of rice doesn’t make for much of a meal.

Stop trying to use your research to “prove” that poor people are choosing to feed their children junk. Take a good hard look at your own privilege and ask yourself how you can make this a more equitable society in which we try to help those who are struggling rather than shaming and blaming them.

 

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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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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.