We have more food than we know what to do with, a StatsCan study released in May called Food Statistics 2006 confirms. Problem is, our food system can't deal with surplus except to abuse it.
Yes, Canada is awash in food. Enough food comes in the doors of food retailers to provide everyone an everyday dose of 3,454.52 calories, about 1,000 more than a full-grown active brute male's needs.
Many people are doing their best to eat their way through this surplus, a task made easier by the food biz's ever-increasing effort to bypass the once-supreme law of food economics. It used to be unchallengeable that the demand for food, unlike computer software or CDs, was "inelastic," meaning there was only so much a person could eat before being full to busting.
The postmodern edibles industry outsmarts that law with offerings our senses don't recognize as filling even though our bodies lard up - another way of saying we have a food system that's taken leave of our senses.
Let's start with the good news in this report: we're actually eating more of the fruit we're supposed to have more of. In 1960, every Canuck ate 52 kilograms of fresh fruit and drank 8 litres of juice. In 2006, the numbers jumped to 72 kilos of fresh fruit and - listen up - 26 litres of juice.
Watch this pattern closely; it repeats itself across the board. Instead of eating crunchy fruit that fills our tummies with fibre, we're drinking ourselves to an early grave with calories that don't signal our bodies that we're full.
When it comes to obesity, we are what we drink. People can't believe they drank the whole thing. Instead of eating food that comes in its own non-corporate package and carries its own name - apple, pear and so on - we drink juice that a company has named after itself, processed (sometimes even leaving some pulp in) and packaged in metal or plastic.
Pop wasn't even tracked in 1960. In 1972, the average Canuck drank 55 litres, a figure that doubled by 2006. Coffee is up from 89 litres in 1966, when bottomless cups weren't yet the norm and before Canada got branded as a coffee and donut hangout, to 102 by 2006. Tea, by contrast, is way down, from 89 litres in 1960 to 61 last year.
The pattern repeats: if there's a less healthy way of consuming calories, the food system will find it.
People over 15 in 2006 drank 106 litres of booze, compared to 101 litres of coffee and only 61 litres of tea, which is loaded with phyto-nutrients that protect against cancer.
Perhaps it's my inner tea granny coming out, but I can't help noticing that tea comes to us unmediated and idiot-proofed. You simply pour boiled water over it and let it steep. There's no potential there for the "value-added" processing, packaging and franchising opportunities offered by alcohol and coffee.
Consumption of red meat, once key to being red-blooded, lost ground, and chicken made up for the loss, more than doubling from 1963. Similarly, oils and fats went from 17 to 27 litres, testimony to the "success' of manufacturing low-fat products.
This reveals the impact of the little secret of food promos: they do not, according to Marion Nestle's study Food Politics, say "Eat less fat," because the industry doesn't want anyone consuming less of anything; instead, advertisers stay with the mantra and say, "Eat more lean and low-fat products."
That's how we get a food system where calories are on the up and up but government advice isn't.
Grains weathered the low-carb fad just fine. Total cereal products per person went from 68 to 87 kilos a person between 1960 and 2006, mostly wheat. The dominance of food manufacturers and processors shows up in the increasingly narrow range of grains that are used: almost all wheat, rice and corn, with barely a hint of rye or barley, and not even a mention of amaranth, quinoa, chia, millet or buckwheat.
Again, the rule that "if there's a less healthy way, it will be found" prevails. All the neglected grains are more nutritious, easier on land resources and easier to grow in more varied climates than hard wheat. Alas, they are all harder to process into breads and pastries, so variety and nutrition, especially for cereals, are trumped.
Beans and dried peas, almost no-shows on the stat charts, have similar problems. Though they're commonly rich in iron and protein and low in fat, manufacturers can't do much with them other than boil them and put them in a can. There's no great future in that, so no reason to promote beans.
Saving the worst dysfunction till last, we need to know what else all the surplus does besides add unneeded weight. Well, most of it ends up in landfill. This includes what's tossed out in stores and kitchens and what's thrown away on the farm because the apples are too small, the carrots too ugly and so on.
Thirty per cent of post-harvest production goes to landfill. It rots there without access to oxygen and creates methane, having 20 times more global warming impact than carbon dioxide.
Which proves, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that we could feed every Canadian well while taking, for free, a huge bite out of our Kyoto obligations. Instead, we address poverty with food banks that feature a portion of what retailers would otherwise waste, mostly over-processed and over-packaged foods, stuff probably better sent to the composter than to any vulnerable person's tummy.
We are what we don't eat.