Health Canada announced its new Food Guide in January, and first and foremost, I congratulate all the scientists, researchers and staff who worked for a decade to get the job done.
The rollout is an absolutely enormous project, a job I had the privilege of undertaking with a fantastic team in 2007.
The Food Guide – which is a GUIDE, not the law, not carved in stone, not meant to dictate the same diet for 35 million different people – has been part of life in Canada since 1942.
In 2007, our group of stakeholder scientists and nutritionists numbered over 600. The Guide had been researched, discussed and argued for 13 years. It was the source of much controversy and dispute; journalists were (and are) highly suspicious of Canada’s Food Guide ever since it was revealed in the early 1990s that the number of eggs recommended had been influenced by the egg lobby.
I can vouch for the intense desire food lobby groups have had over the years to influence the Guide: in 2007, brand new in my job as the Director of Communications to the Minister of Health when my phone rang. I picked it up; it was a man I had never met before. He introduced himself as the lobbyist for the soft drink industry.
“We are very disappointed that Health Canada has decided to label soft drinks as an “occasional item,” he blustered into the phone.
“We are very disappointed that childhood obesity has tripled in the last 15 years,” I responded without hesitation.
Not surprisingly, I never heard from him again; I still laugh thinking about that call.
In one meeting, as we wrestled with the fact that we were doomed to upset SOMEBODY no matter what the Guide recommended, I grew frustrated with the talk of “the meat lobby this” and “the egg lobby that.”
“Why are we worrying about the most expensive things people can buy, when really we should be encouraging them to eat more of the most nutritious and inexpensive foods? Who stands up for broccoli?!” I wanted to know.
Staff kindly humoured my fevered ideas about inventing Broccoli and Carrot mascot costumes and sending them to schools and sporting events. We never did any of those things, but it was a great rollout nevertheless.
The Food Guide is the second-most requested document the federal government provides. Only Income Tax forms are requested more often.
In 2007, the new Guide was in such demand, our first print run was 4 million copies. We had not only a printing press on stand-by, but a PAPER MILL on stand-by. The pressure to get the Guide finalized was immense. Scientists, nutritionists and journalists were still arguing the day we went to press (as they are still arguing now) but somehow, they were able to come to enough of a consensus to get the thing done and distributed.
In 2007, some of the big new changes included making fruits and vegetable the basis for a healthy diet. Now, in 2019, Health Canada is recommending fully half of “the plate” be fruits and vegetables. It clearly states that water should be the drink of choice; and that culture is important and we should eat together. These are great advances!
Of course, I disagree with the grain recommendations, but then, it wouldn’t be Canada’s Food Guide if we weren’t arguing about it.
Bon appetite, eh?