There is an epidemic of obesity in this country and the number one culprit is fast food. Ergo - a new Food Guide.

Rivers 100x100By Ray Rivers

January 23rd, 2019



There was a time when butter was bad and hydrogenated margarine the cats’ meow. But that was so yesterday.

Then we were being told that meat, eggs and fat were full of cholesterol and bad for us. At least until Mr. Atkins came along and the Paleo crowd showed up. And when anyone consulted the official Canada Food Guide, it seemed that they were just too busy promoting Canadian farm produced dairy and meat products to be trusted.

Food Guide

The 2019 version of the Food Guide

There are thousands of recipe books out there. And to distinguish themselves and keep us from dying of nutritional boredom they guide us to cook our food every which way from Sunday, and to hurl a host of additives into our food. There was red dye #2 and saccharin which were proven to give you cancer. We now know that sugar has been linked to diabetes, and lots of salt is a recipe for heart disease. And God knows what ‘liquid smoke’ must do to your body.

Where better to learn how to prepare healthy food than by watching those colourful chefs on the food channel, you’d think? My favourite anti-hero is Canada’s John Catucci and his ‘You Gotta Eat Here’. His travelling food show features some of the most over-salted and sugared, deep-fried dishes known to man or woman.

Catucci’s show, and its ilk like Carnival Eats, and Guy Fieri’s ‘Diners, Drive-ins and Dives’ are the anti-christ, the enemy of healthy eating. It may take more than Canada’s Food Guide to move us out of these greasy spoons and back into our own kitchens. But it is a start.

The Guide has traditionally been part of the school curriculum and is intended to be promoted by health and fitness professionals. And that should include food served at daycares and schools, recreation centres, workplaces and health-care facilities. But don’t count on it. Hot dogs, hamburgers, donuts, and all that other stuff we affectionately call junk food, are pretty regular fare when kids eat out.

My column is usually about politics. So why food and a food guide? Well, like everyone else I like food, healthy food. I even wrote and produced a play on the topic in the Hamilton Fringe festival one year.

Previous guides have always been a compromise between nutrition and supporting our dairy and animal farmers. You can find a flank steak and some skim milk in a few of the recipes in the new Guide but water is now the new preferred meal time beverage. And that pretty well sums up the new Guide.


Meat is the most inefficient source of protein we can consume.

No doubt the dairy and cattle farmers will be unhappy about what they’ll see as a move by a federal government agency to convince folks to eat less of their output. Albertans might even say this is more proof that Justin Trudeau is trying to destroy their livelihood, much like his father tried to do to the province’s oil men and women. Of course that is nonsense but there is a commonality between red meat and oil.

It’s how these products affect the environment and climate change in particular. Cows and other ruminants release huge amounts of greenhouse gases (GHG) when they digest their food. And meat is the most inefficient source of protein we can consume anyway. It requires far more land and water than soybeans per measure of protein, for example. And animal off-gassing is a leading source of GHGs – as we see particularly in places down under, where the Hobbits dwell.

The new guide recommends eating lots of fruit and vegetables, but otherwise stayed away from its past practice of identifying necessary food groups. It includes a number of healthy food recipes and openly encourages Canadians of all ages to get into their kitchens and start cooking. And there is a big pitch to bring the next generation into the time honoured practice of making our own meals, and by-passing the drive-thru.

It has taken three years to put this fairly simple guide together and must have cost a bundle. The authors consulted almost thirty thousand Canadians and every food agency in the country. Oh sure food guides and recipe books are a bit of reach back into nostalgia in this day of five minute delivery, one might think.

But whether you still living in a ‘Leave it to Beaver’ era kitchen or have outfitted yourself with the best of todays space-age culinary hardware, cooking your own food is fun and more economical than the alternative. The reality is that only one in five Canadians cook every day and some would say that alone is unhealthy.


There is an epidemic of obesity in this country; just 29% of us have a healthy body weight.

There is an epidemic of obesity in this country and the number one culprit is fast food. Anyone who hasn’t, should watch the epic documentary ‘Super Size Me’ (below). Poor diet is a leading risk factor for death in Canada. So the federal government has taken a somewhat passive stab at that issue with its new Canada Food Guide. And every Canadian should have a copy in their kitchen, and maybe even to show to their children at bed time.

I have to run now as my veggie chilli is just coming to a boil….

Rivers hand to faceRay Rivers writes regularly on both federal and provincial politics, applying his more than 25 years as a federal bureaucrat to his thinking.  Rivers was once a candidate for provincial office in Burlington.  He was the founder of the Burlington citizen committee on sustainability at a time when climate warming was a hotly debated subject.   Ray has a post graduate degree in economics that he earned at the University of Ottawa.  Tweet @rayzrivers



Background links:

Canada Food Guide –    More Food Guide –    Food For Thought –    Super Size Me

Return to the Front page
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

7 comments to There is an epidemic of obesity in this country and the number one culprit is fast food. Ergo – a new Food Guide.

  • Meant to say Fettuccine al Cardiac, not linguine but I was getting hungry and had to run.

  • Balanced and well done (not a pun). In my 23 years with the U.S. Federal Centers for Disease Control & Prevention 5 of those were in Foodborne Diseases. That, plus marriage to a (retired) Senior Microbiologist encouraged my greater interest in the ramifications of eating.

    Yes, we’ve seen a plethora of conflicting messages and there are still times when I look back at my many years of eating and question whether any of those messages were/are accurate. And, some issues are frankly confusing. For example, it can be said everyone has either had, currently has, or will have cancer cells living somewhere in their bodies. The issue is not whether you get it; the issue is whether it gets you. That being said, the two most powerful drivers of cancer are: inflammation and sugar. Many foods stimulate inflammation in the body. Sugar is sugar, whether it is fructose, sucrose or glucose. So, the common advice to eat several (5) servings of fruit daily makes one wonder about the sugar load, especially if one is not paying attention to which other foods stimulate inflammation. Someone with a significant familial risk for cancer would be well advised to adopt a diabetic’s diet. Few will.

    An instructive source on diabetic risk can be found among Native Americans, whom Canadians call First Nations. Diabetes was practically if not literally unknown in those populations before the advent of acculturation and the subsequent reliance on processed foods, heavily saturated with sugar.

    Eating meat, especially “red meat” puts prolonged strain on the body, leaving plaques in the intestinal tract supportive of cancer. Few people will give it up.

    As you know, the U.S. is currently in the hands of a cabal (the “Republican” Party) which has long sought to deregulate as much as possible in the interest of money for a very few over health for the many. One can’t be faulted for losing a degree of concern over food while we now enjoy heightened levels of mercury in our water and air, arsenic in our food, methane in the air, and coal run-off in our streams and lakes. Even I occasionally eat out and order a Linguine al Cardiac once in a while.

    Thanks for a very well done and balanced piece.

  • William Boyd

    While I hardly ever do fast foods (maybe once every couple of years), I do wonder if fast foods are truly the culprit. Off-hand, I’d lay the blame on the often massive portions of…you name it.

    ‘Course, there’s advertising, the profit motive, and whole bunch of other con jobs.

    Or, Ray, maybe there’s source you can cite about the toll fast foods take on our nations? Set me straight.

    Bill in Virginny

  • Mike

    I am waiting for the update to “Participaction”. This is needed more than the food guide.

  • Fran - Tyandaga-Ward1

    … if we could NOW have “clean drinking water” and keep it clean for ALL across our country wouldn’t that be a major accomplishment. What is the state of our creeks and watersheds in Burlington/Halton and our Great Lakes?

  • Jan Mowbray

    Good article. I welcome the new guidelines, they are easier and less expensive to follow. The old guidelines, with all the groups from which one should include in one’s diet was okay if you could afford all that food and could eat it all in the first place.

  • Susan L.

    My Instant Pot has changed my eating habits in a very big way. Now it’s so simple to cook healthy from scratch.

    Mashed Potatoes: 5 potatoes, 3/4 cup water. Set it for 15 minutes and walk away. Come back in half an hour or an hour and mash the potatoes. You don’t even drain them.

    Eggs: Put 6 or more eggs in the pot on a trivet, add 1 cup of water and set it for 5 minutes. You have hard boiled eggs. If you forgot about it, they’re still okay.

    Chicken: A few pounds of chicken, a jar of sauce like BBQ or Spaghetti or Alfredo Sauce, set it for 20 minutes and walk away.

    If you are what you eat, I’m fast cheap and easy. (Joke)