Back in the 1940s, the government of Canada decided that people should not be left on their own to make food choices.
I suppose the government was right to intervene. When I was left on my own to make food choices in my early 20s during a year away as an English teacher, I invented what became known as the brown diet. The main food groups in the brown diet were beer, bacon, Hamburger Helper, beer, chicken nuggets, chocolate ice cream, beer, nachos, bacon, peanut butter and beer.
I wasn’t completely crazy, though. I did allow some non-brown exceptions – like popcorn. And one time I made a salad. That was a mistake. Luckily, I redeemed the salad by covering it in bacon. The brown diet made good use of the rule that any food is better – and browner! – when wrapped in bacon.
The government’s antidote to the brown diet and other unhealthy choices is the Canada Food Guide, first published in 1942. That year, with wartime rationing decreasing food choices, the government released its first guide, known as the Official Food Rules. These were much better than the Unofficial Food Rules some people still live by, which include the “five-second” rule, the “Baileys in coffee doesn’t count as alcohol” rule, and the “It’s OK to eat all the skin off a roast chicken if you’re the one that carved it” rule.
The 1942 Official Food Rules contained six food groups, one of which was “eggs,” and included a note that “some source of vitamin D such as fish liver oils, is essential for children.” It was a different time – if parents tried to force their kids to take fish liver oil these days, their children would bash them to death with an iPad.
In 1944, the guide was tweaked to become Canada’s Food Rules, and eggs were scrambled into the meat and fish group, bringing the total number of groups down to five. The guide also came with helpful drawings. For instance, a bottle of milk is shown with arms and legs, and appears to be holding a rifle. Little known fact: one year later, that bottle of milk killed Hitler.
In 1961 things got a little gentler. The word “guide” replaced “rules,” and the food was no longer allowed to carry guns.
The guide that many of us grew up with has its roots in a major update in 1977, which saw the introduction of colourful food pictures arrayed in a wheel-like design around a smiling sun. The five food groups were pared down to four.
Small changes have been made in the years since, but the general design and guidance stayed the same until last week, when the 2019 version came out with some major changes. The new guide scraps the food groups and portion sizes, instead focusing on broader guidelines that promote healthier eating and lifestyle choices. I wanted to know how my lifestyle choices stack up against the latest wisdom, so I went line-by-line through the front page of the revised guide. Here’s a look:
Line 1: “Make it a habit to eat a variety of healthy foods each day.”
Uh oh. I eat the same meal for lunch every single day at work, and it consists of a lot of cheese. Cheese is still good, right?!
Line 2: “Eat plenty of vegetables and fruits, whole grain foods and protein foods.”
Yes! Protein foods! Now we’re talking! I’ll stomach your carrots and apples and “whole grain foods” (does wheat ale count?) as long as I can celebrate with some bacon-wrapped pork chops!
Line 3: “Choose protein foods that come from plants more often.”
Wut. Plant proteins!? “Plant proteins” might be the most depressing two-word combo since “President Trump.” Both are unpalatable, and leave me with an upset stomach.
According to the guide, plant-based proteins can include things such as “legumes,” a word derived from old French that translates roughly to “dirt pill.”
I should add that as I was reading this new guide I was digging into a bag of Goldfish crackers I stole from my kids’ lunch supplies. Please do not consider anything in this column as “advice.”
Quick related question for the food guide gurus: If you eat 300 per cent of your recommended daily salt intake every day, when does that become your recommended daily salt intake? I’m asking for a pretzel. I mean a friend.
Moving on, the guide recommends that you make water your beverage of choice. I’m mostly on board with this, although I did find myself entering this into a Google search: “Is beer basically the same as water?” The answer: no.
All-in-all, the new food guide does seem sensible and healthy and you should probably follow it unless you feel that life isn’t worth living if you have to eat lentils. Just kidding. I want to both live and not eat lentils. But I’ll do my best to follow the rest of the guidelines. And you probably should too. We don’t want to find out what life would be like if they ever go back to the days of the “Official Food Rules.” The only thing worse than a legume is a legume with a rifle.
Andy Prest is the sports editor for the North Shore News and writes a biweekly humour/lifestyle column. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.