August 14, 2012

Preventing Obesity in Canada: Lessons from ECV and the Local Food Movements

The number of overweight or extremely overweight people (i.e., obese) in the United States and Canada (much of the Western world) has skyrocketed to shocking levels in recent years. The reasons for this unfortunate trend are well known, mainly the effect of limited to no physical activity, in addition to poor quality diets­, high in empty calories and low in essential nutrients that the mind and body need to function proficiently.

A study that came out about eight years ago in the Journal of Community Health examined the relationship between acculturation and obesity-related behaviors, i.e., physical activity and fast-food or (junk food) binging among 619 Asian-American and 1385 Hispanic adolescents living in Southern California (Ungar et al. 2004). The results of that study suggest that cultural assimilation, i.e. acculturation, is a risk factor for obesity-related behaviors (ibid.). Fortunately, since the risk-factors associated with obesity are behavioral risk factors, i.e. they can be altered and improved; different from other risk factors for obesity such as a person’s genetic makeup, it is possible to reverse these trends. Therefore, although fast-food makes up a significant portion of the Canadian and U.S. diet, it is possible that this diet can be changed. However, since physical activity is also important to our health, exercise is a must.

Slow-food is one example of a food movement which has gained international support and goes against the fast-food culture that is so pervasive in many places in North America. The movement was founded in Italy by Carlo Petrini in the late1980s. Like its name suggests, slow food encourages people to eat at a slower pace, ideally with family and friends around, and perhaps most importantly of all, it encourages us to appreciate the significance that foods hold for peoples’ culture and health ( Another social movement thing that has done a lot to remind Canadians that fast food is unhealthy and that there are acceptable alternatives, is the local food movement which is rapidly gaining popularity across Canada.

University of Guelph Prof. Gopi Paliyath offers insight into the health benefits of a diet rich in fresh vegetables, and especially ECVs. He points to the health benefits like the anti-oxidant effects and reduction of blood sugar and insulinomimetic activity that can result from consuming many ECV.  However, if these vegetables aren’t consumed within as little as five days of being picked, these nutritional effects decline markedly (Adekunle et al., 2011). Thus to be fresh these vegetables should ideally be grown close to where they are consumed.

There are many reasons why Canadians farmers should consider growing ethno-cultural vegetables (ECV) for local niche markets in Canada, beyond the obvious reason, the high demand for these vegetables among people of various ethnic groups who frequent urban and semi-urban markets, especially ethnic stores, in search of their highly preferred ECV. First, it is apparent that increased availability of ECV, many of which have to be prepared or cooked at home, will go a long way towards curbing obesity levels in this country, also considering that there is a large unmet demand for these vegetables as it stands now.  Thus, increasing the variability and availability of fresh quality local ethnic produce—highly nutritious when consumed swiftly following their local production and transport, is a sure-fire way to enrich the diet of the nation, and improve on the bad food habits of Canadians of all ethnicities. Lastly, increased availability of these vegetables in local markets will diversify the crop portfolio of Ontario horticultural producers, giving them an edge over other farmers who are not cultivating these vegetables. But, there also obstacles to increasing the availability of these vegetables locally including the fact that, those who want these vegetables are largely recent immigrants, whereas, the potential commercial producers are mostly of European descent.  The latter generally don’t eat these vegetables, don’t recognize the big demand for them, and of course do not know how to grow them in these relatively more northern conditions. No doubt some of these ECV require warmer conditions or different soils and can’t be grown in Ontario or other parts of Canada.

I will conclude this blog with the axiom first promoted by the young Hegelian, Ludwig Feuerbach, in the early 19th century: “you are what you eat!”  Few things tell us more about our cultural identity than the foods we consume. This is especially true in the case of ethno-cultural vegetables (ECV), which are undoubtedly culturally significant to those who consume and live by them. Moreover, the fact that people of different ethnicities share similar cultural preferences for certain vegetables, indicates that different cultures hold their differences as well as their share of similarities with other distinct cultures from their own. Therefore, I would suggest that no two cultures are totally mutually exclusive, particularly when it comes to food. This was also found to be the case with the 250 Afro-Caribbean Canadians who were interviewed in the study on acculturation and consumption behaviors of this group of people (Adekunle et al. 2011). One of the study’s findings was that AC-Canadians are able to replace their staple ethnic vegetables with similar but more traditionally Canadian vegetables when the former are unavailable, although they prefer to consume their ECV, which also may be true of other ethnic groups living in Canada (ibid.).

By Andrew Filson (Undergraduate Research Assistant), ECVOntario


Paliyath, G. (2011, March 25). Health benefits and shelf life of ECVs. Retrieved from:

Slow Food USA. Taste and culture (leaflet). New York. Online:

Ungar, J. B., Reynolds, K., Shakib, S., Spruijt-Metz, D., Sun, P., and Johnson, C.A. (2004). ‘Acculturation, physical activity, and fast-food consumption among Asian-American and Hispanic adolescents,’ Journal of Community Health, 29(6):467-481. Retrieved from:
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August 10, 2012

Students' shallow wallets may put them off from shopping at the FM

We enjoy the presence of various institutions in our societies. Some of these institutions act as political, economic or social institutions. Currently, the Farmers Market is one of the most important institutions I have ever been introduced to, and probably the most notable socio-economic institution I have ever visited. Anyone who has ever visited this market would agree with me that its uniqueness in terms of items offered coupled with diversity of vendors is mind blowing. And if you haven’t visited it yet, then this piece of writing might give you the urge of giving it a shot. First and foremost, it is important to know that every Saturday Morning and Wednesday afternoon (summer time) in Guelph, Ontario, hundreds of buyers throng the Market to buy farm fresh produce of high quality directly from the farmers (producers) which they can’t find anywhere else and the atmosphere of the marketplace itself is so tranquil—an opportunity all buyers dearly love. The presence of the Farmers Market attracts a few people in the area turning once-deserted areas to be once more inhabitable; attracting businesses and employment opportunities. It is not a surprise that I am currently a new customer—thanks to the ECVONTARIO project. I just couldn’t vividly comprehend how it happened but after the completion of my three times visit of study in this market, I was left with I must-come-back feeling” because there’s something I have realized about the sellers which makes them unique. During my visit to the market, I would always try to buy some vegetables and other products that caught my attention, and chat with the farmers as well. This made me realized and appreciates the great zest sellers (farmers) possess. These farmers love the farmers market. They love it because a lot of them have the Farmers Market as the only exciting place where they connect with their customers who love what they (farmers) produce, sell and appreciate their work by always buying their produce. This therefore makes Farmers market a source of income for farmers and creates a sense of community.

But as mentioned early, little did I know that Farmers Market just feels like home until I joined the ECVONTARIO Team of researchers and later assigned the duty of gathering University of Guelph students’ perceptions about the Farmers Market. This is a task I really relished.  I was beyond thrilled to survey the students not only because it was an opportunity to meet and interact with them but also very important to the project and the future of local agricultural production since students represent current and future farmers and consumers not only in Ontario but Canada. Students’ diversity in knowledge and backgrounds also makes them a good representative of the entire population. To get the opinions of the students, I had to organize trips to the Farmers Market for three consecutive weeks where I had to openly talk with any student that I found at the market, to ask them about why they choose to buy their vegetables there. I also had an open group discussion with some of the students I found in classes, library, and school cafeterias.

The most interesting finding from the study was the existing disparity between the number of students that know about the FM and those willing to purchase from there. Students cited reasons such high prices” charged by the vendors/producers and Saturday should be their “rest day”.  Like anyone else out there who loves buying farm fresh produce mostly provided by the Farmers Market, students are like that too. A lot of the students who participated in this study don’t like “over-industrialized foods” provided by superstores. But the irony is that they choose purchasing their groceries at superstores than at the Farmers Market. Reason being that the high prices from the FM cited early make groceries from the FM rather unaffordable to most students. This leaves us students with no choice but to purchase our groceries from multinational corporations although we (students) are aware that groceries from the superstore are low quality compared to the Famers Market’s: a clear case of choosing quantity over quality. And the argument that students love the Farmers market but choose to purchase their groceries from superstores than FM itself is supported by some of the reasons highlighted below which were put forth by students themselves during their groups discussions:

·         One of the most unappreciated local activities you can do is to buy local food. Not only does buying local support our own economy, and our own people, it is environmentally friendly and much better for your own health, regardless of age, sex or cultural affiliation. Students contrasted buying local from buying from a superstore by asserting that: When you buy your produce, or meat from a supermarket, you are buying food that is often grown in poor conditions, through environmentally harmful ways, and then harvested to early and thrown on trucks to be driven across the plane.

·         Whether organic or not, local food can be picked ripe and eaten fresh. This yields more nutrients and less harmful preservatives, meaning that you will feel energized, live longer, and prevent disease. Besides the obvious personal benefits of fresh foods, this food is better for the environment.

·         Even for you carnivores out there, fresh local meat is much tastier when free-range (i.e. this isn’t no-frills cardboard flavored chicken) and much better for you without all the steroids, hormones and antibiotics needed for industrial farming practices. Plus the vegans can approve because the animals live happier and healthier lives

These quotations make me feel that not only do we (students) need ECV (local vegetables), but we also need other food locally produced. We need fresh, quality and authentic food/vegetables.  We need a food that creates a long lasting relationship with us; a food from home; that tastes like home. But the price hikes and poor availability of ECV at the FM is making it hard to enjoy them.

Prepared by:

Kur Mayen

Undergraduate Research Assistant


University of Guelph

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