THE YEAR IS 1981. Pierre Trudeau is in the midst of his second reign as Prime Minister, Prince Charles ties the knot with Lady Diana, and Raiders of the Lost Ark is smashing the competition at the box office. While all this is going on, something strange is smashing calories in homes across Canada: jazzercise, aerobics videos, and the low-fat diet.
Yes, slapping on some neon spandex and dancing in one’s living room to Jane Fonda or Richard Simmons became all the rage by the mid-eighties, but you can trace the diet-and-exercise crusade all the way back to the late Seventies. Suddenly, it was popular for companies to provide fat-free options alongside their conventional offerings, and diet versions of food became big business in ‘81. It’s no wonder Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical” was topping the charts that year!
1981 was also when a forward-thinking couple first opened their first store on Upper Wentworth Avenue in Hamilton, Ontario. While the world was going one way, they were looking at the evidence to see if this direction was correct. What were Janet Jacks and her husband Scott doing while the rest of North America went through their fads? Here’s a brief glimpse at the last 37 years!
In the sixties, the sugar industry paid scientists to implicate fat as the cause of heart disease, and this war on fat becomes a population-wide trend at the beginning of the eighties. “Low-fat” and “cholesterol-free” became the defining diets of the decade, having lasting repercussions into 2018. 1981 saw the introduction of the Lean Cuisine, and influential New York Times “Personal Health” columnist Jane Brody included an article entitled “How to Eat Healthy the Low-Fat Way” in that year’s edition of her annual Nutrition Book.
The current understanding of “healthy fats” wasn’t developed back in 1981, and thus when people heard of the dangers of fat, they tried to cut out all fat. However, the problem with low-fat options was that they were not like the foods they were trying to replace, requiring inexpensive additives like sugar and flavouring chemicals to compensate. The idea that because something is low-fat it’s good to eat – low-fat donuts and cake? Eat as much as you like! – took hold and is still with us today. In founding Goodness Me!, the goal was to motivate people to eat real food, and to understand what this meant. Janet Jacks had to begin by eliminating what was harmful: sugar, refined foods, processed fats, and artificial ingredients.
The “Milk – it does a body good” campaign from the National Dairy Council in America turns the white stuff into healthy gold. Suddenly, just drinking milk can help you lose weight (turns out it can’t, not without a calorie reduction) and products with added milk make for healthy meals. This includes instant foods like Jell-O and macaroni and cheese, foods that do not make for healthy meals by themselves.
Milk in moderation can do the body good, but if you consume milk, it should be a real product from a local source. Many dairy products, like table cream, sour cream, and yogurt, are made with many thickeners, additives, and chemicals, and should not be trusted simply by their association with one of the food groups. Since 1981, Goodness Me! has offered only preservative- and additive-free milk from local small producers, and added organic milk to the line when it became available!
McDonald’s opens its 10,000th restaurant in Dale City, Virginia. During this year, McDonalds was the food destination for eighteen million Americans every day. Now, there are roughly 37,000 locations on every continent except Antarctica, serving processed versions of favourites like lobster rolls and flan to more than 68 million people every day.
Here in the present, fast food exerts an undue influence over our mealtime plans. 42 per cent of Canadians are either buying ready-to-eat meals or eating at a restaurant once or twice a week, saying they don’t have the time to make a good meal. Hey, we live in a busy world, and fast is good if it’s good for you! Goodness Me! has been offering baked goods since the first location opened in 1981, and we established the Eatery not long after. In the early years, the Eatery was called ‘the Loaf and Ladle’, but the commitment to bringing you a wholesome, healthy alternative to fast food definitely hasn’t changed.
The low-fat craze hits a big wall in the form of Olestra. Approved by the FDA in this year, Olestra was a chemical alternative to vegetable oil, giving traditionally fatty foods like chips the same taste and mouthfeel without the fat content! Miraculous, right? The only problem was that Olestra can’t be digested, so dieters looking for a miracle found something much worse: intense gastrointestinal distress like abdominal cramping.
Even if the companies remove processed trans fats, we still have to be extremely wary about foods that are “fat-free” and “sugar-free”; foods that claim to have health benefits often will have another negative ingredient to take its place. The Goodness Me! philosophy has always placed a lot of importance on getting rid of the bad fats, and it became a defining part of the Lifewatchers program four years after the Olestra nightmare. We’ve never shied away from the good fats found in nuts and seeds! The only fatty shortcut consumers should be taking is getting to know the right fats and making them their only choice.
Organic food goes very mainstream. With the release of the United States Department of Agriculture’s national standards for organic products, a long-simmering trend becomes a grocery store mainstay. More consumers start paying attention to the chemicals and pesticides that go into growing produce, and more farmers start switching over and selling organic options.
Here’s another trend of which we’ve always been ahead. Goodness Me! has been carrying organic produce ever since we started carrying produce, so while 23,000 natural food stores in the United States finally began carrying organic foods in 2003, the good people of Hamilton have been able to get it since the eighties!
Chef and author Jessica Prentice coins the word “locavore”. It refers to someone who eats food grown or raised within a 100-mile radius of where they live. With the trend suddenly having a fashionable name, local food became de rigueur, with more and more people striving to make themselves aware of food sources in an age of international shipping.
When it came to selling organic produce at our first location, there was only one solution for Goodness Me!: going local. Even as infrastructure, transportation, and NAFTA improved people’s ability to get organic produce from around the world, we’ve stayed true to local growers and farms here in Ontario as our first choice.
“Superfoods” become big business in 2011. Between that year and 2015, the use of the word “superfood” in new products goes up by a whopping 202%. Kale, ancient grains like quinoa, and “superseeds” like chia and flax all benefited from new research into their healthy potential – though a few million dollars’ worth of marketing didn’t hurt.
Goodness Me! has always sold foods that nourish and heal, and has constantly broken ground on food fads: we were the first grocer to introduce yogurt (before it started to get dressed up with sugar, thickeners, and other chemicals), and a high-protein, Middle Eastern garbanzo bean spread called hummus to the Hamilton market. This means that Goodness Me! shoppers have been able to get chia, flax, kale and quinoa for over two decades!
Canada’s food guide is going to get a much-needed update this year, its first in eleven years. The Food Guide, originally written to help Canadians with rationing and malnutrition during World War II, has not changed much in the last 75 years. The new Guide is expected to use our changed understanding of food to upend and eschew the advice of large industries in favour of the consumer.
The guiding principles document of the new Food Guide says, “What is needed is a shift towards a high proportion of plant-based foods, without necessarily excluding animal foods altogether.” While this is a good start, plant-based foods doesn’t mean good foods, and adding more grains to one’s diet could be a very negative thing. It’s not perfect, and will probably contain generalized misinformation about salts and fats, but moving away from industry influence can only be positive for Canadians. Hopefully this means a wider audience comes to understand the healing power of food, and Goodness Me! is here to help them distinguish the good from the bad!