How hard is it to eat fresh, healthy food in the North of Canada? Well, given the challenge of transporting nutritious perishable goods to isolated Northern communities, and the resulting high cost of those goods, affording a balanced diet that includes fresh foods can be difficult. In an effort to cut costs and encourage healthier eating, the Canadian government has created the Nutrition North Canada program, which will offer subsidies to reduce the cost of some fresh foods in the north. Today, the government announced the list of items that will be subsidized under the program, which goes into effect October 1, 2012.
The list features some changes: subsidies for frozen dinners, processed foods, and junk foods will be dropped in favour of healthier options like vegetables and fruits, grain products, dairy, and "Country or Traditional Foods" - a term for items from the traditional diet of Aboriginal people. But heavily processed foods aren't the only things that have been dropped. Some staple items are also losing their subsidies, including rice, canned foods, condiments, coffee, and tea.
The Nutrition North program has faced controversy in some circles since it was announced in 2010. On October 25th, federal officials faced questions in the Nunavut legislature about exactly how the program would benefit Northern communities, with many Nunavut MLAs stating that they don't believe it will make healthy food more affordable in isolated communities. Specifically, there are concerns that individuals who order food through the program will be disadvantaged compared to larger purchasers like stores and retailers.
Whether or not the program is a success, emphasizing fresh foods is important for overall health in the region: according to a joint study from the Universities of Alberta and Oulo, Finland, many indigenous peoples in the North have replaced their traditional foods with "a largely Western diet that is partly responsible for increases in the prevalence of chronic health problems, such as cardio-vascular diseases and diabetes".