Though Canada’s new food guide calls for clean drinking water and more fresh fruit and vegetables — two things some northern and Indigenous communities have long been fighting for — a doctor from Makkovik is giving the guide an overall thumbs-up.
“From a northern perspective, it’s thinking about equity, food security income. It’s making recommendations about country food that resonate with us on the north coast. I’m really pleased with it,” said Andrew Bresnahan, who is currently working in Nunavut.
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The new guide does away with food groups and serving sizes, focusing instead on proportions and behaviours, recommending that half of each meal come from fresh fruits and vegetables, that water be the beverage of choice, and that Canadians cook more meals at home.
‘They even have Labrador tea’
There’s a substantial section on country food like moose, caribou, Arctic char, ptarmigan and even partridge.
“They even have Labrador tea,” he said. “There’s a lot in there that will be very familiar to Labradorians.”
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And that means that doctors in remote northern communities who are using the food guide as a reference will be able to give patients advice that reflects their reality, he said.
Country food helps mitigate some food access issues northern and Indigenous communities experience, he said, and encouraging people to eat more of not only recognizes its importance, but helps people better navigate those issues themselves.
In Inuit Nunangat, for example, the median annual before-tax income for non-Indigenous families is just over $90,000, nearly four times that of Indigenous families, according to Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami’s 2018 Inuit Statistical Profile.
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With the high cost of food in the north, he said, “that inequity makes it … more difficult for some families than others to access healthy foods. And it’s one of the reasons why country foods are so important in these communities.”
Access to clean water, fresh produce still challenging
The guide encourages Canadians to choose water as their beverage, a challenge for the many Indigenous communities lacking clean drinking water, he said.
But the guide acknowledges that this is an issue for these communities, which is at least evidence that the people behind it were thinking carefully about the different lived experiences of Canadians, he said.
He also notes that meeting the half-the-plate vegetable recommendations is tough for many northern communities, as access to quality produce in often limited, especially in winter when veggies can freeze during transport on the tarmac or show up past their best-before date when weather delays planes and boats.
That’s one of the reason why the emphasis on country food is so encouraging, he said.
It’s also good leverage to demand access to better food.
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“It’s one of the reasons why improvements to Nutrition North and improvements to access to healthy food is really important. If we think that eating vegetables is an important thing for all Canadians, then we need to take some action to help make that a reality.”