Will pulses fuel shift in food choices?

The food we enjoy eating most is often the food that was prepared for us by our parents.

As we grow older, we learn about new food from our friends and their families. Our food experience continues to evolve as we become responsible for making dietary choices for ourselves and our own families.

However, somewhere along the line we have found ourselves on the wrong path.

A 2011 study from Memorial University showed that the number of overweight and obese Canadians has tripled since 1985, and the authors predicted that the trend would continue.

Canadians need to change how we think about our food.

Meal time decisions are complicated. Deciding what food is put on your plate has to meet a lot of criteria: we want it to taste good, we know it has to be affordable and many of us want it to be ready quickly.

However, we also have to look at what we need.

We know that the combination of food that we eat must meet our nutritional needs. We also need to understand the link between what we consume and our health. Increased body weight brings with it increased risk of diabetes and heart disease.

As well, the 2012 Review of Environment and Resources determined that food and agriculture account for up to 29 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. The food choices we make affect the health of the planet.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has asked Agriculture Minister Lawrence Macaulay to lead the development of a food policy for Canada.

The country’s agriculture ministers are meeting in Calgary this week, and they should know that the ministers of health, finance and environment will all be watching to see how the government tackles the food policy question.

Canada’s food policy must be about more than what we grow in Canada and what Canadians want to eat. A new food policy has to support improvements in the health of Canadians and the health of the environment.

All levels of government in Canada can start by looking at what is already taking place around the world. The Swedish government provides consumers with lifestyle guidance that emphasizes an active life and environmental health as part of their dietary recommendation.

The British government’s “Eat well Guide” boldly states what people should eat more of and what they should eat less of.

Both of these examples emphasize health of the people and the planet.

Pulse crops are prominent in both the British and Swedish food guides. They are affordable and play a role in sustainability that makes them uniquely supportive for other plant and animal food sources. Pulses have always been part of dietary recommendations, but they are now moving to the centre of the plate.

Peas and lentils are showing up in everything from snack foods to breakfast cereals. Hummus is one of the most rapidly growing categories in grocery sales. Even traditional pulse food such as soup is giving pulses a place of prominence on the label.

Canada is the world’s largest producer and exporter of peas and lentils, exporting to more than 150 countries. It needs to have an approach to food that leads by example.

Success will be measured by improvements in the health of Canadians and a reduction in the environmental impact of our food choices.

It’s interesting to think that crops such as beans, which are one of the “three sisters” of First Nations food lore, and peas, which the voyageurs ate in soup while opening new trade routes in Canada, could very well be returning to the centre of our thinking about food.

Gordon Bacon is chief executive officer of Pulse Canada.

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