Councillors in Côte-des-Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grâce are finding ways to promote healthy eating habits
No new fast food restaurants will be allowed to open their doors in the majority of the Côte-des-Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grâce borough – with the exception of Saint-Jacques Street, upper Décaire Boulevard and Plaza Côte-des-neiges – and the Quebec Superior Court is to thank. After a three-year battle with Restaurants Canada beginning in 2016, the Quebec Superior Court ruled to uphold the boroughs’ zoning bylaw.
Borough councillor Peter McQueen told The Concordian that only restaurants that don’t fry and don’t use paper plates and plastic cutlery will be allowed to settle in the area.
This ban was brought on by the ongoing obesity crisis in Quebec; whereby, according to the National Institute of Public Health in Quebec, abdominal obesity rates affect one third of the male population and nearly half of the female population. In an effort to break bad habits, the bill targets areas around schools. McQueen said “the way (students) eat, the kinds (of food) they eat, that has to do with the kinds of food that are available.”
A grandfather clause would apply to the existing fast food restaurants in the area. They will be permitted to maintain their current location, but if they close down, say goodbye to your favourite cheap pizza joint because they will have to find a space elsewhere.
According to the Institut National de santé public Québec, it calls for involvement from the community, the city council and the schools. McQueen affirms that councillors “have limited powers. It’s not like we’re going out there and, you know, finding entrepreneurs to open these restaurants. I don’t think that’s the role of the city council or the borough council.”
Le Dépôt, a community food centre in Montreal, is hoping to bridge these gaps. Beccah Frasier, Coordinator of the Youth Programs and “Boite à lunch” After School Program at Le Dépôt remembers a summer promotion hosted by a fast food giant where consumers were encouraged to purchase large sodas, with the promise of free refills all summer long.
“We wrote a letter to the councillors to say ‘this is problematic, giving kids endless access to a soda fountain’,” Frasier said. “I think some of these efforts to shut down some of the advertising to kids around junk food specifically came out of experiences like that.”
In addition to kick-starting the initiative to increase clean food security in the borough, they have put in place after-school programs and affordable local farmer’s markets on top of the traditional food donation services they regularly provide.
Nicolas Braesh, the Dépots’ farmer’s market coordinator said they target families in the neighbourhood that have trouble affording mainstream market food. He explains that to make a change in students’ eating habits, initiatives should be more concentrated towards schools.
“We’re not going to be against them banning new McDonald’s, especially near schools,” Braesh said. “All the fast food joints that are already here get to stay, so [the bill] is not very constricting.
Braesh sees kids from the nearby secondary school rush past the food bank’s windows with enthusiasm every day for a cheap double-slice instead. Most high school students aren’t in dire need of a diet change, but variety is important in order to build balanced and healthy knowledge of what eating should look like, according to Braesh.
It is crucial for school boards and provincial governments to address the cost of healthy foods and the current easy access to cheap, unhealthy options. “What we support is for schools to open cafeterias that make use of ‘le bon sense’,” said Braesh, highlighting the importance of access to a balanced and affordable meal for all students.
For Braesh, school lunches were simple. “At the time, we had a school cafeteria where it cost 3$ a day and you would get a full meal,” he said. He explained that during the process of passing the new initiative, school boards and institutions could have come if they wanted to.
While we wait for canteens to change, Le Dépôt runs many other after-school and in-class activities with different schools in Montreal. “We work with the kids and they learn to cook and make their own lunch. If they have developed a liking to cooking, they will be more inclined to want to cook their own food later in life,” said Braesh.
Frasier discussed the variety of programs that the organization offers, including elementary and secondary after school cooking programs. Students are taught how to meal prep, about a variety of ingredients and food transformation.
“Food skills and food literacy should be included in the curriculum, absolutely,” Frasier said. The after school program the food depot runs has its advantages and disadvantages. The main advantage being that the independence of an extracurricular allows for much more freedom to discuss any topic related to food security.
But even most adults have a cloudy knowledge of what constitutes a balanced diet and resources to access to clean food. To bridge the gap is to educate people. “The important thing about putting food literacy back into the curriculum is not to just do it in the same way we used to do it long ago,” Frasier said.
Graphic by Victoria Blair