Why I’m Excited About Canada’s New Food Guide

Yesterday, Canada’s new official Food Guide was released, and I am stoked about it!

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For the first time EVER in this country, the Food Guide has not been influenced by agricultural promotion. Instead, it has been influenced by SCIENCE. As it should have been all along. Way to shake off the fetters of commercial enterprise, Food-Guidologists!

That’s Reason Number One that I’m stoked. I believe that a document meant to teach people best practices for feeding themselves should be based solely on actual best practices, as determined by people who study the effects of foods on humans (not by people who study previous food guides, or who study advice from people who produce a particular kind of food). It is time, as Prof. Sylvain Charlebois put it in the Globe and Mail, for the Food Guide to “depart from its humble initial purpose of sponsoring agriculture and […] finally serve our quest for a better quality of life.”

The next reason is, I really think it will improve Canada’s health. It says:

  1. Eat your veggies.
  2. Cook your own food as often as you can.
  3. Appreciate your food (i.e. make meals important – share them with others, notice and enjoy what you’re eating).
  4. Focus on whole foods and plant foods in your diet.

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I see this as being not just about physical (especially arterial) health, but also mental health. Mindfulness, and slowing down, getting joy out of the simple act of eating, and having your fellow humans close to you when you can. Bravo for saying it explicitly!

As many of you will have guessed, I am not sorry to see meat kicked off the title of a food group. Its importance has been artificially inflated all this time, and it’s time to get back to reality.

I have been vegetarian since I was fourteen. (I might have converted earlier if I hadn’t been the middle of three sisters, the other two of whom had already converted and tried to convince me. I dug in my Taurus heels and only made the switch when *I* wanted to. But I can remember being traumatized, at age ten or so, by the idea of all those cows dying.) The summer I was fourteen, I attended an animal rights seminar at Camp in which I learned about factory farming. One morning I looked at my bacon – which I usually liked, but it suddenly didn’t look so good – and decided I would give vegetarianism a try. After that, I was so proud of myself that I didn’t look back. Not even while pregnant.

But I do remember what it was like to like meat. I missed ground beef in spaghetti sauce and hamburgers, and I missed turkey on holidays, and a couple of times I randomly missed the canned corned beef hash we sometimes ate during my childhood.

There are certain people who, when they find out I’m a vegetarian, immediately go on the offensive. I am careful not to preach about it – I don’t flinch when other people eat meat around me, and I’ve cooked meat many times for other people. But the very fact that I don’t eat meat compels some people to justify (vehemently) their animal consumption. It is one of those choices that offends some people, and that people feel entitled to belittle, though I don’t really know why.

It’s not as bad as it was 20 years ago. And it’s way better in Canada than in many other places. (I can remember being ridiculed by the man who ran the Chinese restaurant in France where I ordered a vegetable soup and then wouldn’t eat it because it had chicken in it. He scoff-laughed, in broken French, “This is a restaurant, not a vegetable!”)

Nonetheless, I still encounter people who are all caveman about their meat. Grrr! I get my muscle from this meat, why would I waste away eating rabbit food, bacon is LIFE, grilling animal flesh is my heart’s greatest passion, blah blah.

**Can I just note here that “rabbit food” is also horse food, cow food, elephant food, and gorilla food. The tiny fuzzy scaredy animal is not the only example.**

The cultural hold that meat has on people, especially Westerners, in 2019, is big and powerful, with sharp teeth and attacky-type claws. So it is utterly unsurprising that the meat industry doesn’t like being shuffled into a group with beans and lentils and of course that uber-pansy of foods, tofu. I heard a well-spoken and well-meaning beef farmer on the radio last night talking about the “disappointing” news, reminding listeners of how much more efficient meat is at delivering protein.

I feel for her. It’s awful to have your livelihood threatened. I feel the same for the workers at the GM plant in Oshawa – people are just trying to do their jobs and support their families. The bad luck is that they work in industries that depend on the rigidity of certain standards… which are now shifting with the times.

The protein obsession is hand-in-hand with the meat obsession. Did you know that one medium russet potato contains between 4 and 5 grams of protein? Nobody reading this blog right now is in any danger of a protein deficiency. If you’re getting enough calories from nutrient-containing solid food, your protein is fine. (So not if you’re that guy who only consumes Coke and Oreos. But basically everyone else.)

The other lobby that’s taking a hit right now is Big Dairy. It has also lost top billing in food group land. We know from the NAFTA milk disputes that dairy is a hugely influential industry in Canada. Milk has been equated with health and wholesomeness since… well, since at least 1942 when Canada’s original wartime “Food Rules” were published. And gosh darnit, we believe what we’re told. We’re following the rules.

Plus, who doesn’t love cheese? (Other than folks with dairy allergies?) Who doesn’t love ice cream?? And stuff with butter in it?

I admit, there are many dairy and dairy-containing foods I love. Quite a large number. But my perspective on them has changed in the last couple of years, since my hubby was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.

He was not yet at the point where he needed medication, and he vowed to himself that he would get his diabetes under control with his diet. The doctor said Sean’s main concern should be losing weight, and gave him a list of foods to eat – kind of a low-carb whole foods diet, but not one that matched up with any well-known diet people talk about.

Sean did his own research and experimented on himself. He tried the ketogenic (low-carb, high-fat) diet – said to reverse Type 2 diabetes – for a couple of months, and did drop a bunch of weight in a short amount of time. For a bit, it seemed like an excellent solution. But then he also found that keto did bad and sketchy things to his digestive system  – and also our kitchen was So. Effing. Greasy.

He did not feel good about that, as you can imagine. He spent some time trying to eat more simply, more whole-foods-based, but there’s too much grey area in a diet like that. Too easy to eat whatever.

What he eventually landed on, and has stuck with for well over a year (with some periods of relaxed parameters but always coming back to it) is the Starch Solution. High-carb, low-fat, vegan – the polar opposite of keto.

I have to tell you, if you’d told me three years ago that my husband would go vegan, I would have said, with a sardonic laugh, “Yeah, right. When pigs fly, fool.” (Okay, I actually probably wouldn’t have said those exact words.) In all the time we’ve been together – almost 17 years! – he has flirted many times with vegetarianism, and never stuck with it. Now suddenly he’s able to restrict himself way past anything I’ve ever tried, and stay true?

The thing is, Sean’s a compulsive researcher. The more research he did, the more evidence mounted saying that this was a way he could reverse his diabetes – cheaply, and with a much smaller carbon footprint, and much MUCH less negative impact on his arteries and heart. And other organs (which all need clear arteries to function well).

Also, Sean worked at an old-age home when he was younger, and he’s seen people with wounds that never heal and limbs that have to be amputated because they had unchecked Type 2 diabetes. He does not want that.

And here are some other things. When he is loyal to the principles of the Starch Solution, he:

  • feels great (to the point where sometimes he’ll just randomly text me, “Man! I feel great today!!”) – physically and mentally
  • has lots of energy
  • sleeps better
  • is digestively happy
  • barely gets sick – hardly even a stuffy nose
  • feels less drawn to junk food
  • cooks a lot more
  • finds his neuropathies (numbness in limbs) disappearing
  • is clear-headed
  • loses weight
  • has normal blood sugar readings.

Clearly, this is the lifestyle for him. As a result, our whole family eats a lot more vegan food. I am usually eating in solidarity with Sean (although I am less strict than he is), and I have to admit, I feel better when I eat this way too. Lighter, less bloated, more energetic. It’s not as hard as you’d think. Even the kids, who still eat dairy but not as much of it, have rarely been sick since we made the shift.

Obviously, the new Food Guide is not suggesting that everyone immediately start eating high-carb, low-fat vegan. (Can you imagine? Agriculture in Canada would implode, and the cave-people would riot.) Obviously, people are going to eat meat, and vociferously so, I’m sure. Cheese and butter and eggs, too.

But it is so, so nice, after all this time, to have a food guide that does not imply that you will be unhealthy if you are vegetarian or vegan. (My son has a friend who told him last year that he would be unhealthy because he doesn’t eat meat.) A guide in which plant-based proteins are not just dubbed “alternatives” to the REAL FOOD of meat and dairy. Now we can officially teach kids that if they are vegetarian or don’t like meat (and many don’t), or if they’re allergic to dairy, they will be FINE – or better.

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Plant foods have incredibly healing properties. Plant fibre is what keeps our gut healthy. We need plants to fill us up and clean us out. And on a planet smothered with almost 8 billion people, it is simply unsustainable for everyone to eat animal products in the quantities that North Americans do. So plants will also be what provides for us to survive as a species.

Lovelies, I did not intend to make this into a huge post. I was just excited, and then got carried away. But since we’re here, if you feel like cooking tonight, lentil pie is a vegetarian WINNER.

And if you want more information on plant-based nutrition,

  • Dr. John McDougall literally wrote the book on the Starch Solution and has been studying plant-based eating for over 40 years;
  • Dr. Michael Greger makes nutrition very easy to follow;
  • Mic the Vegan combs through ALL the studies so you don’t have to;
  • YouTube is FULL of amazing innovators who invent recipes for you to use.

You’ll find that the vegan-research rabbit hole, once you get into it, is more of a gorilla-hole.

I wish you lots of wholesome, delicious meals, eaten in good company!

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