September 16, 2019

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New food guide unseasoned by lobbyists

Editorial

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/1/2019 (235 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Coming soon to your Canadian dinner plate: a generous serving of common sense.

That is, if the federal government — backed by the revised nutritional wisdom in its long-awaited new edition of Canada’s Food Guide — has anything to do with it.

During its 77 years of existence, Canada’s Food Guide has been many things — an encouragement to stem wartime malnutrition, a good-food guideline reflecting Canada’s historically rural roots, a shorthand breakdown of desirable foods and portions and, indirectly, a showcase of the relative strengths of Canada’s various food-sector lobby groups.

It has not — at least, it seems, until now — been a straightforward recitation of what constitutes healthy eating for most Canadians.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/1/2019 (235 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Coming soon to your Canadian dinner plate: a generous serving of common sense.

That is, if the federal government — backed by the revised nutritional wisdom in its long-awaited new edition of Canada’s Food Guide — has anything to do with it.

During its 77 years of existence, Canada’s Food Guide has been many things — an encouragement to stem wartime malnutrition, a good-food guideline reflecting Canada’s historically rural roots, a shorthand breakdown of desirable foods and portions and, indirectly, a showcase of the relative strengths of Canada’s various food-sector lobby groups.

Federal Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor unveiled Canada’s Food Guide on Tuesday. (Ryan Remiorz / The Canadian Press)

Federal Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor unveiled Canada’s Food Guide on Tuesday. (Ryan Remiorz / The Canadian Press)

It has not — at least, it seems, until now — been a straightforward recitation of what constitutes healthy eating for most Canadians.

What became obvious when the new guide was unveiled Tuesday by federal Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor is that this version of Canada’s Food Guide was prepared by people focused on reconfiguring the guide and its familiar food-groups chart in a way that best serves the nutritional interests of Canadians.

Gone, for instance, are the four food groups that had been the cornerstones of the guide since 1977. The quadrant-divided arrangement of "milk and milk products," "meat and alternatives," "grain products" and "fruits and vegetables" has been replaced by a simple image of a dinner plate on which three groupings of foods are displayed: "fruit and vegetables," "proteins" and "whole grains."

Fruits and vegetables occupy half the plate, with the other two categories sharing the remainder. And within the proteins section, meats are decidedly downplayed, with only a few chunks of beef edged up against healthier protein options such as nuts, fish, beans, yogurt and tofu.

Perhaps more important to the guide’s redevelopment is the absence of something that isn’t pictured: the influence of food-sector lobby groups. According to media reports related to the launch, the plant-heavy new guide was created despite intense objection and feverish lobbying by representatives of the meat and dairy sectors, as well as fruit-juice purveyors, who weren’t going to give up their equal-prominence positioning without a fight.

Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor (right) and nutritionist Jessica Cole display samples of some of the food groups in the new Canada's Food Guide. (Ryan Remiorz / The Canadian Press)

Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor (right) and nutritionist Jessica Cole display samples of some of the food groups in the new Canada's Food Guide. (Ryan Remiorz / The Canadian Press)

"The only thing I can say is that these many groups have made their positions known, and it is their right to do so," Ms. Petitpas Taylor told the Globe and Mail. In other words, lobbyists’ entreaties, which in the past have had formative impact on the guide, were effectively ignored in the 2019 effort.

The new guide, which advises Canadians to make water their beverage of choice, also has an aspirational quality, encouraging those who follow it to "enjoy your food," "cook more often," "eat meals with others" and "be mindful of your eating habits."

The 2019 edition of Canada’s Food Guide is not without its critics, however.

Some observers have pointed out that the processed and packaged foods the guide actively discourages are often less expensive than fresh produce and protein alternatives, meaning Canadians living in poverty, struggling with food insecurity or residing in remote locales will find the guide’s sensible goals out of reach. Indeed, for many northerners, the guide has never been a practical document.

Other critics have suggested the guide, while well-intentioned, fails to illustrate the ever-widening array of foods finding their way to tables in Canada’s increasingly diverse society. These are legitimate concerns that should be addressed in the next edition, which one hopes will be updated more quickly than the dozen years it took for this revision.

For the time being, however, the new version is an admirably unencumbered next step in the Food Guide’s evolution.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board.

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