By Cam Dahl, President of Cereals Canada
I was meeting with some friends a few days ago when one of them commented that snacks had been banned from their kid’s soccer games. My friend’s son is six years old. The team was forced to ban snacks because some overzealous parents had taken to social media to shame other families because their snacks did not measure up to their idea of social acceptability. It is a disgrace that we are inflicting this behaviour on anyone, let alone children.
Food shaming impacts almost all consumers. What about that family that can’t afford the latest gluten free, organically produced, GMO-free, locally grown, produced on a Tuesday afternoon yogurt? Are they raising unhealthy children by giving them ordinary yogurt as a snack? Of course not. What is the right choice for a family on a tight budget – purchase the extra expensive fruit and vegetables that conform to the social standard of the soccer field or buy regular produce and feed their kids the healthy servings that are outlined in the Canada Food Guide?
Choice is good. Everyone has the right to choose what they want to eat. Everyone has the right to include social factors important to them in their food choices. What we don’t have the right to do is claim that these choices are healthier or better than the choices made by other families. We don’t have the right to impose our choices on others.
This is an important issue for all of agriculture and we need to be part of the discussion. We need to ensure that our statements around health and food safety are based on solid research. We must ensure that the moms and dads at the soccer game know where they can get the facts behind the healthy, nutritious choices provided by modern Canadian agriculture. That way they will be equipped to respond when someone tries to shame them into alternative lifestyle choices. If modern agriculture fails to provide this factual foundation, our choices in production methods will become limited by what people without the facts believe.
“Healthy” is not an arbitrary word that can be loosely defined by what the latest celebrity is pushing on the internet. A great deal of research goes into the definition of “healthy eating.” The Canada Food Guide, published by Health Canada, is the right place to start on this definition. You will notice when reading through the guide that production practices – conventional agriculture, organic, GMO-free, etc. – are never mentioned. These are choices outside of the realm of “healthy.”
The fact-based food guide does not talk about any of the latest internet celebrity fads for a reason. For example, let’s take the long-running (and thankfully waning) fad around gluten. Unless you have been diagnosed with celiac disease, a painful and debilitating condition, there are no health-based reasons to avoid gluten in your diet. In fact, the reverse is true. Avoiding products like whole grain and pasta will deny you nutrients that are important to good health.
Agriculture needs to lead the discussion that will help better articulate the difference between social choices and fact-based healthy choices. We need to work to ensure that the facts around “healthy” are readily available and not distorted by marketing campaigns designed to sell lifestyle choices. It is fair ball for social choices to be part of marketing campaigns from those who want you to buy their “stuff.” However, it is not acceptable to have food fads and marketing campaigns attempt to re-define the meaning of healthy.
There is room on our grocery shelves for all different kinds of food choices. There is room on our farms for all different kinds of production practices. This variety is good. But we must remember the word “choice” for both the farm and the supermarket. This means differentiating between social choices and researched facts behind healthy eating recommendations. It means respecting the choices that others make.