Pressing issues for Canada’s new Food Guide

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From the Food Matters Blog

March 28, 2019

The goal of Canada’s new food guide is to support Canadians in living healthier lives. However, achieving this goal may still be out of reach for many Indigenous people, newcomers, and the 1 in 8 Manitoba households that are food insecure.

The new food guide has been praised for using evidence-based recommendations. These recommendations include consuming more whole foods and plant-based proteins, limiting highly processed foods, and improving eating habits and food literacy. New to the food guide is the addition of advice on food behaviors like reading nutrition labels, being aware of food marketing, and eating with others whenever possible. On the chopping block are recommended portion counts, serving sizes, and the four food groups, namely: dairy and alternatives, meat and alternatives, grain, fruits and vegetables. Input from the food industry was excluded during consultations with stakeholders. [1]

While the emphasis on more plant-based sources of protein has been lauded by environmental groups concerned with the impacts of commercial livestock, it has also raised concerns that the high demand for fruits and vegetables will result in price increases for these products. This concern is amplified by the fact that Canada does not produce an abundance of fruits and vegetables year-round and relies on international trade [2].

Cost and purchasing power are an issue that make the food guide hard to follow for some [3]. While the Province of Manitoba has yet to release the 2017 Nutritious Food Basket costing results, the 2011 report show that the cost of healthy eating for a family of 4 in Manitoba ranges from $832.66 to $1184.91 per month (2011) – which is out of reach for those with low wages or on social assistance. For 3.4% of Manitoba households that experience severe food insecurity, the result is skipping out on meals or going whole days without eating in order to pay for other necessary expenses (ex. rent, transportation).

One limitation of the new food guide that has been identified, is the lack of cultural diversity, some say that the new food guide lacks cultural diversity and may be challenging or inappropriate for Indigenous and newcomer households [4]. For starters, food insecurity is more prevalent among newcomer and Indigenous peoples than the general population. The fact that these communities do not see their food traditions reflected in national dietary guidance adds to feelings of shame about what and how they are feeding themselves and their families.

Health Canada and Indigenous Services Canada are developing a revised food guide specific to the needs of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples. According to Health Canada, the 2007 Canada Food Guide for First Nations, Inuit and Métis “can still be used as a trusted source of information on healthy eating to support Indigenous peoples until new tools are available.”

We must ensure that Indigenous and newcomers view their food traditions reflected in the food guide. At the same time, barriers to accessing these foods must be removed to ensure fair access to food through progressive social policies such as a guarantee of basic income.

This update to Canada’s new food guide is the most recent since 2007. While the guide has seen some improvements, more work is needed to protect Canada’s most vulnerable populations.

By Michelle La and Rob Moquin

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

[1]     Ann Hui, “The new Canada’s Food Guide explained: Goodbye four food groups and serving sizes, hello hydration,” The Globe and Mail, 2019. [Online]. Available: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-new-canadas-food-guide-explained/.

[2]     Ann Hui, “Study suggests the new Canada’s Food Guide is more affordable only under specific conditions,” The Globe and Mail, 2019. [Online]. Available: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-study-suggests-new-food-guide-is-more-affordable-only-under-specific/.

[3]     A. Picard, “Canada’s new Food Guide is a good upgrade, but skirts around issues of inequality,” The Globe and Mail, 2019. [Online]. Available: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-canadas-new-food-guide-is-a-good-upgrade-but-skirts-around-issues-of/.

[4]      D. McCue, “Does Canada’s revamped food guide bridge cultural divides?,” CBC Radio, 2019. [Online]. Available: https://www.cbc.ca/radio/checkup/does-canada-s-revamped-food-guide-bridge-cultural-divides-1.4994567.

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