Last Saturday I attended the Grande Conversation DUX - Eat Better, Live Better. The main goal of the event was to gather together key players from the food industry - from the consumers to nutritionists, scholars, grocers, producers and restaurateurs. The leader of this initiative is Ms. Lyne Gosselin, President and Editor, EDIKOM and spokesperson and ambassador of the DUX program. It was a day filled with great information from different expert panels including well-known guest speakers from Quebec, including Chef Louis-François Marcotte, Dr. Christiane Laberge and Marie-France Bazzo as the moderator to name a few. They served up information on different topics relating to food – from its origin to its packaging and distribution. There were also quizzes throughout the day and delicious food samples from chefs, with recipes and tips. The entrance ticket was very reasonably priced ($28.00, tax included) and covered entrance to the day-long event and a bag filled with goodies including a beautiful magazine (Le Must) at the end of the day. The themes covered were:
Demystifying the shopping cart
Processed industrial products: the end of authenticity?
There is often a negative perception of products that are mass produced by the manufacturing process, but that’s not always the case. In some instances, they are healthier than if they were home cooked. It is important to do your homework though - check the ingredients and know the reputation of the company.
Labels and ingredient lists: what do they teach us?
Canada has introduced a new food labeling system, but do consumers use it? It was found that people do read labels more and more. As for lists of ingredients, they can still be confusing at times, especially when it comes to chemicals, what they mean and what they are for. As an example, a few of us knew that citric acid means lemon juice, but what about the rest! They also discussed the ‘Green Label’, which is a system that helps consumers make healthier food choices. This system is used in the UK and some European countries. It is similar to the system used for energy efficiency.
The value of food: real, perceived and unknown!
This talk addressed things like expiry dates and how consumers may be confused because sometimes it is not actually an expiry date but a packaging or best before date. Even with all the information that the buyer is given, the consumer shares the responsibility to safeguard the products until it is served, because the information provided by the producer is for products that are stored under ideal conditions. They also touched on the issue of “without” labels, like products labelled without gluten, without salt, or conservatives and their meaning. These foods are not always a healthier choice, because in order to produce a product without an ingredient or additive, sometimes they have to substitute or increase another ingredient or additive. To conclude you really ought to get into the habit of reading the ingredients.
Mélanie Marchand kitchen on stage shared 3 recipes
The recipes presented were original and very tasty, including a very nice gazpacho and a rice pudding tart from Le Must magazine.
The body has its reasons that current trends ignore
Needs and functioning of our bodies: are we disconnected?
Experts are noticing in their practices that there is a decreasing emphasis on thinness, but an increasing obsession with eating right and all the theories associated with a hidden agenda to achieve the perfect body. Experts point out that social media might be partly to blame for this. People have a need to belong. The psychologist on the panel said that there is even a new term that is about to be approved, called “orthorexia” the obsession with eating well/healthy. The scientist on the panel also mentioned that there is now a genomic test that can reveal what ‘diet’ would be best for you according to your DNA.
Canada's daily food guide
In general people tend to agree with the new Canadian food guide. Some think it is too pure, does not allow for treats and milk products and that it is still a bit too complicated for the general population. There is also insufficient attention to the needs of the elderly and children according to the experts. They said that later this year there will be updates on how to cater to the needs of these two population groups. On the other hand, rather than counting portions it is easier to visualize them. 1 in 3 Canadians would have adopted the guide. The psychologist pointed out that she has a rule of thumb when it comes to eating, which is 80% right/healthy and 20% pleasure/treats e.g., cookies, jam. I really like this idea.
The future of the planet on our plate
The impacts of food on the environment: what is the best path forward?
One of the experts on the panel was from the cattle industry, which he defended. The animals on Quebec farms he said are well treated, calves are not separated from their mothers, they have the freedom to roam in nice pastures and enhance the landscape. However, these are difficult times for beef producers as the industry has received a lot of negative publicity in the last few years, especially with growth of the environmental and vegan movements. Because of the way we farm in Quebec and the rules and regulations of Canada, the beef produced here is a bit more expensive. The question of the use of the pesticides and antibiotics was also brought up. What type of pesticide is preferred - organic or conventional? Are they necessary? Organic means free of conventional pesticides, hormones, antibiotics or synthetized fertilizers but is there a cost to this? Is organic produce really better for our health? There is no proof in terms of nutritional value, while the taste and feeling they give us is never evaluated.
Local buying: better understand it
There was a great debate concerning this issue. Quebec can’t be experts at growing everything and from a geographic and climate perspective there are things that just don’t grow here. There is also the question of cost. On the one hand more people want fresh organic produce that is grown in Quebec, but on the other hand, if everyone had that attitude, there would be no export market for Quebec producers. Importing foods is not necessarily a bad thing as it gives consumers greater selection and variety. Ultimately, it comes down to a personal choice and prioritizing the purchase of products that encourage our local economy.
Food packaging: a necessary evil?
At times, packaging is a necessary evil. Packaging can enable traceability and a way to share information – e.g., ingredients, best before dates with consumers. It can assure the freshness and quality control of the product. However, there are more and more opportunities to buy certain items in bulk. But even when we buy in bulk, we have to keep in mind that we are reducing packaging but not entirely eliminating it, as even bulk food is packaged for transport and delivery from the producer to the retailer. As for recycling, some of us have a clear conscious thinking that most of what we put in our recycling bin is recycled, but unfortunately that is not the case. There is also a lot of misinformation out there about packaging. One fun fact I learned is that in a supermarket you can find anywhere from 30,000 to 50,000 different products!
In conclusion though the event didn’t solve the world’s food problems, it was a great forum to continue discussions on different topics. Much more must be done, but we have to start somewhere to tackle the different problems we are now facing collectively. Everyone has a part to play. When visiting your favourite market or supermarket don’t be afraid to ask questions or make suggestions. You have more of a voice than you think.