We’re all familiar with Chinese food and Italian food, but what is Canadian food?
David McInnes says it’s a wide variety of fresh, healthy foods.
Instead of poutine and beaver tails, Canada should be known for homegrown, nutritious commodities: Fish from our lakes and oceans, grains grown on our prairies, and fruits and vegetables in abundance all over the country.
Promoting the Canadian diet is good for health and good for agriculture, says McInnes, who is president and CEO of the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute (CAPI) in Ottawa. “We need to recognize that, hey, we do have foods in Canada that are safe, healthy and are produced in a sustainable way,” he says.
“We have a Canadian diet and we should be proud of what we produce and eat.”
The idea of the “Canadian diet” was developed by CAPI as a starting point to help counter the rising epidemic of obesity in this country and boost the ailing farming industry. Here’s how it might work:
• Get people to stop eating junk food and turn to fresher, locally-grown food — salmon, sweet potatoes, carrots, berries, whole grains, spinach, dairy products such as milk, yogurt and cheese, flax, lean meats, and a wide array of other fruits and vegetables.
• Invest in advanced research to find out which foods promote health. For instance, what are the health benefits of oats and barley? Take that research from the laboratory to the marketplace.
• Support innovation in the agriculture industry.
• Improve the regulatory environment for farmers.
• Promote strategies that drive up exports.
The concept sprouted wings, says McInnes, “generating considerable national interest in newspapers, radio and the trade press.”
Dietitians have been promoting this way of eating for years. “Canada produces some of the world’s healthiest and most versatile ingredients. Many, such as canola, salmon, pulses (dried beans and lentils) and flax provide general health benefits by helping to reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases like heart disease and cancer, while others have more specific benefits,” says Mary Sue Waisman, a registered dietitian who works with Dietitians of Canada.
Healthy meal ideas
So how can you take advantage of the healthy Canadian diet? Metro asked the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute, along with the Dietitians of Canada, to come up with some purely down-home ideas for our kitchens.
• Maple Marinated Salmon: Grilled on a Cedar Plank; top with a blueberry salsa made with chopped blueberries, red bell and jalapeno peppers and apples with fresh mint and a drizzle of canola oil and apple juice.
• Backyard Garden Salad: Made with spinach, romaine and local chopped veggies topped with finely diced Oka cheese and your favourite lower fat vinaigrette.
• Cauliflower au Gratin: Tender cauliflower topped with melted Canadian mozzarella cheese.
• Hot-bag Vegetables: Toss a variety of lightly oiled root vegetables (such as carrots and parsnips), bell peppers and cauliflower, seasoned with herbs and spices, into a roasting bag. These are heat-resistant, clear plastic bags with plastic closures. Place the bag of vegetables in a vegetable basket on a preheated barbecue and cook for 17 to 20 minutes, until tender. This can be done in a preheated oven at 350F if preferred.
• Carrot, Mushroom and Green Onion Barley Pilaf: Sauté ½ cup each of green onions, carrots and mushrooms in 2 tablespoons of canola oil; add 1 cup of barley, ¼ cup ground flaxseed, a few sprigs of fresh thyme and 3 cups of water or chicken broth and simmer until barley is soft and liquid has evaporated.
• Platter of Canadian Cheese: Include brie, cheddar and feta cheeses with some dried apricots, blueberries and cranberries; use any leftover cheese in school lunches — simply add some whole grain crackers, a container of yogurt and fresh grapes for a healthy quick lunch.