Why care about the Internet?

INDEPENDENT MEDIA by Steve Anderson with Alicia Girard 

I was recently invited to speak at an event put on by Gen-Why (www.genwhymediaproject.com) called the “Why We Do It Party.” What made the event interesting, besides the eclectic mix of speakers, creative performers and participants, was that the speakers were asked to talk about why they do what they do. Instead of speakers giving the usual talk about what they or their organizations do or about their accomplishments, we were asked to speak about what motivates us to do what we do. It was nice to be forced to step back from the day-to-day excitement at OpenMedia.ca and actually remember what got me started in the first place and also for me to take some time to contemplate what keeps me engaged and motivated now.

Considering my work, the question really boiled down to why I care about the open Internet. I find the question interesting because I’m sure it’s different for each one of us. For some, it might be about consuming content of your choice; for others, it might be the ability to share your art, to reach your family via skype, to debate on forums, to facilitate meet-ups around an area of interest and innumerable other activities.

So while I came up with my answer for the Gen Why event, it made me curious as to what others would say if the question were put to them. So I put a call out on my blog and the OpenMedia.ca Facebook page to see what people would tell me.

The answers I got were as diverse as Canadians are themselves. Some common themes were benefits to humanity, education, free speech, dissatisfaction with traditional media, and my personal favorite: the Internet is basically everything.

Some had touching, personal stories to share. One person wrote, “I am on a disability for brain trauma. I have had the opportunity through the use of online learning and special programs to attain a B-average in university [studying] academic writing, psychology, anthropology and several courses in behavioural analysis and autism support. My goal is to become a support person for others who may also have challenges. It would mean the loss of my ability to forward my education and be of service to others if I were charged for Internet usage as well as access.”

Others expressed wonderment: “I am a normal adult who grew up in the days before there was any such thing as an Internet. I never would have believed that all this is possible and it has changed the world in both good ways and bad. However, I believe that the Internet has changed the world in at least one very good way – and that is in our ability to share with each other.”

For me, the efforts to close the open Internet (by metering or throttling) are a war on sharing, a war on creativity and ultimately a war on human potential. Perhaps I’m a bit too much of a romantic for my own good, but I think the Internet can bring out the best of the human spirit; I think it has the capacity to reflect back at us and encourage us to reach the potential for a more just and democratic society. The Internet won’t itself solve the world’s problems, but it does help break down barriers between us; it does make it easier to collaborate and self organize. For me, saving the Internet is important because the Internet holds the possibility for a better world.

Steve Anderson is the national coordinator for the Campaign for Democratic Media. He has written for The Tyee, Toronto Star, Epoch Times andAdbusters.

Vegan junk food

NUTRISPEAK by Vesanto Melina

Bill Clinton has gone vegan. Oprah had her 378 staffers go vegan for a week and they lost 444 pounds collectively. To celebrate nutrition month (March), plenty of people are shifting their diets toward plant foods and becoming vegan or near-vegan. However, does this automatically mean they will be eating healthier?

Not necessarily. People often assume that becoming vegan means no more donuts, cheesecake, s’mores, gummy bears, ice cream bars, Cheezies, chicken wings or similar “treats” because 20-years-ago vegan versions of these did not exist. Today, however, vegan junk foods are yours for the taking. This evolution is wonderful and horrible at the same time. It can be a relief to provide your child with a delicious vegan ice cream bar at a gathering when youngsters are enjoying similar treats. And it’s great that your family can enjoy s’mores or roast marshmallows around the campfire, without using regular marshmallows containing gelatin, a product from animal bones and the slaughterhouse industry. But if you get too cosy with these processed foods, your veggie diet can become almost as bad as the standard American diet or its Canadian counterpart that we had hoped to avoid.


In this busy world, convenience foods have a clear attraction. While popping a veggie pie in the microwave is faster than preparing dinner from scratch, it helps to take a step back. Processed, packaged foods are designed to tantalize your taste buds and keep you coming back for more. This task is accomplished with lots of salt, sugar and fat, all of which have a nasty way of coming back to bite you in the butt.

Not long ago, most people had no idea what the word vegan meant. Those who did regarded it as a risky dietary choice. Today, the word vegan is viewed in a more flattering light. This shift is the result of several decades of solid, scientific evidence confirming the safety, adequacy and considerable health benefits of well-planned vegan diets. As a result, you can walk into any mainstream grocery store and find products with the word vegan prominently displayed on the label. Producers use the word vegan to sell goods because consumers associate this word with wholesome, nutritious, ethical and green.

But don’t be fooled. The word vegan on a label does not automatically mean healthful, low calorie, low fat, low sugar or a high nutrient content. Some of the unhealthiest foods – soda pop and deep fried, salty snacks – are 100% vegan.

Vesanto Melina is a dietitian and co-author of nutrition classics Becoming Vegetarian, Becoming Vegan, Becoming Raw, Raising Vegetarian Children,the Food Allergy Survival Guide and the Raw Food Revolution Diet. For personal consultations, phone 604-882-6782 or visit www.nutrispeak.com

Gone vegan? Choose foods wisely

Eat mainly whole plant foods: Make vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds the centrepieces of your meals and snacks. Aim for 10 servings of vegetables and fruits per day, with at least three servings of greens each day. (A serving is a half-cup; with leafy greens, it’s a cup.

Take care of nutrients such as vitamins B12 and vitamin D: Use supplements or fortified foods where appropriate.

If you eat vegan convenience foods, do so in moderation: Frozen entrees, veggie meats, frozen, whole grain waffles and packaged mixes offer variety, but stick mainly to whole foods.

If you eat vegan “junk” foods, do so only occasionally. Read labels! This includes the nutrition facts and the ingredient list.

Photo © Joshua Resnick


Trusting your neighbourhood

ON THE GARDEN PATH by Carolyn Herriot

In February, while returning from a serene vacation in Costa Rica – self-described as the “happiest country in the world” – during the bus ride to the airport, a thief stole the backpack containing all my valuables, including my passport, money and credit cards. In an instant, the ‘pura vida’ of the previous month vanished.

The incident provided an insight into Costa Rica, and my life, I would not have otherwise had. It was a miracle I left Costa Rica on a standby flight only four days later (two weeks is the norm) and I had a lot of help from many apologetic people. Unfortunately, after a month of seeing signs everywhere with the warning, “Keep your valuables within reach at all times” and security guards and police posted on every corner in the tourist districts, I had let my guard down.

I was returning to a life in which I take trust for granted and where I don’t think about theft. Recently, the importance of trust between neighbours was bought home more strongly when I attended a gathering of the Gorge/Tillicum Urban Farmers community group (GTUF). In the fall of 2008, a few people in the Gorge/Tillicum neighbourhood of Victoria began meeting in each other’s homes to address the issue of local food security. When the group grew too large for living rooms, they started meeting at the Saanich Neighbourhood Place. GTUF currently has 70 members.

The early meetings were divided into two parts: sharing information about growing food and planning the group’s direction. The members added talks to the monthly meetings and some people worked toward a revision of the bylaw affecting backyard hens; one member helped create a food garden with Saanich Neighbourhood Place children.

Throughout the summer of 2009, they met socially for potlucks and in the fall they revised their mission statement and clarified tasks, encouraging members to take on various roles. The mission statement was revised to read as follows: “We choose to change direction and harness our collective creativity to adopt practices that allow us to develop resilience and live sustainably on our planet. Such a venture involves restructuring our food system locally, regionally and globally, to address the issues of global climate change, the depletion of oil and other fossil fuels, economic crises and potential earthquakes.”

GTUF now promotes itself through signs on properties that say, “Neighbours Growing Organically” and it links people with other food groups. It has organized its second Seedy Sunday; it offers tours of local food gardens and it is busy proposing a community garden in a local park to Saanich municipality. In 2010, GTUF received the Saanich municipality environmental award for sustainability.

GTUF’s objectives would be impossible to achieve if we had to live as the Costa Ricans do – behind iron bars, with barbed wire on top of property walls. My harrowing experience in Costa Rica taught me the value of cultivating and protecting trust and cooperation between neighbours as we organize to meet more of our own needs. ‘Making sure your neighbour is fed’ is my definition of food security and a climate of trust will pave the way to success.

Carolyn Herriot is author of A Year on the Garden Path, a 52-Week Organic Gardening Guide and The Zero Mile Diet, a Year-round Guide to Growing Organic Food (Harbour Publishing). She grows ‘Seeds of Victoria’ at The Garden Path Centre in Victoria, BC. earthfuture.com/gardenpath/

Your emotional thermostat

UNIVERSE WITHIN by Gwen Randall-Young

Sometimes, the simplest, most self-evident truths are the hardest to live by. We read again and again about the fact that “life is what you make it” or “it’s how we look at life that determines how happy we will be.” So we practice our affirmations, breathe, keep trying to see the glass half full, but somehow, when we are not looking, niggling negatives creep in.

What usually happens is that our positive mindset works well until something goes awry. It could be anything from a flat tire to an argument with a teen, a bad hair day or the loss of a job. An unconscious ego reaction simply overrides our good intentions. It’s a little like walking along a balance beam and doing well, recovering from slight imbalances until someone comes along and pushes you off.

When ego does this, it is also acting like a saboteur. Life becomes a series of ups and downs and it seems we are at the mercy of things over which we have no control. Ego is like the little child that simply cannot ignore the teasing of a sibling. It has to react.

As long as ego plays a dominant role in our consciousness, we will be at the mercy of outside forces. Even if we have a good stretch and feel pretty good, there is often the thought it cannot last. Then we worry about what might interrupt the flow of life being good.

We can be so dominated by ego we actually believe the world out there is the problem and if it were different we would be happy. Imagine someone sitting at home freezing because it is very cold outside and they have neglected to turn on the heat. They bemoan the fact it is so cold and if only the sun would shine and the temperature would rise, they could feel warm again.

Is there any way out of this endless drama? Well, yes. Imagine you have an “emotional thermostat” and you are going to set it at “content.” Imagine that feeling of contentment, what it feels like in your body. You can do that, just sitting there reading this, without anything triggering that contentment.

When things happen and you feel ego rushing in to react, think of that feeling of contentment and bring it back to your body. It’s like sitting in that room, watching the blizzard outside, but remaining toasty warm inside. Granted, it is not quite that simple. However, the key is to remain centred, with the ability to respond rather than react.

We could also say that we are staying in touch with our inner observer. We can notice what is happening and if there is a problem we can keep our thermostat steady while we consider our options and make the best choice. Often, the best choice is to just let it go. If you get a flat tire, you get it fixed; if it’s a bad hair day, wear a hat; if a partner is cranky and snaps at you, give them a get-out-of-jail-free card because sometimes you do the same thing.

None of these things need to ruin your day. What about the bigger things? We know that things will not always go smoothly and problems are a part of life. Of course, we can feel sad or annoyed, but the goal is to quickly come back to our centre, regain our balance, do what needs to be done and regain our sense of peace.

Gwen Randall-Young is an author and psychotherapist in private practice. For more of Gwen’s articles and information about her books, Self Care CDs and the new Creating Healthy Relationships series, visit www.gwen.ca. See display ad this issue.

Drop your cable


I just caught Ron Mann’s Grass, his manifesto for legalizing pot. Okay, so I’m a little late to the party. It originally came out in 1999. Drug laws in North America might have eased a little since then and the hysteria surrounding “reefer madness” that informed early US drug policy looks even more hilarious through the telescope of time a decade on. But this cheeky pop history of pot is still relevant and entertaining as it cruises through significant cultural and political landmarks in stoner history from Cheech and Chong to George Bush senior.

The 80-minute doc is one of the many free (well, by donation) video-on-demand programs available on Knowledge Network’s website. Lately, I’ve been back to Knowledge.ca quite a bit, dipping into Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott’s excellent documentary The Corporation (reviewed back in 2003 in this column), and lapping up several episodes of the BBC series A History of Scotland. Also on my watchlist is one from Knowledge’s Storyville documentary strand, the 55-minute Bloodied But Unbowed(thePunkMovie.com). But you have to get in there quickly. Due to restrictions on internet rights, programs stay online for a limited time.

Of course, Knowledge isn’t the only Canadian channel streaming full programs over the web although unlike other channels, it is refreshingly free of advertisements. You can find oodles of programming at CBC.ca, from David Suzuki’s series The Nature Of Things (including the full-length tar sands feature Tipping Point) to hard-hitting news programs from strands the Doc Zone and Fifth Estate. If I ever find myself at CTV.ca, it’s usually for a fix of funnyman Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show or possibly The Colbert Report.

Then there’s NFB.ca’s growing archive of animation and documentary. This month’s additions include Gary Burns’s wry documentary critique of suburbiaRadiant City, a series of docs by Native filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin and Don McKellar shorts.

With so much online video, who needs cable? Video already makes up the lion’s share of internet traffic and it will only keep growing so it’s no wonder the recent CRTC decision to metre internet use in Canada has created such an angry backlash.

Meanwhile, back in the movie theatre, there’s Feo Aladag’s debut featureWhen We Leave (Die Fremde), a chilling drama about a young Turkish-German Muslim woman on the run from an abusive husband. In desperation, she and her young son flee Istanbul and travel to her family in Berlin, only to come up against their unsympathetic, traditionalist views. The film (out on the 18th) was inspired a few years ago by a series of honour killings of women in Germany.

On a lighter note, Tara Johns’ The Year Dolly Parton Was My Mom (also out on the 18th) is a seventies-set coming-of-age drama sprinkled with humour and Dolly Parton songs. Shocked to discover she was adopted, 11-year-old Elizabeth gets all dolled up like her idol and takes off on a cross-country trek to find her real mother. The soundtrack includes original recordings by Dolly Parton as well as five Parton songs re-recorded by Canadian artists Martha Wainwright, The Wailin’ Jennys, Coral Egan, Nelly Furtado and Franco-Manitoban singer-songwriter Geneviève Toupin.

Robert Alstead made the Vancouver documentary You Never Bike Alone.www.youneverbikealone.com. He writes at www.2020Vancouver.com.

If a tree falls in the Year of Forests, does anybody hear?

SCIENCE MATTERS by David Suzuki with Faisal Moola

The UN General Assembly recently met in New York to declare 2011 the International Year of Forests. The idea is to raise awareness of the priceless role that forests play in keeping the planet healthy and of the need for sustainable management and conservation of all types of forests. The International Year of Forests follows other lofty proclamations by the UN to encourage efforts to advance social justice and environmental sustainability, including the 2010 International Year of Biodiversity, the 1993 International Year for the World’s Indigenous People and the somewhat unusual naming of 2008 as the International Year of the Potato.

It’s easy to be cynical about the annual declarations made by our world leaders, especially as there’s often a lack of corresponding action. Nevertheless, the International Year of Forests marks a critical moment on our planet. Our forest ecosystems have never been more at risk from the consequences of human actions, including climate change and industrial activities. But a few events in Canada, including the recent signing of the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement, give us some hope that 2011 will truly be the Year of Forests.

The world’s remaining forests, from true wilderness like Canada’s boreal forest to urban green spaces like the forested slopes that frame Vancouver, represent a Fort Knox of natural riches. Forests remain our primary source of paper and building materials and are receiving increasing attention as a source of bio-energy, all of which sustain millions of jobs in resource-based communities in Canada and around the world.

Forests provide food, clean drinking water and life-saving medicines like the rainforest-sourced cancer drug vincristine. They are also home to millions of indigenous peoples and habitat for over half of all known terrestrial biodiversity on the planet. And because they sequester and store billions of tonnes of carbon in their vegetation and peat and soils, forests are a critical shield against runaway global warming. Canada’s boreal forest alone stores an estimated 208 billion tonnes of carbon, the equivalent of 26 years worth of global greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel burning.

Despite the importance of forests to biodiversity, as well as to our own health and well-being, we continue to destroy them at an alarming rate. Throughout the world and here at home, forests and woodlots are being ripped up and developed, degraded by free-for-all oil and gas development and mined and logged at a blistering pace. Less than a fifth of the world’s original intact forests remain and although much of the best of what’s left is found within our own borders, Canada is falling down when it comes to looking after our national natural heritage. We continue to clear-cut wilderness habitat when alternative logging methods exist; we have no national strategy to ensure our remaining ancient temperate rainforests are protected and provinces like BC continue to export millions of raw logs to be processed out of the country.

At the same time, no nation is better placed to deliver on the ambitious goals of the International Year of Forests than Canada. This past year, 21 forestry companies and nine environmental groups committed to present a joint vision to federal, provincial and territorial governments and First Nations for protection and sustainable management of Canada’s boreal. This includes new protected areas, world-class forestry practices and promotion of environmentally sustainable Canadian forest products in the marketplace.

The success of the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement will depend on whether Aboriginal people and their governments are involved and their rights as decision-makers respected. Where indigenous peoples have come together with environmental groups and other stakeholders, stunning victories have been achieved.

More than half of the ancient rainforests of Haida Gwaii have now been protected, thanks to the leadership of the Haida First Nation. In Central Canada, five Anishinaabeg First Nations communities in Eastern Manitoba and Northern Ontario are working to have a vast intact region of boreal forest declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Covering no less than 43,000 square kilometres, the area is called Pimachiowin Aki in Ojibwa, which means “the land that gives life.”

Forests sustain the very life-support systems of the planet – clean air, pure drinking water, productive soil and healthy wildlife populations. It’s time we recognized our interdependence with them and treated them as the biological treasures they are.

Learn more at davidsuzuki.org

Healthy nutrition must lead healthcare reform

by Lionel Wilson


Healthcare reform has fallen short of addressing the true importance of healthy eating because traditionally it has been more focused on treating illness rather than preventing it. While new medical interventions may reduce cancer mortality rates, they are ineffective in reducing the occurrence of major diseases such as cancer because they do not address some of the root causes of the diseases, including poor nutrition, lack of exercise and smoking, to name a few.

Today’s educated and empowered consumer is helping to change healthcare with attitudes inspired by new values and a desire for natural and healthy foods. Consumers are helping to drive this transformation with expanded nutrition literacy. Terms like organic, natural, super-foods, antioxidants, healthy fats and whole grains are becoming mainstream. Consumers also recognize they have been misled as to what “good nutrition” really is and they are now driving the conversation around redefining healthy nutrition.

Why is nutrition important?

Recent research shows whole foods are not only healthier, but they may also lower the risk of chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Nutrition is the number one area of interest for cancer patients at InspireHealth, Canada’s leading integrated cancer care centre. They become keenly aware of its importance to promote their health and healing and to reduce cancer recurrence. The centre’s medical doctors, who are committed to healthy living, strongly believe in the healing power of diet. They promote whole, organic, nutrient-dense foods to support the innate power of the immune system.

A recent study found that fibre in whole grains, beans, nuts, vegetables and fruit aids the body by promoting bowel movements, lowering blood-cholesterol levels, and improving blood glucose levels. People who consumed higher amounts of fibre, particularly from grains, had a significantly lower risk of dying over a nine-year period compared to those who consumed lower amounts of fibre, according to a new National Institute of Health study released earlier this year. Other studies have suggested fibre may lower the risk of heart disease, diabetes and some cancers. Although there’s conflicting evidence about whether or not mortality rates may be reduced by consuming fibre, researchers, led by the National Cancer Institute, concluded, “A diet rich in fibre from whole plant foods may provide significant health benefits.”

This year, the federal government is announcing new labelling guidelines to play their part in re-defining health and nutrition. By restructuring the front-of-package labelling guidelines, Ottawa is attempting to increase consumer awareness so Canadians can make healthy choices and not be misled into buying unhealthy products that are marketed as healthy. Grocery chains and natural food stores are introducing “shopping guides” to assist consumers in choosing wisely. Certain restaurants are also demonstrating leadership by proactively revealing the sodium and trans-fat content of their dishes.

New consumer expectations and demands are forcing food manufacturers to improve their products. Major food corporations are now researching natural foods and studying nutrition to expand their interest in the ‘good-for-you’ market; they are even developing products to help prevent and treat conditions such as diabetes and obesity. While the increased action is promising, overblown health claims made by food companies have also drawn criticism as some take advantage of this trend for profit.

A stronger call for healthy nutrition

It is increasingly important and easy to choose whole foods that are natural, organic, local, seasonal and unprocessed. Eliminate refined, highly processed foods and foods containing ingredients void of nutrients such as artificial flavours, colours, preservatives, artificial sweeteners and hydrogenated fats. Simply put, fresh, real, whole food is the foundation of health and disease prevention. Eating more raw and cooked vegetables, fruits, legumes (beans, chickpeas, peas), nuts, seeds and whole grains ensures optimal nutrients and helps the body to feel satiated. This decreases the desire to eat foods that are lower in nutritional value. Get your daily dose of healthy fats from plant sources, such as nuts, avocados and organic, cold-pressed oils such as flax, hemp, olive and borage. Minimize heat-extracted processed oils and saturated fats. If your diet includes animal products, choose leaner meats, seafood and eggs.

Inspiring healthy change

While pubic interest in healthy nutrition is growing, it is still not considered mainstream for cancer prevention nor for integrated cancer treatment. As recent research shows, only five percent of North American cancer survivors are meeting experts’ recommendations for diet, nutrition, physical activity and quitting smoking. This is a serious concern because using this type of prevention and an integrative approach have proven to prevent recurrence of disease and prolong lives.

While the growing healthcare crisis has generated more discussion about the value of healthy eating, cancer prevention and integrated cancer care must start with good nutrition and a healthy lifestyle. To do our part, we all must choose to feed our bodies in the healthiest and most wholesome way possible and continue advocating this practice to ensure these concepts become part of health policy. Let’s help shift our healthcare system from ‘disease care’ to a true healthcare system.

Lionel Wilson is Director of Communications with InspireHealth, Canada’s foremost integrated cancer care centre. www.inspirehealth.ca


Team sprouts and supplements to boost  broccoli’s cancer-fighting power

A new University of Illinois study provides convincing evidence that the way you prepare and consume your broccoli matters and also suggests that teaming broccoli with broccoli sprouts may make the vegetable’s anti-cancer effect almost twice as powerful.

“Broccoli, prepared correctly, is an extremely potent cancer-fighting agent – three to five servings a week are enough to have an effect. To get broccoli’s benefits, though, the enzyme myrosinase has to be present; if it’s not there, sulforaphane, broccoli’s cancer-preventive and anti-inflammatory component, doesn’t form,” said Elizabeth Jeffery, a U of I professor of nutrition.

According to Jeffery, many people destroy myrosinase by overcooking their broccoli. And health conscious consumers who use broccoli powder supplements in recipes to boost their nutrition are also missing out. These supplements often do not contain this necessary enzyme, she said.

“There is a way to boost that powder’s effectiveness, though. Broccoli sprouts contain myrosinase in abundance. And broccoli powder often contains the precursor to sulforaphane without the enzyme that would boost its healthful benefits,” said Jenna Cramer, co-author of the study.

The scientists hypothesized that myrosinase from the sprouts would enhance sulforaphane formation and absorption from the broccoli powder if the two were eaten together. In a small pilot study, they recruited four healthy men who ate meals that contained broccoli sprouts alone, broccoli powder alone or a combination of the two. The researchers then measured levels of sulforaphane metabolites in the mens’ blood and urine after feeding.” We were looking at biomarkers – plasma and urine levels – associated with cancer prevention,” Cramer said. Three hours after feeding, a definite synergistic effect was noted between the powder and the sprouts.

“There was almost a twofold increase in sulforaphane absorption when sprouts and powder were eaten together. It changed the way the subjects metabolized the powder. We saw plasma and urine metabolites much earlier and at much higher levels than when either was eaten alone,” Jeffery said. This indicates that myrosinase from the broccoli sprouts produced sulforaphane not only from the sprouts but also from the precursor present in the broccoli powder, she said.

Other foods that contain sulforaphane and can be teamed with broccoli to boost its benefits are mustard, radishes, arugula and wasabi. “To increase the vegetable’s benefits, you could sprinkle broccoli sprouts on your broccoli or make a mustard sauce to serve with broccoli,” she added.

People who prefer to eat broccoli without sauce or sprouts should know that overcooking is the kiss of death for the important enzyme myrosinase. “Steaming broccoli for two to four minutes is the perfect way to protect both the enzyme and the vegetable’s nutrients,” she said.

From: ScienceDaily (Jan. 31, 2011) —www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/01/110127110707.htm

The study was published in the January 2011 issue of Nutrition and Cancer.

broccoli photo © Laura Stone

What’s in a Label? Reading between the Lines


The nutrition information found on food packages can help grocery shoppers make more- informed choices. Learning how to read a food label – and more importantly, how to understand a food label – can help you shop smarter, eat healthier and make more-nutritious choices. Examples of nutrient content claims:

Source of fibre

Low in fat


No sugar added

Low calorie

Trans fat-free

Source of calcium

The regulated label information

On a recent trip to the grocery store, a shopper looking at a low-fat product was overheard saying, “Why should I believe this is really low in fat? They’re just saying that to sell more products.” This shopper is mistaken. Claims like “low in fat” are regulated and cannot be used unless they meet certain conditions set out by the government, as outlined in the Food and Drugs Act and Regulations. These regulations ensure that you can trust the Nutrition Facts table and the nutrition and health claims found on packaged foods. The following food label information falls under these regulations:

Nutrition Facts table

With its standard formats, the Nutrition Facts table is easy to find, read and understand. Packaged foods must show the amount of calories and the amount of 13 core nutrients for a specific serving size of food. Some products may show other nutrients beyond the core 13, such as vitamin D or omega-3 fat.


Nutrient content claims

Some product packages contain phrases to highlight a nutrition feature of a food, such as “saltfree” or “source of iron.” These are called nutrient content claims. Products must meet specific criteria in order to make these claims. When grocery shopping, you can use these claims along with the Nutrition Facts table to help you make better choices.

Health claims

Certain diet-related health claims and biological role claims can be made on packaged foods that meet strict criteria. Diet-related health claims refer to the reduction of the risk of disease. Look for the following helpful diet-related health claims currently permitted on packaged foods:

  • A healthy diet low in saturated and trans fats may reduce the risk of heart disease.
  • A healthy diet with adequate calcium and vitamin D and regular physical activity help to achieve strong bones and may reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
  • A healthy diet rich in a variety of vegetables and fruit may help reduce the risk of some types of cancer.
  • A healthy diet containing foods high in potassium and low in sodium may reduce the risk of high blood pressure, a risk factor for stroke and heart disease.

Biological role claims refer to the maintenance or support of specific body functions. An example is “DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid, supports the normal development of the brain, eyes and nerves.”

Remember that if a nutrition or health claim is used, the Nutrition Facts table must also be given. While claims are a good starting point, the Nutrition Facts gives more complete information about the nutrient value of a food.

Symbols: highly visible tools

CCFN’s 2006 Tracking Nutrition Trends (TNT) survey found that 80 percent of Canadians want food packages to clearly indicate products that are “healthier.” The key to finding healthier products is reading food labels and knowing which information to rely on. The Nutrition Facts table is reliable, but it’s not the first item that grocery shoppers see as it usually appears on the back or side of a package. Many symbols are now seen on the front of packaged foods. Of Canadians who read food labels, almost half (47 percent) look for these types of symbols when making food choices.

How to use symbols wisely

Symbols can be helpful because they bring your attention to products that may be healthier choices. If used correctly, these symbols can help you make wise choices at the grocery store.

To use symbols correctly, you’ll need to understand what they mean. Is the symbol highlighting one nutrient, like fibre? Or does it include an overview of many nutrients, like salt, sugar and fibre?

Be sure not to rely solely on the symbol as your criteria for making a purchase. Instead, use the symbol along with the Nutrition Facts table and list of ingredients to get the real story on a food. For example, if a symbol indicates that the product is a good choice, check the Nutrition Facts table to see the actual sodium, fat, sugar and fibre content before you buy it.

Some advice to consider when looking at symbols on packaged foods

Symbols come from a variety of food companies and non-profit organizations so they do not share one standard set of nutrition criteria. This means that the health benefits of two products cannot be compared using only the symbols as a guide. The Nutrition Facts tables should be used to make direct comparisons.

The symbols may point out some health benefits of a product but may not reflect other less healthy features. For example, a product may have a symbol to show that it is low in fat and high in fibre, but the product could also be high in salt, which the symbol may not show.

Some products, such as baked chips or lower-fat cookies, may carry a symbol to indicate that they are a healthier choice than their full-fat counterparts. Before you buy, remember to consider how the food fits into your overall diet. Portion sizes are still important even if it’s a “healthier” choice.

Products with symbols may not be the only healthy choices in a particular category of foods. Many products without symbols are healthy choices as well so check the Nutrition Facts tables before you make a purchase.

As a general rule, choose foods that have LESS:

  • Fat and cholesterol: Look for lower overall fat content and foods with as little saturated and trans fat as possible.
  • Sodium: Sodium, or salt, is often used in packaged foods to enhance flavour and prolong shelf-life. Look for foods with as little sodium as possible.
  • Sugars: Canada’s Food Guide recommends eating foods lower in sugar to help limit extra calories in the diet. No % DV has been set because there’s no recognized guideline on the amount of sugars that should be consumed by healthy populations. The amount on the label includes naturally occurring and added sugars. Compare foods and choose the ones that have less sugar.

Choose foods that have MORE:

  • Fibre: We need 25 to 35 grams of fibre each day so choose foods that have a higher fibre content.
  • Vitamins and minerals: These essential nutrients are factors in the maintenance of good health.

Looking at claims and symbols is a good starting point when trying to make more-informed food choices. Also remember to check the Nutrition Facts table and list of ingredients to get the most complete information about a food’s nutrient content.

Developed by the Canadian Council of Food and Nutrition (CCFN)www.ccfn.ca 08/2008. CCFN is a multi-sectoral trusted voice for science and evidence-based food and nutrition policy and information in Canada.

Photo © Micro10x


BC’s water – sold to the highest bidder?

by Randy Christensen


For the past several years, there has been a multitude of discussion papers, extensive public consultations and big speeches from the BC government on the effort to “modernize” BC’s Water Act. It’s the law that governs who gets to use water, for what, when, where and who gets priority when there’s not enough to go around.

Everyone agrees the system is broken; it’s only a question of what to do about it.
All of the public statements from June 2008 until December 2010 were unambiguous in promising strong legal protections for environmental flows and revisiting the antiquated and highly problematic “first in time, first in right system.” More importantly, the BC government de-emphasized the potential adoption of “market reforms” such as “water rights trading” that has devastated communities around the globe.
But what was a well intentioned and well managed process seems to have fallen victim to BC’s current political turmoil. In late December, the BC government posted the “proposed framework” for new water laws that introduces water rights trading (section 5). Troublingly, the strong legal protections for environmental flows have been downgraded to guidelines that merely have to be “considered” when someone wants to take water from a stream (section 1).
In the current leadership vacuum, those managing the process have become politically risk adverse and are simply defaulting to the blueprints of conservative governments around the world. This approach downplays the need for good governance and views markets as a solution that solves any and all problems.
To understand what the BC government is proposing, think of the current water use system as a bike share. Ultimately it’s a community-owned resource that people (or companies) sometimes use for their own private purposes. And, like a bike share, the water use is supposed to be time limited and one is supposed to leave the water so that others can use it in the future. You’re definitely not allowed to take the bike and sell it in the back alley!
What the BC government is proposing is that at some point in the near future, everyone who happens to be using a bike now owns the bike (and they didn’t even have to buy it – it’s just a gift from government). Going forward, anyone who wants to use a bike will have to buy it or rent it from these now new owners.
Sounds like a pretty sweet deal for the fortunate few who happen to have water rights – primarily electricity generators (including Independent Power Producers), oil and gas companies, mining companies and agriculture.
It’s not that there isn’t a potential role for using economic instruments as part of water management. But there’s a big difference between using economic instruments as a policy tool and abdicating management to market forces. Many economic instruments – such as full cost accounting, conservation oriented pricing, water rentals that incorporate a reasonable return to the public for public resources – could be valuable and of real benefit. It’s even debatable that, if BC had protections for the environment and the public interest in place, a limited water rights trading system could be implemented, but BC has a lot of work to do before it even entertains that discussion.
But I guess it’s really no surprise that in the end BC’s Water Act “modernization” is just another initiative that pays lip service to protecting the environment and the public interest while delivering the goods to the large corporate interests that have long dominated the province.
What’s most dangerous about this proposal is that it will privatize water in a way that becomes effectively irreversible. Right now, one gets a “licence” to use water that the government may alter or revoke without, generally speaking, having to pay compensation. However, once the licence to use a public resource is converted into a tradable economic right, that is held and may be sold, any changes to the system that affect that right will undoubtedly spur lawsuits against the government.
If this proposal goes forward, you can pretty much write off any chance of ever meaningfully recognizing a human right to water or a public trust over water.
This will all come to pass unless the public convinces the BC government not to pursue this misguided course of action. The new deadline for the public to get involved is March 14. Take action at http://blog.gov.bc.ca/livingwatersmart/

This piece originally appeared on the Vancouver Observer blog, January 26. Written by Randy Christensen. Reprinted with permission from ecojustice.ca (formerly Sierra Legal Defence Fund.) For the rest of the series, check outecojustice.ca

Photo © Howardgrill