Got veggies? As you’ve probably heard, a new Canada’s Food Guide was released earlier this year, and the changes to the previous version – largely untouched since the early ‘90s – are noteworthy enough to have caused a bit of a stir. Since we’re constantly involved in menu planning and food service around everything from formal seated dinners to traditional buffets to trendy food stations, the long-term effects of the update are bound to impact our industry.

To help us unpack the changes and zero in on how this update can influence not just our lives but our events, we talked to Chef Shelley Robinson, one of Canada’s most well-known and well-respected chefs. Chef Shelley has co-authored four cookbooks, has owned and operated two restaurants, a café, and an artisanal grocery store, and was winner of Chopped Canada and a competitor on Top Chef Canada, so it’s safe to say she knows her way around a menu. Here’s a look at our conversation with Chef Shelley about the new Food Guide, the realities of eating farm-to-table, and how you can be inspired to rethink the food at your next event.

The Major Changes.
Perhaps the most interesting change is the inclusion of how to eat, as opposed to just what to eat. Things like cooking at home, eating more slowly, and eating together are all referenced as positive choices. Overall, the advice on how to eat centres around being more mindful about our food, which is something we are absolutely here for.

I think the best meals happen when you know where your food comes from – what farm, what province, what is in season,” Chef Shelley agrees. “I have long been an advocate of slow food and the local food movement, and I believe all the hard work of many advocates has brought us to a place of awareness. I’m inspired to see all ages embrace a healthier, more sustainable approach to food, and with that a greater awareness of where our food comes from.”

Another notable change is the increased relevance given to plant-based proteins. Previously, these foods were basically an afterthought, a group of foods defined by what they are not (“meat alternatives,” anyone?). In the update, the meat options that have almost always taken centre stage in traditional meals are now sharing the warm glow of the spotlight, with everything from steak to tofu categorized equally as “protein foods.”

The visual representation of the Guide shows fruits and veggies taking up half of our plates, and emphasizes whole grains. For her part, Chef Shelley feels the new Guide is reflective of changes Canadians have already started to incorporate in our diets. “I love that it is finally focused on true health and nutrition,” she says.

So How Can We Take Cues from the New Guide to be More Creative With Food At Events?
Overall, the changes feel less like a challenge, and more like a clear path for the events industry to continue to innovate when it comes to food. After all, events have the market on “eating with others” cornered, and we can take that to the next level with shared tables and more experiential dining, and a continued awareness of the path from farm to table.

I foresee a step away from the ‘traditional’ 3-course plated meal,” Chef Shelley muses, “to more innovations from chefs. At the restaurant level, menus have already begun to change – more of a focus on shared plates, smaller portions that are nutrient-dense, less animal protein options, and more and more seasonal ingredients.” And she already sees this approach to food and food service reaching into events as well.

“I was recently at a long table event at Coachella where 125 people were seated together at one table, all sharing plates – it was awesome,” Chef Shelley shares. “A wedding I catered had an outdoor tent with stations of different vegetables from a local farm, meats and fish cooked over a spit – that was the meal. Food that has a story and is interactive.”

So how do you best capture this more mindful, more creative food vibe in your own events? “Talk to the chef!” Chef Shelley recommends. “What does she or he like to cook? Build a menu thinking of the experience your guests will have eating it, not just filling their bellies.”

What are the Challenges Around Healthy Food in Canada – and Where Can We Still Do Better?
Mindfulness about the types of food on our plates and the supply chain it came from is a good thing, but it’s also true that all this mindfulness comes with a price – literally.

In the face of that reality, Chef Shelley gets to the price point, saying simply, ““Food is expensive, and we need funding to ensure all Canadians are able to access fresh vegetables, grains, fruits, and meat. Unfortunately, for many families fast food is the cheapest way to eat.” While the end purchaser is one concern, as a country we also need to consider our food producers and the strain this industry has been under and will continue to face.

“As Canadians we have little understanding of the real cost of farm-to-table food and how little the farmer earns,” Chef Shelley believes. “As more and more of us are making choices to eat ethically sourced, humanely raised, sustainable, seasonal foods, there will be greater pressure on the supply chain.”

Toughening up on fast food advertising that influences children, and more cooking education and resources are also on Chef Shelley’s long list of dreams for Canada’s food future.

Food and Sharing Food are as Important as – or Possibly More Important Than – Ever.
“Cooking and sharing food is one of the greatest pleasures of life,” Chef Shelley says in summation, and on the same wavelength, we’d also say that food is often one of the highlights of an event.

Events are in a unique position to be a champion and purveyor of the types of changes the new Canada’s Food Guide espouses, because live experiences are at their core all about sharing moments, bringing people together, and rethinking how we do things.

“Long tables, shared plates, loud conversations, and culinary experiences are all ways to slow down and take it in,” Chef Shelley says. We couldn’t agree more.

Share your thoughts on the new Food Guide, or share innovative and inspiring event food that you’ve seen or experienced with us! We’d love to keep the conversation going. Touch base with us here, or on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter.

Photo credits:
chefshelleyrobinson.com