Thesis Paper: Food Brings People Together

Lyssa Gagné
Nov 17, 2019 · 13 min read

Original Date: May 9, 2019

Abstract

Since WWII, the roles within the family structure and food habits have changed drastically. Historically humans have spent a great deal of time and energy trying to secure and maintain food sources through hunting, gathering, and preserving. A successful harvest was celebrated with family and friends bringing the community together. Food is not just a means of energy, but a way to connect with others. When this connection is interrupted it has devastating impact on the health and wellbeing of potentially all members in the society. Since the majority of our food supply is secure, Canadian society has taken food and community for granted. To better understand society’s loss of connection to food sources and community this paper will explore and examine family convenience, globalization of food sources, and food cost and security. Creating an awareness campaign will help reintroduce localization of food sources and help bring a sense of togetherness through family and community. Introducing food literacy and other skills necessary to cook nutritious meals can be used throughout the awareness campaign. Families that have children participating in programs can offer a spill-over effect by bringing necessary food literacy knowledge home to teach their parents and grandparents.

Keywords: family structure, diet and physical activity, time barriers, half-baked globalization, monoculturalism, homogenization of foods, 2018 Canada’s Food Guide, gene-editing, organic foods, and food literacy.

Food Brings People Together

How does food bring people together? At its core, food is fuel providing energy for daily life. It is an everyday necessity otherwise humans and animals would not survive for long. A large portion of history has been spent striving to ensure a secure and consistent food source through hunting, gathering, and preserving. The family and community took part in these activities and through success celebrated together. The book No One Eats Alone: Food as a Social Enterprise suggests that “To eat is to be connected, in one way or another. To eat differently, then, requires a change in those connections- that social change” (Carolan, 10). The way we eat is interconnected to the way we socialize. The interact with family and community is disrupted when the routine of meals change. This shows that food is not merely a form of energy, but a connection with others. Once the food supply became secure, society began to take food and community for granted. To better understand Canadian society loss of connection to food sources and community an exploration of family convenience, globalization of food sources, food cost and security will be examined. Through these key points an awareness campaign will be created to show through the localization of food sources a better sense of family and community can be created. Taking a more in-depth approach would be to create a community garden in which members can donate money and grow produce.

Family Convenience

Major world events such as WWI, the Industrial Revolution, and WWII have helped change and shape the family structure to what it is now. The pre-twentieth century traditional family structure consisted of a working husband, a stay-at-home wife, biological children, and the extended family. Family roles were, and continue to be, controlled and dictated by societal norms. WWI, the Great Depression, and WWII started to morph the family structure. Women were required to work to supplement the family income and workforce, while the men were off at war. Children and teens were often left unattended at home, which gave rise to juvenile delinquency and teen pregnancy. Postwar to the 1950s, the family structure returned to the original structure. During this period, children looked to have long-lasting and stronger relationships with their parents which created the concept of close-knit families. Families did things together such as eating meals and going on outings.

Today the modern family structure includes multiple subcategories such as nuclear, single, step, and extended. The nuclear family is considered traditional and has been around since the 1950s. The structure of the nuclear family consists of two parents with one or multiple children. A single parent, lone or sole parent and a co-parent, is someone who cares for one or multiple children. A single parent can be the result of adoption, artificial insemination, death of a spouse, separation and divorce. It’s becoming more common for previously married individuals to merge their families together and become step parents to their spouses’ children. An extended family consists of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and various cousins.

The concept of convenience is core concern among families and especially parents faced with time barriers such as commuting, working long hours, and attending after-work and school activities. Food that is prepared with minimal effort or thought, while maintaining the appearance of a full meal are given priority over well thought out nutritious homemade meals. Fast food and processed foods often lack the necessary daily nutrients needed to stay healthy. In 2016 and 2017, Statistics Canada reported that forty percent of Canadians body mass index was in the normal range with thirty-four percent overweight and twenty-seven obese (“Obesity in Canadian Adults, 2016 and 2017”, 2018). Those who consumed fewer than five fruits or vegetables a day were twenty-eight percent obese whereas an increase in fruit and vegetable intake decreased obesity to twenty percent (“Obesity in Canadian Adults, 2016 and 2017”, 2018). Not only is convenience a reason to eat out, Canadians are also eating out to socialize. Statistics Canada stated that fifty-two percent of Canadians ate out with family and friends to socialize while forty percent ate out because they did not have time, did not like, or did not know how to cook a meal (“Eating Out: How Often and Why?”, 2019). This is interesting to note since it was reported that thirty percent of Canadians eat their meal alone and without their partner. That one out of ten Canadians sometimes ate while doing an activity such as technology at fifty-three percent, watching TV at thirty-three percent, preparing meals at nineteen percent, listening to the radio or reading at fifteen percent, and working and studying at fourteen percent (“Time to Eat”, 2018). Canadians want to eat and spend time with family and friends, but in order to do so must go out and spend the money.

A new and improved Canadian Food Guide was just recently released to the public this past January 2019. The New Food Guide replaced the 1947 food guide that was built on consuming large quantities of food. New recommendations in the guide suggest that Canadians should eat with others, cook more often, and enjoy food. People eat healthier food more frequently when they are enjoying it with others. Community gardens and urban farms are another great way to increase consumption of fruits and vegetables for everyone. It increases the “participants’ knowledge of how to grow, prepare, and eat food” (Shostak,159). It is evident that Canadians are pressured by time limitations and lack necessary skills in order to prepare and cook a nutritious meal. Children often participate in the educational programs offered through community garden projects. These projects can offer a can offer a spill-over effect as participating children will go home to teach their parents and grandparents about what they learned.

Globalization of Food Sources

A good question to think about is if franchised restaurants and grocery stores should adapt to the local community food palette or offer standard globalized foods? Think about a culture whose main food staple is white corn mash with greens and dried fish (Penaloza, L., Toulouse, N., & Visconti, L, p. 15). Introducing beef or chicken may have drastic measures on their overall diet. Now bring in fast foods and processed foods; can their bodies find and process this new food source out of their system properly? People who are introduced to fast foods and processed foods; an example would be a McDonald’s hamburger and fries; may not necessarily want the food, but rather go because it’s clean, safe, and has a North American atmosphere (Penaloza, L., Toulouse, N., & Visconti, L., p. 18). The concept of “half-baked globalization” gives to the hybrid mix of global foods and local cuisine that often wreak havoc on the health of locals (Penaloza, L., Toulouse, N., & Visconti, L., p. 21). Locals are even sacrificing necessities in order to afford the “luxuries” of fast food, processed foods, and sugary and fatty foods.

At the end of WWII and until 2009, there has been a narrowing of culinary skills, preferences, and knowledge when it comes to dietary profiles (Carolan, 7). During later half of the twentieth century, the world’s selection of go-to foods that are grown and consumed can be summed up to seven commodities that include soybean, sunflower, palm oil, cassava, sweet potatoes, millets, and sorghum. The book No One Eats Alone: Food as a Social Enterprise refers this period as the Green Revolution, “the exportation of American-style conventional agriculture to lower-income nations, predicated almost exclusively on productivity gains — on producing, in a word, more” (Carolan, 10). Single subspecies of plants were selected based on consumption of energy and its absorption of nutrients. These plants would compete with native weeds for sunlight creating a need to use fertilizers and herbicides to increase the plants yield.

Not only did the Green Revolution create homogenized foods and forge monocultures, but a group of individuals in a short period of time have collectively lost a system of skills that generations before them had developed. These skills created a unique system of, “knowledge that allowed them to grow food not only under remarkably adverse conditions, but to also do so sustainably, without the need of expensive non-renewable resources, as in the case of fertilizers, or scarce resources, if you’re talking about irrigated water” (Carolan, 12). It’s as if society developed amnesia at the start of the Green Revolution to the point that entire societies are robbed of the ability to look back at the past. Over time, commercial farmers have lost the knowledge of biodiversity that includes how many varieties of subspecies a plant may have and how to harvest them. By reducing biodiversity, tastes for certain dishes are lost and so are the skills to prepare them.

The new Canadian Food Guide does not factor in the economic, social, and cultural barriers that individuals and families might face while attaining healthy foods. Consider that fresh fruit is an expensive commodity, culturally appropriate foods and not everyone can share the same diet, and in order to maintain a healthy food supply a sustainable food system needs to be in place (Duignan, 2019). The new food guide also impacts various industries that were once a focal point in the old guide. Canadian Beef, Dairy Farmers of Canada, and Food & Consumer Products of Canada all felt that the decreased representation in the new guide impacted them negatively. Food & Consumer Products of Canada believed the guide unfairly vilified processed foods. That Canadians relying on these foods because they were convenient, affordable, safe, and nutritious. It’s hopeful going forward that the new version will be taught in schools, promoted by health officials, and Canadians will make good food choices over time. Retailers will need to reconsider placement of plant-based proteins and store layouts will change to accommodate the change.

Food Costs & Security

Solutions to food costs and security have led to gene editing, promoting organics, meal-kits, and government interventions. A large proportion of any household’s net budget goes to food costs. If the amount is too high households will either be unable to afford food or budget for cheaper and possibly less nutritious foods. Food security, on the other hand, occurs when all members of the household can access nutritionally adequate and safe food. The new Canadian Food Guide outlines required foods for an individual however, it does not consider the overall costs and longer-term longevity of maintaining healthy foods.

An alternative to reducing food costs and mass producing for accessibly is looking at scientific solutions such as engineered and genetically modified foods. Scientists that engineer foods use a tool called a CRISPR-Cas9 to make changes to the DNA of a plant, animal, or other living organism (Harris, “Gene-Edited Foods: Coming Soon, But Will Consumers bit?”, 2019). An example would be prolonging the apples flesh from browning or preventing bruising. Scientist can now turn off the gene that causes browning and bruising in apples. Consumers can be when it comes to purchasing fresh products looking for crispness, perfection, and expiration dates. Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) take on a different scientific approach as scientists take a foreign gene and insert it into another organism often making it resistant to pests or herbicides (Harris, “Gene-Edited Foods: Coming Soon, But Will Consumers Bite?”, 2019). GMO’s have been around for thirty years and are partially responsible for the loss of local wildlife. Scientists believe that the gene editing technique will help revolutionize the food industry by boosting nutrition, food production, reducing waste, and protecting plants from harmful viruses. Dalhousie conducted a survey on 1,046 Canadian participants with 37.7% believed that genetically modified or engineered foods were safe to consume and 34.7% who disagreed (Harris, “Gene-Edited Foods: Coming Soon, But Will Consumers Bite?”, 2019).

Organics have been on a steady food trend for the last couple of years. The Canadian Organic Market, Trends and Opportunities have reported that regardless of income, consumers are purchasing organics (Stefanac, 2019). Organics is a billion-dollar market in Canada and have been steadily growing for years. Fifty percent of global organic foods are consumed in North America with eighty percent buying organics from mainstream channels (Stefanac, 2019). Organics are free from pesticides and herbicides making them clean and exceptionally healthy for consumption, but these organics come at a higher cost. Families that need food in large quantities and bulk often flock to stores such as Costco and Walmart which are known to carry factory farmed products at a cheaper price. Until recently, Costco and Walmart now carry organics making better food choices more accessible. Members in the family that make food purchases are considering the high prices of organics, but are willing to sacrifice a few dollars in order to make a better investment in the health of their families. The Canadian Organic Market, Trends and Opportunities reports that eighty-three percent of millennials and fifty-six percent of baby boomers are purchasing organics (Stefanac, 2019). These groups are trying to gravitate towards a cleaner food diet and in hopes achieving a longer independent life.

To help promote healthier eating patterns, the Ontario Good and Nutrition Strategy (2017) looks to focus in on healthy food access and food literacy and skills. When diet is affected it impacts the cost of Canadian healthcare. The burden placed on the healthcare will decrease when food access, literacy, and skills are improved and increased. The study found that assessments did not include considerations for integrated food and agriculture and nutrition at the provincial and federal levels. These factors were also not entirely addressed in the new Canadian Food Guide. It’s suggests that healthy foods involve the means to obtain safe, healthy, local and culturally acceptable foods (Boucher et al., 2017). Improving food literacy and skills through information, knowledge, skills, relationships, capacity and environments were needed to support healthy eating (Boucher et al., 2017). To promote a healthy prosperous economy, diverse and resilient food systems need to be in place (Boucher et al., 2017).

Conclusion

Society has taken food and community for granted therefore its necessary to take steps to rectify it. Convenience is a main concern when it comes to families and especially those dealing with time barriers that include commuting, working long hours, and attending after-work/school activities. Fast food and processed foods, which often lack the necessary daily nutrients, replace homemade meals. Overtime these elements have contributed to increase obesity, eating alone, decrease in necessary fruits and vegetables, and lack of food literacy. To address some of these concerns the Canadian federal government released a new and improved version of the Canadian Food Guide. New recommendations suggest eating with others and cooking meals. Community garden, family cooking and nutrition programs could be implemented to help provide fresh foods and a place to learn and develop strong food literacy skills.

Globalized food sources can help improve access to foods that would otherwise be to expensive, out of season, and not locally grown. The Green Revolution has homogenized foods and forged monocultures while robbing the necessary skills that farmers need. These skills allowed them to grow and harvest food sustainably, while protecting the natural resources. There needs to be diversity at the farm stage and on the plate in order to maintain a healthy eco-balance.

Foods that are grown locally will help with food costs and provide better food security. This will allow for households to purchase nutritious foods such as fruits and vegetables within their budget. This can be achievable with a local farm or a community garden system with universal design. Canadians are interested in organics, which offer an untarnished and real product. Growing local allows for transparency and the ability to control certain elements of the environment such as no pesticides. Having a community garden will require effort, but the overall nutritious outcome may displace it. It would be best to prepare an awareness campaign to spark interest, offer needed food literacy, and through a community garden increase access to fresher foods.

References

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