Food Guide Updates
Growing up in the U.S. I never really heard of plant-based eating. Truth be told, I was only introduced to the concept of veganism when I was a college student. I would eat foods that contained animal products without question, and I only ever flirted with the idea of reducing my intake of some animal products when I considered a vegetarian diet some years back. But why didn’t I ever hear about a generally healthy lifestyle growing up? In the U.S. most millennials will probably remember the “Got Milk” advertisement campaign that featured celebrities, athletes, and other cultural icons donning a white “milk” mustache that strategically targeted consumers to “drink milk” in order to be [insert quality of person with milk mustache that you admire the most here].
Of course as an impressionable child, I didn’t realize this was a ploy by the dairy industry to market milk as the only way to build strong bones, or grow tall, etc. Lucky for me though, I had one too many sour milk experiences as a kid so I got off the baby cow juice pretty early on. Nevertheless, this serves as an excellent example of how food recommendations in the United States have placed consumer health second to corporate interests. This isn’t only a phenomenon in the U.S., either. However, given the major shift towards more plant-based eating - I would like to take a moment to recognize how the U.S. could take some notes and improve their message.
In mid-January of this year, the Canadian government released their new and improved food guide. The purpose of the food guide is provide Canadian citizens with a better understanding of how they should be eating on a regular basis. And the results are...pretty plant-based. The CFG recommendation comes with an image of a plate. Half of the plate is filled with fruits and vegetables, and the other half is split evenly between protein, and whole grains. The recommended drink? If you guessed a glass of milk - (a) you must be from the U.S. and (b) you are incorrect! The recommended beverage is nothing other than water. Can you believe it?! The food guide also states that “healthy eating is more than what you eat.” The CFG recommends individuals to be mindful of their eating habits, cook more often, enjoy their food, eat meals with others, use food labels, limit foods high in sodium, sugars, or saturated fats, and to be aware of food marketing.
Another governmental shift: in early 2019 the Food Safety Authority of Ireland stated in their updated version of the “Healthy Eating, Food Safety and Food Legislation – a Guide Supporting the Healthy Ireland Food Pyramid,” that “vegetarian eating one or two days a week is a good thing for everyone” The updated nutritional guide highlights plant-based sources of protein including beans, lentils, and peas. It also cautions against low-carbohydrate, high fat diets (think Keto diet). Even though this is a baby step - it speaks volumes when the leaders of Ireland are advocating for citizens to eat less meat in order to protect their own health and protect the health of the planet from the effects of global warming.
And it isn’t just Canada. In 2016, the Chinese government released new dietary guidelines for citizen with the aim of reducing meat consumption by 50% by the year 2030. According to an article in The Guardian, “the dietary guidelines drawn up by China’s health ministry recommend that the nation’s 1.3 billion population should consume between 40g to 75g of meat per person each day. The measures, released once every 10 years, are designed to improve public health but could also provide a significant cut to greenhouse gas emissions it is important to note that although “China consumes 28% of the world’s meat, including half of its pork. [it] still lags behind more than a dozen other countries in per capita meat consumption, with the average American or Australian consuming twice as much meat per person compared to China.”
The nutritional guides from China, Canada, and Ireland serve as beacons of hope with respect to shifting the conversation on health and agricultural practices. And no, this doesn’t mean that the countries are perfect in every way - that simply is not true. But as someone who wishes their own government would prioritize the health of its citizens rather than the health of corporations, I will give credit where credit is due. So, if you’re reading this and you happen to work in a governmental organization that is responsible for creating nutritional guides in the U.S. (and you are NOT associated with or employed by General Mills — TL; DR General Mills was behind the food pyramid), please take notes, and advocate for the health of your citizens and the planet. For more information on the Canadian Food Guide, click here. You can read more about the Chinese government’s plan obtained from The Guardian newspaper by clicking here . You can also find more information on the Ireland food pyramid here.