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Weighing the ‘costs’of eating healthier

March 1, 2016  By Dave Harrison

March 2016 — Do consumers really appreciate the value they get with fresh vegetables?

There are definitely two sides to this question.

We’ll start with the positives.


First case in point: this year’s Food Freedom Day fell on Feb. 9, about three days later than 2014, largely due to our sinking loonie and its impact on imported produce. However, Canadians are still only paying about 11 per cent of their disposable income on grocery bills for the year.

Second case in point: the many health benefits of fresh vegetables are widely understood, thanks to the marketing efforts of various government agencies, grower groups and disease awareness associations.

  • We’ve all grown up with the “seven to 10 servings of fruit and vegetables per day” guidelines of Health Canada.
  • The USDA’s Dietary Guide-lines are a little more robust, recommending adults eat between five to 13 servings of fruits and vegetables per day.

Third case in point? The “Half Your Plate” program is brilliant. It has been developed and promoted by the Canadian Cancer Society, the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, the Canadian Public Health Association, and the Canadian Produce Marketing Association.

Half Your Plate simply encourages consumers to fill half their plates with fruits and vegetables with every meal. “Increased consumption of fruit and vegetables,” notes the website, “has been proven to reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as some cancer, heart disease and stroke.”

Key to the success of the program has been the number of major retailers who supported it.

So what are the negatives in this discussion? For starters, despite all the health promotion campaigns, Statistics Canada reported that in 2011 only slightly more than 40 per cent of Canadians ages 12 and older consumed fruit and vegetables five or more times per day.

And then there’s “price.” Here’s where the argument gets most frustrating. The Half Your Plate website noted that in a January 2016 sampling in Toronto, $10 would buy half a pound of peppers, a pound of apples, a pint of cherry tomatoes, one cucumber, a three-pound bag of carrots, a pound of onions and one avocado.

You’d probably pay about the same for a weekend’s worth of junk snack food…but without the nutritional boost.

In various media reports over the past winter we’ve heard of consumers grumbling about the rising price of fresh winter produce, most of which is imported. The dollar’s decline is making it much more expensive to buy these goods. Paying $2.99 for a stalk of celery in January prompts a grumble, but paying $2.99 year-round for an average size bag of potato chips is par for the course.

The search term “healthy snacks” yielded 92,500,000 results. It’s trending. Far and away the majority would include fresh produce, and much of it can be grown in greenhouses. This is just another reason growers here should push for increased research into both year-round production and alternative crops.

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