By Nick Fonda
For most of human history, our diet has consisted of whatever edible food was available at the moment. Even today, for a majority of the earth’s population, food is a precarious commodity. Those of us who have a wide range of foods to choose from for our three meals a day (plus coffee breaks and snacks) form a minority of the world’s eight billion people. Arguably, we have too much food; the federal government judges that one in four Canadians is obese and that one in three is overweight.
The first time the Canadian government formally commented on our diet was in 1942 when it published a booklet entitled Canada’s Official Food Rules. This was in the middle of World War II and consumer goods were in short supply. People needed coupons to buy their groceries. Sugar, coffee, tea, butter, and meat were all rationed, as was gasoline. Housewives were encouraged to grow victory gardens to have more food to put on the table.
Against that backdrop, which included a generally impoverished population still recovering from the Great Depression, the Canadian Council on Nutrition wanted to help people improve and maintain their health through diet. As one adage had it, you’ll get more enjoyment spending your money on food than on medicine. In 1942, government nutritionists recommended a diet that consisted of six food groups: milk, fruit, vegetables, cereals, eggs, and meat (including fish). It gave guidelines for the size of servings and the number of portions per week. Two years later, the booklet came out again but this time as Canada’s Official Food Guide.