It’s not unusual for grown-up kids to call ahead before coming home to give the resident cook time to prepare their special requests, usually for the likes of apple pie that fill the house with delicious aromas and the heart with warmth.
But this time, the request was unusual.
"If you’re bored this weekend, could you make me some sort of legume salad?" said the text.
The easy out was to reply, "I’m never bored." But I was intrigued enough to ask her why, after years of turning her nose up at most things leguminous, was she suddenly seeking them out?
"Trying to switch back to a plant-based diet, but I suck at cooking and don’t have time," came the response.
It turns out she’s been listening to a nutrition guru online who says eating animal protein causes inflammation, which leads to a host of poor health outcomes. He’s promoting a diet of nuts, seeds and beans as the only way to not die prematurely. Even eggs are out.
He’s a "real" doctor, she tells me. And he’s independent, as in, not paid for by the meat industry.
Curious, I Googled the guy. She’s right, he’s not paid for by meat producers. But he is paid by someone: the Humane Society of the United States. While that doesn’t mean he’s wrong, he does appear to interpret the available science somewhat selectively.
It seems everyone has an agenda these days.
The debate over whether to eat meat or not will continue. But it’s hard to argue against including more plant-based proteins in our meal plans.
In fact, the recently released Summary of Guiding Principles and Recommendations the federal government will use to rewrite Canada’s Food Guide encourages "regular intake of vegetables, fruit, whole grains and protein-rich foods, especially plant-based sources of protein."
It goes on to say eaters should include "foods that contain mostly unsaturated fat, instead of foods that contain mostly saturated fat."
The word "meat" is absent, but by inference, people who choose to eat meat should be choosing to eat a lot less of it. That’s a big change for a culture that answers "what’s for dinner" by naming a meat dish.
Pulse crop farmers will be delighted with this trend, livestock and dairy producers, not so much.
But it appears the days when the welfare of farmers formed part of the criteria for setting nutritional recommendations are past.
There is huge interest in the federal food policy consultations, which have already attracted more than 22,000 responses. The deadline for contributing has just been extended to Aug. 31.
So how does agriculture respond to these changing times?
For starters, no one in agriculture should be surprised — or feel victimized — that as times change, so do people’s tastes and nutritional needs.
We eat differently than our parents did. Our kids will eat differently from us.
The meat industry has focused on high-efficiency production aimed at keeping the cost of meat affordable. Meanwhile, the market is becoming more diverse, less predictable and more concerned with ethics.
Campaigns designed to discredit the "eat less" or "go meatless" campaigns come across as defensive and self-serving, especially if one of the targeted sources is government-sanctioned guidelines.
The majority of Canadians remain open to including meat in their diets, even if they are likely to get more selective. Perhaps a better strategy is to position meat as a specialty food with nutritional benefits that complement, rather than conflict, with other recommendations.
The point is, it’s a choice.
As Canada moves towards setting a national food policy, farmers and consumers alike should be pushing for policy that ensures consumers are equipped to make knowledgeable choices.
While efforts such as Ag in the Classroom try to communicate about agriculture and food, it shouldn’t be up to industry volunteers to teach Canadian students about the food chain.
A healthy food policy is one that ensures every child in this country, not only has enough to eat, but understands how it came to be.
Laura Rance is editorial director for Glacier FarmMedia. She can be reached at email@example.com or 204-792-4382.