March 27, 2017

FoodTalk | Let’s Talk About Food

by Alvin Rebick

I recently attended a meeting where a group of staff from Community Health Centres were gathered to discuss food policy for a government sponsored program for kids. A dietician from Toronto Public Health made the first presentation and spoke thoughtfully about the health challenges that all communities, especially food insecure communities, face. She used language that has become all too familiar to those who want to listen. Our communities face huge health challenges due, in large part, to our diets and lack of exercise. If only we would eat green, leafy vegetables, reduce sugars and salts and deal with obesity, we might begin to address the health crisis that industrially prepared food system and our sedentary lifestyle is precipitating.

The message was well delivered by a concerned professional and yet it rang hollow. How often can we listen to the same warnings and ignore the content? What will it take for the people who need to hear this message, to care about the health realities they face? I have found that even those who have had actual warnings or diagnoses about illnesses like diabetes are non-compliant, even when the consequences are life altering.


There are conflicting messages about food everywhere. Fast food outlets are now telling us how grateful we should feel that they no longer use growth hormones in their meat. How gracious of them – they’re actually doing this for our health, not because they’ve been legislated to do so. This is their way of pandering to the health crisis. They make salads now too and advertise them as a healthy alternative – unfortunately, those salads are often less nutritious and more laden with sugar and salt, than the burgers and fries that are their mainstay.

The confounding aspect of this reality is that the people who are largely responsible for creating the health crisis we face from fast food, are using their arsenal of marketing tools to call for healthy eating. At the same time, our governments, through their various health agencies use dire language to warn of the fat apocalypse that is fast approaching. As a consumer, who would you rather listen to?

In response to the presentation given by the dietician at the community meeting, a woman stood up and spoke about food traditions in her community. In the communities she works with, the cooking traditions include root vegetables that are cooked, not dark, leafy greens and salads. She also raised the issue that body types vary by culture – the definition of “obesity” is relative and the language used by government agencies doesn’t recognize that reality. I thought this was a very astute observation. Our government agencies, though very sensitive to cultural diversity, still tend to preach from the pulpit of Western values. When we bandy about terms like obesity, we are shaming large segments of society who summarily turn the channel in self-defense.

Let’s drop the term obesity. It just wreaks of judgement and shame. I also think we should champion cooking from scratch, rather than focusing on the what “healthy” ingredients we use. History has shown that nutrition trends change constantly – low fat anyone? If you cook, you will be healthier. It’s the industrialized food system and the foods they create that are the real culprit. If the government really wants results from campaigns that are meant to improve health outcomes, then they should increase taxes on fast foods and sugar beverages. Health outcomes in jurisdictions that have taxed these drinks (Mexico) have seen substantial improvements. Like with seatbelts and cigarettes, if we want to see real change, we should stop preaching about it and do something.

FoodTalk – Thoughts on food and food issues from FoodReach’s lineup of passionate contributors.

Alvin Rebick  

About Alvin:

Alvin Rebick has spent most of his career working with food, including owning and operating six restaurants, all listed in ‘Where to Eat in Canada’. Alvin also co-authored two nationally-released cookbook-memoirs with his wife and business partner, Glenna. Over the past eight years Alvin has worked in the non-profit sector to increase and improve access to fresh vegetables and fruits in the hopes of bringing the best possible food to all. He is currently the Project Leader of FoodReach.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed within this FoodTalk post belong solely to the original author/contributor. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of FoodReach, its staff, members or Board, its business partners, funders or other contributors.


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