Gwyneth Paltrow has a larger influence on what Canadians eat than our own food guide

Gwyneth Paltrow has a larger influence on what Canadians eat than our own food guide
Imagine a culinary utopia in which we cook the vast majority of our meals and snacks for ourselves. At mealtimes, an abundance of high quality, freshly prepared vegetables and fruit fills half our plates; the other half an evenly distributed array of satiating whole-grain foods and primarily plant protein sources. To quench our thirst, water is the only beverage we need or desire.

This is an ideal, certainly; one that Health Canada recently put forward in its revamped food guide. As the first such update in 12 years, it’s full of sound nutritional advice. Yet there’s a wide divide between the lifestyle it promotes and the reality of many Canadians. Nearly half of our daily calories come from ultra-processed foods — such as candy, chips, pizza and soft drinks — and we spend upwards of 30 per cent of our food budget outside the home.

This disconnect is readily apparent in the findings of a new study from Dalhousie University and the University of Guelph, which analyzed Canadians’ awareness and understanding of the new guide, its affordability and barriers to adoption. While researchers found that adhering to Canada’s Food Guide saves money and thus offers greater food security, these benefits come with significant caveats. And although most Canadians are aware of the guide’s existence (91 per cent) and its recent update (74 per cent), less than a third actually use it.

“All those other sources of information are more important, particularly if you look generationally. (For) Gen Zs and millennials, social media and celebrities is their number one source of information,” says Simon Somogyi , co-lead author and Arrell Chair in the Business of Food in the College of Business and Economics at the University of Guelph. “Gwyneth Paltrow is more influential, when it comes to dietary advice, than the guide.”

When the new guide was released in January, with its emphasis on fresh produce and vegetable-based proteins, a perceived lack of affordability and its knock-on effect on food security was a common criticism. This critique was also reflected in the study; the majority (52 per cent) of Canadians reported they face barriers to following the guide; chief among them was affordability (27 per cent). The fact that the guide isn’t inline with taste preferences (20 per cent) or dietary needs (10 per cent) rounded out the top three reasons, followed by the recommendations requiring too much time (10 per cent).

One in nine Canadian households experience food insecurity, says Somogyi, which is inextricably linked to accessibility and affordability. In comparing the cost of the new guide with the previous 2007 version, researchers found that the updated suggestions are more affordable: A family of four will save $475 each year on groceries (on average, seven per cent of annual food costs). However, as co-lead author and senior director at the Dalhousie University Agrifood Analytics Lab Sylvain Charlebois underscores, this finding is based on several assumptions, notably that all meals are cooked at home and no food is wasted.

Charlebois goes on to say that if plant-based eating continues to rise, demand for fruit and vegetables will outstrip supply, potentially resulting in rising prices. “We ran two machine-learning models … and we noticed the (affordability) gap between the old and new (guides) disappears after 2021,” he explains. “We’re expecting the new food guide to make Canadian households less food secure if they choose to follow the new food guide.”

“We have shown in this study that the new guide is cheaper, at least in the short term,” adds Somogyi. “But it’s really an example of what Canadians should be eating rather than a guide, and it doesn’t reflect the realities of Canadian households from a time perspective, from an affordability and money perspective, in some respects. And from a lifestyle perspective, particularly when it comes to eating out.”

Through its guide, Health Canada is presenting a theoretical approach to food. Its generic image of what an exemplary meal looks like was presumably designed to be inclusive rather than exclusive. But in attempting to appeal to all with its nutritional ambitions, it risks failing to resonate with anyone — as the results of this study illustrate.

He routinely switches false beards, moustaches and hairstyles, even fake tattoos. She swaps wigs, scarves, glasses. Both have a catalog of fantasy names

I am reminded of the Gomery inquiry. Quid pro quos, greasy influence over civil servants, too much power in the PMO: It all seems awfully familiar, doesn’t it?

There’s not much anyone can do about it. In our system, the prime minister decides whether the prime minister should be held to account

In this occasional series, Jordan Peterson writes from his international speaking tour for his book, 12 Rules for Life
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