Meeting Canadian Food Guide ‘next to impossible’ for some: Manitoba researcher

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Although the 2019 Canadian Food Guide attempts to encourage people to eat healthy while being more inclusive of multicultural diets, a Manitoba researcher says it sets unattainable standards for people who can’t afford a healthy diet.

Taylor Wilson is a Masters of Development Practice student at the University of Winnipeg. In the summer, her community-based study aiming to decolonize the food guide was published in the Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems and Community Development.

Wilson says the food guide, which was revamped nearly a year ago, isn’t realistic for people of colour and Indigenous people like herself.

“When it was released, I was looking at it and I was really confused as to how myself, a person living in an urban centre in Winnipeg was going to be able to meet these guidelines,” she said on CBC’s Information Radio on Friday.

“And then I thought about what would happen if I was living in my home community [of Fisher River Cree Nation] and that the meeting these guidelines would be next to impossible.”

Wilson says the food guide approaches nutrition from a western point of view, and fails to address the complex issues of food security and nutritional needs of Canadian Indigenous communities.

In the paper, Wilson and professor Shailesh Shukla from the university proposed that Indigenous communities develop their own food guides, taking into account the community’s specific contexts, needs and pref­erences.

Wilson hopes to design and pilot a personalized Indigenous food guide on Fisher River Cree Nation.

She says her home community is already doing a good job connecting back to the traditional food system by educating youth on hunting, fishing and trapping, but many people are embedded in a more contemporary way of eating.

“They’re going to the store, driving to the city to get groceries. There are still a lot of people that do eat traditional foods in my community, but it’s a matter of kind of revitalizing a lot of the practices,” Wilson said.

Taylor Wilson did a study on decolonizing Canada’s Food Guide, which was published in the Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems and Community Development. (Submitted by the University of Winnipeg)

Another aspect is affordability. In remote and northern communities, food prices are much higher than they are in the south. Also, people who are living in poverty can’t necessarily afford high-priced healthy foods.

“They know that they should be eating healthy and they want to eat healthy. It’s just a matter of how can we afford to do it? How can we access these things in a way that doesn’t contradict our traditional lifestyles?”

Community members learn to prepare traditional foods at Fisher River Cree Nation in Manitoba’s Interlake (Submitted by the University of Winnipeg)

Some of the the food guide notes are completely unrealistic for some First Nations, she said.

“One of the guidelines that was recommended from the Canadian Food Guide was to make water your drink of choice. And that completely shocked me because of the fact that there are so many First Nations communities across Canada who don’t even have access to clean drinking water,” Wilson said.

“A lot of the times the cost of water is higher than buying juice or soda. And so you have to pick your battles.”

There are currently 61 long-term boil water advisories in effect in First Nations across Canada, although the federal government has promised it will work to lift all of the advisories by March of 2021.

Although the revised food guide may work well for some Canadian families, it doesn’t for many others, Wilson says.

“It’s realistic if you don’t live on reserve, it’s realistic if you are fairly well-off financially. But for most Canadians, I don’t believe it is realistic.”

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