We are what we eat, Canada

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is supposed to protect the public by making sure our food is safe and the labeling is correct.

Dr. Marco Terwiel.

Dr. Marco Terwiel.

On of the defining aspects of the culture in developed countries is the strong sense of entitlement among people. If any government just raises the possibility of cutting back on any social program, the popularity of the ruling party takes a nosedive.

The emotional response is similar to taking away a favorite toy from a three-year-old. Taking away a toy affects only a single individual and results in a short-lived loud protest, some tears and, in the worst case, a full-fledged tantrum.

However, a government tampering with something like the Old Age Security program creates a much stronger and longer lasting reaction of resentment among many.

The current government of Canada wants to change the age of eligibility for the OAS pension from 65 to 67, starting a little more than a decade from now. And we are assured anyone who is now more than 54 years old will not have to worry, since the current rules will continue to apply.

Should those younger than 54 start to worry that they may have to wait another two years before retiring?

In my opinion, not all that many will have to be concerned some 20 years from now, since they will not even reach the current age of retirement. Far too many Canadians are making early appointments with the grim reaper on account of their lifestyle.

In a way, the government is complicit in this development with allowing the food and beverage industry to tempt us with decidedly unhealthy products, creating all kinds of premature health problems and likely a shorter life expectancy.

No, in Canada we did not have disgusting fillers for the ground beef for the hamburgers like our southern neighbours did for years. They called it “finely textured beef” until a food scientist described it less euphemistically as “pink slime,” and that was precisely what it looked like after the scraps unsuitable for dog food were ground and treated with ammonia, then considered fit for human consumption until recently, when public outcry changed the rules.

But before we get smug, we still have the coloring substance in our colas, now forbidden in the U.S. because it was found to be a health hazard.

And there are many examples where we eat and drink substances our bodies were not designed to digest. That happens with the silent approval of the government and Health Canada.

Now that I am retired, and occasionally do some of the grocery shopping, I get a chance to see what people put through the check-out counter. Processed and packaged foods are often the bulk of the purchases, especially among those who appear to be less than fit and healthy.

If one takes the trouble to read the labels on any of these products carefully, it is clear most of these convenience foods are laden with artificial flavors, colors, salt, high-fructose corn syrup, preservatives, trans fats and other substances that cannot be considered good for one’s health, even though there is no immediate harm.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is supposed to protect the public by making sure our food is safe and the labeling is correct.

Unfortunately, there are too many products on the shelves in our grocery stores to be inspected and, therefore, only a tiny portion gets checked.

Moreover, CFIA allows a 20 per cent variance of what the label claims is in the product. In other words, there can be 20 pre cent more or less present of any ingredient.

How about allowing the same slack in paying our taxes?

As a result of our food choices and lifestyle, we have experienced a dramatic rise in high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease and, I suspect, cancer, all shortening our life expectancy.

The point is, that since we cannot expect the government to precisely regulate what the food industry can and cannot put in our food, we would be wise to get serious about how we conduct our daily lives, get educated about what we want to eat and drink and how we best maintain our health. Otherwise, any concerns about a change in retirement age is a waste of time.


Dr. Marco Terwiel is a retired family physician who lives in Maple Ridge.