November 14, 2017
By: Olivia Genereux

We’ve all seen Canada’s Food Guide plastered in classrooms, hospitals, and grocery stores across the nation, bolstering its rainbow of daily dietary recommendations of the four main food groups. After more than a decade of heat from health care professionals, educators, and the general public, Health Canada is finally revising the dated guide to address issues of overeating, dated content, and lack of diversity in order to keep up with changing dietary patterns and trends. The new edition expected in the winter of 2018.

Being the first major overhaul since 2007, the proposed shift from animal-based to plant-based diets has some food industries nervous about their products getting the boot. With a decreased emphasis on meat and dairy items, producers are worried that they will no longer be able to bring home the bacon, so to speak.

In the past, the guide has been a key marketing tool for food industries, who have fiercely lobbied for the promotion of their products in former editions. Throughout the current revision process, industry representatives did not have the opportunity to meet one-on- one with Health Canada, meaning they were unable to push for the inclusion of their products, but rather had to submit their comments and inputs online or in writing alongside the rest of the Canadian population.

Why overhaul? The guide has not readily adapted to changing health concerns like weight gain and diet-related chronic illnesses. Critics of Canada’s Food Guide harp on its generalized recommendations and overprescription of foods, calories, and animal products, which have contributed to an obesogenic, unhealthy, diseased society.

The rumour mill is spinning stories about omitting dairy as a food group, but Health Canada has yet to make any definitive decisions. Intimidated by the potential drop in sales and popularity, the dairy industry claims that removing their products would be a disservice to the Canadian population, and eliminating the current daily recommendations of milk products will be detrimental to bone health.

Backlash is also coming from the meat industry. The Canadian Meat Council argues that not everyone needs to eat less meat, stating decreased protein intakes will negatively affect consumer health.

By steering people from beef to beans, cheese to chickpeas, and turkey to tofu, the country as a whole will benefit immensely. Countless studies have shown that high fat diets consisting of meat and dairy are unhealthy for the people and the planet alike. Promoting plant-based diets is a huge win for animal welfare and the environment, as decreased factory farming reduces greenhouse-gas emissions, soil degradation, and water pollution. Fruit and veggie dominated diets also lower the risk of diseases and illnesses, and can reduce body weight.

Some animal-eating Canadians are offended by the plant-based shift, stating that diets lacking meat go against human biology and cannot be good for our species. These “meatatarians” are even going so far to argue that the never-ending propaganda of vegetarians and vegans is finally paying off with veggies now taking a leading role in the upcoming edition of the food guide. Eating meat has become so normalized in society, where any challenge to current standards severely rocks the boat- why are these meat eaters such chickens?

To be sure, it’s not like us kale-loving, tofu-eating, plant-based consumers are snubbing your diet or coercing you into eating your veggies. After all, it’s called “Canada’s Food Guide”, not “Canada’s Food Laws”. The document offers recommendations and guidelines for healthful, evidence-based, highly researched best practices for dietary choices. So stop going bananas, no one is going to arrest you for eating animals or supporting the dirty dairy industry. The guide isn’t telling you what to do, how you should live your life, or urging political correctness in your dietary choices. It is merely shedding light on simple, effective ways to improve your health, increase your life expectancy, and make you feel better (and maybe even a little bit lighter). The aim isn’t to shun people consuming animal-based products and proteins, but to shift overall food perceptions and introduce alternative dietary behaviours through increased nutritional awareness and literacy.

Health Canada’s task of re-vamping the guide is no small feat. Juggling the opinions of agriculture and food industries, health experts, and the general public to produce a cohesive and comprehensive document is not easy. The new guide will not please everyone, nor will it be perfect. All we can hope for is a guide advocating for cultural diversity, alternative diets, and overall physical and environmental health of our country and population.

Plant pusher, tree-hugging hippie, veggie-loving activist- call me whatever you want, but do not discount plant-based diets to unnatural or anti-evolutionary. Although the opportunity to offer your input on the next edition of Canada’s Food Guide has expired, I ask you to remain open to new dietary recommendations, challenge your food perspectives, continually question your food choices, and try something new – your body and your planet will thank you.