Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Guest Post: The Ritz Hits the Fan in Manitoba

Talk about viral. My post highlighting Kristen Bartkiw's daycare's bizarre implementation of Manitoba's food policy made international news and appeared on sites like BoingBoing, Gawker, and Grist driving intense interest and traffic.

Well my friend and colleague Dr. Joyce Slater, a Registered Dietitian and an Assistant Professor of Community Nutrition in the Department of Human Nutritional Sciences at the University of Manitoba caught sight of the story too and she sent me some of her thoughts. I thought they were important and so I asked her if it'd be alright to post them as a guest post and she kindly agreed. A bit more about Joyce - prior to returning to the University of Manitoba Joyce worked as a public health nutritionist for 18 years, has two teenagers, and likens eating a healthy diet to flying a jet – it’s always going off course; what’s important is recognizing it and making regular corrections!

The Manitoba Daycare ‘Ritz-Crackers-Are-A-Grain-Food’ Scandal is threatening to move Rob Ford out of the spotlight – it’s gone viral and the story of the "bad" mom that didn't have all four food groups in her childrens' lunch was even picked up by Gawker!

Really though, there are a couple other "layers" to this story. First, daycare workers are paid poorly, and these women (‘cause they’re almost all women) are expected to provide a lot of services while adhering to many (and growing) guidelines regarding health and safety. And it’s a good thing that we have those guidelines to ensure children are well cared for, but lets keep in mind that their main job is childcare, not ‘nutrition’.

Second, it’s great to have policies supporting healthy nutrition, but what support are daycares given to implement these policies? A short one-off in-service? A ‘fact sheet’? And then when the Ritz hits the fan we say “how stupid is that! Adding crackers to a homemade meal!!! They should know better!” Well, why should they know better? Are these daycare employees are expected to be all-knowledgeable about nutrition (perhaps because they are women)?

Well, with over 60% of us overweight or obese, and the massive loads of ultra-processed foods everywhere we turn, I would guess that most of the population is completely confused about “what to eat”. Add to that our complicated nutrition messaging (most of which now comes from food companies)- and guess what: "Ritz crackers" DO fit in the grain group! And hey – those potatoes; well, um… high carb, but… don’t they really go in the veggies? I have undergraduate nutrition students who are confused about this – because it is confusing!

And what kind of ongoing support do daycares have regarding nutrition education and implementation of policies? Not much. They have inspectors who go around to make sure there are proper locks on the cupboard, but what about healthy food?

The moral of this story is that the Manitoba government should have registered dietitians on staff working on an ONGOING BASIS with all community-based organizations that serve food, including daycares. Instead of hiring more nurses and doctors to provide more curative health care for skyrocketing chronic diseases, let's do some real prevention in the community.