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LETTER: New Food Guide calls for bold leadership on healthy eating and Food Security in N.L.

On Jan. 22, Health Canada released an updated Food Guide — and it’s a bold change.

The new Guide is grounded in current nutrition science and focused on supporting healthy eating among Canadians, providing clear recommendations not only on what to eat — focus on vegetables and fruits, protein, whole grain foods, and water — but also emphasizing the importance of how we eat — encouraging us to cook, share meals with others, and focus on enjoying food. 

Lots to be optimistic about, and lots of work left to do 

When we review the new Food Guide, there’s lots to be optimistic about — it is rooted in nutrition science, it is focused on the health of Canadians, it values traditional food, it encourages fresh, frozen, canned, and dried as all healthy options, and its messages align with much of the work we do at Food First NL.

We also know that many people across the country face significant barriers to healthy eating, and that this recommended plate — and recommended relationship to food — is not accessible for over four million Canadians, and over seventy thousand Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

From high rates of food bank usage and household food insecurity, to the limited availability and high costs of good quality, healthy food in many communities, to the high proportion of communities with inadequate water infrastructure (43 per cent) — Newfoundland and Labrador faces complex food security and water access challenges that directly impact our ability to follow the recommendations outlined in the new guide.

The impacts of these barriers can be seen in the health outcomes of the population. Newfoundland and Labrador has the lowest rates of vegetable and fruit consumption, and some of the highest rates of diet-related health challenges, from diabetes to heart disease.

The release of the new Canada’s Food Guide does not change these facts or address these barriers. What it does do is present us with the opportunity, and challenge us to come together, across sectors — from community organizations to governments to businesses — to take collective action to make the recommendations within the food guide accessible for all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

Reaching the guide’s recommendations calls for strong, diverse leadership 

Achieving this will take bold leadership across sectors. We will need government leaders at all levels committing to audacious policy efforts — from food policies to poverty reduction strategies to public procurement policies.

We will need innovation within the private sector to develop fruitful business models that benefit the health of communities, helping to increase local food production, better distribution of food, and more accessible retail. We will need non-profit organizations — like ours and many others in this province — to continue to work with communities across the province to support programs that that directly impact access to food.

The Food Guide is one part of the puzzle — a critical and guiding part. It is now time for continued, cross-sector action to build on this foundation and make its recommendations a reality for all.

We’re excited to be part of what’s next.  What is Food First NL doing to make these recommendations a reality for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians? Our project, Everybody Eats, is working with over 20 partners across the province and food system to address issues of cost of food and household food insecurity, and strengthen community food self-sufficiency. Our project, Our Food NL, is supporting five communities in the province in developing and implementing locally designed food programs that aim to overcome local barriers to accessing food. And as a final example, our Institutional Food Programs include farm-to-school salad bars that improve availability and access to healthy, local food for students in four schools across the province.

Kristie Jameson,

Executive Director of Food First NL

St. John’s

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MARTHA MUZYCHKA: Digesting Health Canada’s new food guide

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