|The recipe for this delicious salad is here.|
One of the great joys of retirement has been that I have the luxury of time -- and energy -- to prepare a healthy and tasty meal. When I was working, I would consider mealtime to be just another box to tick before everyone could get to the real purpose of the evening: R&R.
Now that the pressure of time has been removed (I can begin meal preparation at 4:00 instead of 6:00), and most days I have the energy to be creative in the kitchen, making dinner has become a completely different experience.
It has changed how we shop for groceries as well. We've almost completely stopped buying any ultra-processed foods like frozen lasagnes, tortieres, canned beans, Kraft Dinner, etc. (though we still have perogies in the freezer). On the other hand, I keep a steady stock of some ingredients that used to be special purchases and that make it much easier to make a dish seem fancy: mangoes, avocados, fresh anise, fresh cilantro, lots and lots of fresh fruit.
|Canada's Food Guide, by Health Canada, a rainbow of fresh veggies, |
healthy grains, and a smattering of dairy and protein.
So when I saw a CBC article about a movement to change Canada's Food Guide, I was intrigued. It explained that a recent senate report had suggested tactics like taxing sugar as a means to curb Canada's growing obesity rates. But the article also interviewed a Canadian researcher from Montreal who recommends that we look closely at Brazil's current food guide.
Rather than grouping foods according to the predominant nutritional component (vegetable, meat, dairy, etc.), the guidelines look at how processed the foods are.
|From the Brazilian Dietary Guidelines, page 50-51|
That screen capture above is the closest the guide comes to a pithy, easily marketed graphic. And that is what may make it a hard sell, but what also makes it so radical. The guide looks not just at what we eat but how we eat it. It's a food guide that acknowledges the reality of industrialized food.
But what struck me about the CBC article (and prompted me to write this post) were the comments on the article. All sorts of complaints and resistance:
- Real food doesn't taste as good as processed food
- Real food is too expensive
- No one knows how to cook
- I don't have time
Interesting, eh? Especially that first one. The reason the highly processed foods taste so appealing to us is that they are loaded with salt, sugar, and fat. And other ingredients that may preserve foods but don't necessarily preserve us. And the amazing aromas of fresh herbs and spices really intensifies the pleasure of eating at home.
I'm not convinced that processed foods are less expensive than unprocessed or minimally processed foods. Although the produce portion of our grocery shopping has gone up, we've reduced our processed portion, and our bills have remained roughly the same.
As for knowing how to cook -- the Internet is chockablock with recipes and instructions. And many of the healthiest peasant-type foods are also the easiest to prepare.
But the biggest and most realistic complaint is time or its corollary, energy. A frozen lasagne may take as much time to cook as a home-made lasagne, but it is considerably less effort. And when you have children who are ravenously hungry and also need to be in bed by 8 p.m., and yet you don't get home from work until 5:30 p.m., well, something's gotta give. And the ultra-processed foods are extremely convenient.
Some commenters suggested that a shorter workday would solve that problem. I know that families have been struggling with this for decades and have found some creative solutions. Our family followed a six-week menu based on More Time Cooks for many years (and those recipes still form the backbone of our regular menu; you can read more about it in this blog post). Many cities now have prepared-from-fresh meals you can assemble and take home. Crockpots are a godsend to many working parents, and I know some who will spend a weekend preparing six weeks' worth of crockpot meals in one weekend.
As a final comment, I will note that the pressures of money, time, and energy are multiplied exponentially in single-parent, low-income homes. I don't have any magic answers for those parents, but I do tip my hat to them for every effort they make to provide a healthy meal for their families. And those are exactly the homes where the family meal can likely reap the greatest benefits.
We all acknowledge that something's got to change. I think Brazil's approach moves in the right direction. We just need to work out how those principles fit in with our modern lifestyle.