05:17:31 am on
Thursday 23 May 2019

Brave New Dietary World
David Simmonds

In the past few days, the one-two punch has hit the North American diet, right in the stomach.

• A healthy diet for Canadians.

A group of twenty-seven scientists, from sixteen countries, authored the first blow in a report in The Lancet, the British medical journal. It aimed to come up with a “planetary health diet” that could feed a world population of ten billion, in a sustainable way. They say that following their recommendations will also avoid eleven million premature deaths a year caused by poor nutrition.

Eleven million fewer deaths per year would reduce the number of annual deaths to roughly forty-five million. We sapiens would accumulate and hang around for much, much longer than we do now. Thus, even more food would be required.

The proposed 2,500-a-day calorie diet suggests protein largely from plant sources, such as beans, lentils, soy and nuts. Whole grain foods are okay and half of what you eat should be fruits and vegetables. You can eat, if you wish, up to an ounce of fish or poultry or up to half-an-ounce of red meat, each day.

Converting the latter limitation to hamburger terms is interesting. It means it should take you at least eight days to work your way through a single Quarter Pounder. Alternatively, you could eat the burger in a single sitting, as long as you divided it equally among seven friends.

The second blow was introduction of a refreshed Canada’s Food Guide. Pointing in much the same direction, as the planetary health study, it calls for half of our daily diet to be fruits and vegetables, one quarter to be proteins and one quarter to be whole grains. The drink of choice should not be pop, fruit juice or milk, but water.

This one-two punch challenges Canadians to change their dietary habits, radically. Moving from meat to, for example, pulses, a dried, edible seed, as the major source of protein, excites few. The people that conceived the Food Guide are well aware of the challenge.

The cover the Guide is a dreamy image of a delicious looking plate of food showing samples of the appropriate types of food, arranged in the correct proportions. Moreover, the Guide comes with lots of recipes for healthy choices. For breakfast, how would you like Savoury Broccoli and Cheese Muffins and for lunch or dinner, you could choose Quinoa and Veggie Casserole.

Does the menu put you off a bit? You must start somewhere. If there’s no pain, there’s no gain.

• Implementing a new diet for Canadians.

We hear rumours the proponents of the Food Guide have a multi-stage implementation programme mapped out. Stage one, which we are in now and will run through the rest of 2019, is the “information” stage. People get the facts and the opportunity to change their dietary habits from enlightened self-interest.

Stage two, scheduled for 2020, will be the “encouragement” phase, in which the government will use behavioural techniques to move the dial. These may range from a simple subsidy of lentils at the grocery store, to a free bumper sticker touting ‘The Joy of Soy,’ to grants to restauranteurs to open up a tofu takeout joints to compete with the big-red-meat franchises.

Stage three, if it becomes necessary, will be the “surveillance” phase. It will start in 2021 and run for two years. Canadians will complete and file a weekly list of meals consumed; a task officials assure us will be no more difficult than preparing a tax return. The government will then hire a cadre of compliance officers to review the reports and monitor how closely families are sticking to the Food Guide. The only penalty that a violator will face is shaming.

The exact number of compliance officers hired will depend on the success of a parallel initiative to encourage one or more members of the household, preferably youthful idealists, to contact an inspector directly in the event of a perceived violation. The government is studying models from Eastern Europe and Asia as well as the Orwellian novel, 1984, for hints. “We want the kid who catches dad snacking on a ham-on-white sandwich to feel he can call us with complete anonymity,” says one official familiar with the policy, but not at liberty to speak officially.

Stage four is the “compulsion” phase of the programme. It’s a contingency plan that is to come into effect only if the other stages don’t produce the desired result. This will see the Food Guide codified into law as “Canada’s Food Rules,” and Canadians obliged to stick to them or face fines or even imprisonment. Inspectors will have the power of entry and arrest.

• Canadians are entering a brave new dietary world.

If you think that sounds like a dark future, you’re responding the way the government hopes you do. If you know what Stages three and four are going to look like, you’ll be more inclined to jump in with both feet at Stage one and try those recipes for Savoury Broccoli and Cheese Muffins or Quinoa and Veggie Casserole, right now. Talk about a one-two punch.

Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose, not infrequently laced with savage humour. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Pete Hamill and Mike Barnacle; the late Jimmy Breslin and Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington, Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

More by David Simmonds:
Tell a Friend

Click above to tell a friend about this article.