Feds revamp Food Guide, but schools limit its relevance

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Canadians received the first revision of Canada’s Food Guide in 12 years with surprisingly unified praise.  It’s simpler: Instead of recommending individual serving sizes, it recommends a ratio of food groups.  It’s healthier: Fruits and vegetables are now the dominant of these groups, taking the place of grains.  It was made with less cronyism: The harshest criticism comes from meat and dairy farmers, unhappy that the Guide now advises limiting both.  And as a delightful bonus, it provided this writer with a great deal of vindication, as the Morgan kitchen has operated fairly closely to these principles for years.

So what now?  After all, the Food Guide is just that: a guide.  If you care deeply about nutrition, and it’s within your means to buy fresh produce and fish whenever you want it, it could be very helpful to you.  If you don’t, Health Canada can only do so much to make you care.

This has been the crux of any disinterested criticism of the Food Guide.  Dalhousie University’s Professor Sylvain Charlebois, often cited as an expert on Canadian food matters, went so far as to call it “condescending” in the Montreal Gazette:

The insensibility of treating Canadians like five-year old children is very obvious.  Since the food industry spends billions on marketing and the average Canadian will see roughly 1500 advertisements per day, Health Canada seems to suggest Canadians can hide from all of this for the sake of eating better.  A bit of a stretch on Health Canada’s part.

Adds Chris Selley at the National Post:

Have you considered that if you cook a larger batch of food, you’ll have more food left over to eat at future meals — perhaps having frozen the food and then defrosted it?  If you struggle to drink as much water as the guide thinks you should, have you considered that you can “drink it hot or cold”?  I try to keep my curmudgeonly instincts in check.  An exercise like this is bound to produce a few silly, infantilizing recommendations.

The synthesis of these points is as follows: The new Food Guide presents incredibly obvious guidelines that Canadians are doomed to ignore.  And there are plenty of reasons to believe this.  A Dalhousie study from May 2017 found that 42 percent of Canadians buy ready-to-eat or restaurant meals once or twice a week, and only 29 percent spend half an hour or more on cooking.  A further study in December, for which Charlebois was the lead researcher, found that 59 percent of an expected hike in food spending would come from eating those same types of meals.  The Food Guide is designed for people who prefer to cook from scratch, and who know how.

So what can be done to boost the number of those people?  Health Canada is stepping up with a series of recipes that actually look pretty good.  Many of us learned some kitchen basics from helping our parents and grandparents.  But that’s no substitute for a comprehensive knowledge of how to buy, prepare, and store food.  Making a big enough pot of pasta to last the week may be a duh for Selley, but it’s not for someone living on their own for the first time, who feels like they only have the time to get themselves fed that day.

If more Canadian kids learned about food from an early age, they would know that cooking a well-balanced meal doesn’t have to be especially complicated.  We vaguely remember seeing the old Food Guide on the wall of our elementary school gym, or perhaps a cereal box.  We’re all pretty sure there was something called Foods in our middle school handbooks, but less than half of us ever took it.  Those of us who did can still whip up a fairly good mashed potato.  Boomers structured our education to make these basic life skills optional to study. Now they mock us for having to take “adulting” classes in our 20s.

By the time they graduate from high school, all Canadian teens should know how to plan a week’s worth of nutritious and enjoyable meals – to say nothing of mending clothes, preparing household budgets, and doing some basic home repairs.  The only way to ensure that they do is to bring back compulsory home economics courses.  Otherwise, the Food Guide will be reduced to another glossy government pamphlet that ultimately means nothing, and another generation of kids will know little of the world of food beyond ramen and protein bars.

Photo Credit: Macleans

More from Jess Morgan.    Follow Jess Morgan on Twitter at @JessAMorgan89.

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