Our Voices Are Being Heard!

By Carolyn Harris

(This blog post is also posted on Carolyn’s personal advocacy blog.)

Many of you may recall that last year, Health Canada was holding Phase 1 of its public consultation on revising Canada’s Food Guide. Canadians were invited to submit their opinions and experiences with the Food Guide using an online form on http://www.foodguideconsultation.ca. In total, 19,873 submissions were received (although participants were able to make submissions more than once). Of those, 14,297 were from the general public, 5,096 were from professionals, and 461 were from organizations (the NCVA was one of those organizations!). Now, several documents have been released, including one reviewing the input that has been heard from the Canadian public; an “Evidence review for dietary guidance”; and a proposed description of “Guiding Principles, Recommendations, and Considerations” for healthy eating.

These documents are very encouraging for those of us who are working to spread the vegan/plant-based/vegetarian message! I am saving the best news for later on in this blog post (under the subheading “Guiding Principles”), but I recommend that you read the whole post to get a more complete picture of how the proposed dietary recommendations relate to plant-based eating.

Public Input from Phase 1 of the Consultation

First, let’s look at the document, “Canada’s Food Guide Consultation – Phase 1 What We Heard Report”.

Happily, veganism, vegetarianism, and plant-based diets are mentioned in the document a few times!

The document can be found in full on the Government of Canada website. Below, I have included 7 excerpts from the document that mention veganism, vegetarianism, and related issues.

1) When asked how useful the current Four Food Groups were, participants expressed the following: “Current food groupings (such as Vegetables and Fruit, Grain Products, Milk and Alternatives, and Meat and Alternatives) were considered useful, to at least “some extent”, due to their simplicity, however less useful to some because of their departure from the nutritional components, lack of applicability to all circumstances and needs such as for a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle or dietary restrictions.” (found in Section 4.0)

2) “Other personal interests in healthy eating recommendations that were mentioned by participants include:

  • improving the health of all Canadians in general;
  • having a focus on dietary choices such as vegetarianism and veganism;
  • managing food intolerances/allergies;
  • disease management/managing health conditions, such as diabetes;
  • concerns about the environment or animal welfare;
  • support for educational study; or
  • to aid their own involvement in a social or community group related to personal wellbeing, such as:
    • a healthy lifestyle
    • fitness
    • weight loss” (found in Section 5.1)

3) “Participants were very positive about the prospect of revisions to Canada’s Food Guide. For some, the current format offers a simple way to structure thinking about healthy eating and encourages Canadians to think about healthy eating principles. Others felt that the current recommendations are misleading and that revisions would be helpful to ensure the recommendations are useful to a broader audience.” (found in Section 5.2)

4) “Generally, participants from the public, professionals and organizations felt that dietary guidance should cover a broad range of needs. Feedback received from contributors on potential content of the guidance included:

  • more focus on audience specific recommendations, particularly for those with lower incomes, elderly Canadians and children;
  • inclusion of guidance addressing a range of lifestyle choices/dietary restrictions; and,
  • more details related to the nutrient requirements for positive health outcomes, such as a focus on macronutrients and micronutrients essential for health.

A few participants also commented on a need for broader changes to the food industry beyond guidance materials to more specific policy changes to improve the health of Canadians by limiting options that negatively affect human health.” (found in Section 5.2)

5) “Many general public participants indicated that the current food groupings were useful to them, to at least “some extent”. They often cited the simplicity of the groupings as a good foundation for building awareness of healthy eating habits. Others felt the groupings were not useful due to their:

  • departure from the nutritional components (micro and macro nutrients) in foods essential for positive health outcomes; and
  • lack of ability to apply the groupings to all circumstances and needs, such as for:
    • vegan or vegetarian lifestyles
    • other dietary restrictions” (found in Section 5.4)

6) “A greater emphasis on (or de-emphasis of) certain foods was recommended by participating professionals as a way to improve the usefulness of the food groupings. For example, some contributors suggested this could include:

  • a greater emphasis on vegetables, rather than fruits; or
  • a de-emphasis of meat or milk” (found in Section 5.4)

7) “While there are mixed perspectives, both positive and negative, on the value of Canada’s Food Guide in its current format (including the content and recommendations specifically), many general public and professional/organizational participants agree that Canada’s Food Guide may no longer be reflective of the increasingly varied diets of Canadians today.

There are different, more varied food types on the tables of Canadians than ever before, due to the rise of trends, such as:

  • community gardening;
  • gluten-free products;
  • an emphasis on whole foods and plant-based diets; and
  • the greater variety of traditional cuisines of Canada’s multicultural population.

There is a call for healthy eating recommendations to be expanded to:

  • reflect this greater variety;
  • provide a basis of scientific evidence;
  • provide more details to Canadians about the foods they are consuming; and
  • create guidance to inform healthy eating behaviours.” (Section 6.0)

It seems that the government is starting to hear the logic of our movement. That’s not all the good news, however. There’s more!

“Evidence Review for Dietary Guidance”

The document “Evidence review for dietary guidance” does not mention plant-based eating, vegetarian diets, or vegan diets. However, they did make some comments about how some people are concerned about industry influence on Canada’s Food Guide:

“Another reported challenge was that there remains a perception among some groups of consumers and organizations that food industry representatives exerted influence on the development of the recommendations in the Food Guide. This adversely affects the credibility of the guidance from a scientific standpoint in the eyes of these stakeholders.” (Page 5 of the PDF)

I wouldn’t be surprised if concerns raised by vegans about the influence of the meat, dairy, and egg industries on the Food Guide are part of the reason why Health Canada makes this statement. I myself expressed this concern in my Op-Ed on the Epoch Times’ website last year.

Guiding Principles

Health Canada has also released a document outlining the proposed Guiding Principles, Recommendations, and Considerations for healthy eating.

Here is a summarized description of the principles:

(Source: Government of Canada)

A detailed description of the Guiding Principles is also available on the Government of Canada website. The word “plant-based” is used 6 times in the Guiding Principles document, and in 5 of those times it is used positively! Here are 4 excerpts from the document that mention plant-based food:

1) “Health Canada recommends:

  • Regular intake of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and protein-rich foods* – especially plant-based sources of protein
  • Inclusion of foods that contain mostly unsaturated fat, instead of foods that contain mostly of saturated fat
  • Regular intake of water

*Protein-rich foods include: legumes (such as beans), nuts and seeds, soy products (including fortified soy beverage), eggs, fish and other seafood, poultry, lean red meats (including game meats such as moose, deer and caribou), lower fat milk and yogurt, cheeses lower in sodium and fat. Nutritious foods that contain fat such as homogenized (3.25% M.F.) milk should not be restricted for young children.”

Note that plant-based sources of protein are mentioned first on the list of protein-rich food sources! It looks like the plant-based/vegan/vegetarian message is doing better than many of us may have thought!

2) “What is needed is a shift towards a high proportion of plant-based foods, without necessarily excluding animal foods altogether.”

While the second part of this sentence may initially seem a bit disappointing, they do seem to be making progress in the right direction. Also, consider the fact that Health Canada actually mentions the idea of excluding animal products altogether; the way they phrase the sentence (“without necessarily excluding” (italics added by me)) makes me think that they don’t think that excluding animal products is at all far-fetched.

3) “A shift towards more plant-based foods can help Canadians:

  • eat more fibre-rich foods;
  • eat less red meat (beef, pork, lamb and goat); and
  • replace foods that contain mostly saturated fat (e.g., cream, high fat cheeses and butter) with foods that contain mostly unsaturated fat (e.g., nuts, seeds, and avocado).

To help meet these recommendations, Canadians can choose nutritious foods and beverages, including:

  • foods and beverages that require little or no preparation such as fresh, frozen and canned vegetables and fruit, canned legumes or fish, tofu, plain milk or fortified plant-based beverages;
  • foods and beverages that are pre-packaged for convenience (such as pre-washed salad greens, pre-cut fruit) or to increase shelf-life (such as powdered milk);
  • foods like nuts, seeds, fatty fish, avocado, and vegetable oils instead of foods like high fat cheeses and cream; and
  • foods obtained through gardening, hunting, trapping, fishing and harvesting.”

Apart from the last bullet point and the recommendations of fish and milk, and, I am encouraged by with the progressive thinking in terms of plant-based eating that is demonstrated here.

4) “In general, diets higher in plant-based foods and lower in animal-based foods are associated with a lesser environmental impact, when compared to current diets high in sodium, sugars and saturated fat.”

Overall, I am quite impressed with the receptiveness to vegan, vegetarian, and plant-based eating that the government has shown in this first phase of the consultation. However, there is still definite room for improvement.

Next Steps

Our job is not over yet!

Phase 2 of the public consultation is being held from June 10 untilJuly 25, 2017. In this new phase, Canadians are being asked to submit their input on the proposed Guiding Principles for healthy eating.

I have already submitted my input. Although I did suggest that plant-based eating be further emphasized (and that meat, dairy and other animal products be further de-emphasized), I chose to focus my comments on the positive aspects of the proposed new recommendations, as they appear to be a major improvement from the current Food Guide. I want to encourage the government to keep the progress they have made, at the very least. It is likely that many groups will be submitting their comments to the government on the proposed recommendations, so it is important for vegans and vegetarians to speak up and let the government know that we care about this issue.

 

You can submit your comments at www.foodguideconsultation.ca. Thank you for caring!

Links:

Canada’s Food Guide Consultation – Phase 1 What We Heard Report

Evidence Review for Dietary Guidance: Summary of Results and Implications for Canada’s Food Guide

Summary of Guiding Principles and Recommendations

Guiding Principles

Canada’s Food Guide Should Recommend a Vegan Diet (my Op-Ed)

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