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Canada's new food guide advised Canadians to eat more vegetables and grains while cutting back on meat and sugar.

New food guide

Health Canada wanted to help Canadians stick to their New Year’s resolutions in 2019 by unveiling a new food guide that recommended we pay more attention to what we stick in our mouths. In other words, they advised us to do four things: Eat more vegetables, less meat, more grains and less sugar.

Within hours meat and dairy producers were in an uproar because they had been stripped of their own categories. (Meat and dairy were rolled into a new protein section, along with nuts, beans and seeds). Their protests, however, fell largely on deaf ears since most Canadians agree with Health Canada that it’s in our own best interest to eat a more plant-based diet, drink lots of water and avoid highly processed foods.

In other words, it supports eating along the lines of the Mediterranean diet, which has been proven to have a protective effect in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, including factors such as high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol.

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As cookbook author Laura Calder wrote in a column in The Globe and Mail after the new food guide came out, it wants us to “cook more often, to eat meals with others and to enjoy our food. If I may paraphrase, to be more French.”

Waste not

Food waste was one of the most talked-about issues in gastronomy this year after some startling new statistics, released by Second Harvest, found more than half (58 per cent) of all food produced in Canada ends up in in landfills.

Martin Gooch, the study’s author and Canada’s leading expert on food waste, said the most shocking thing was that the worst offenders are industrial producers (restaurants, grocery stores, etc.), and not, as previously thought, the consumer. “It means stop blaming consumers,” Gooch said when the report was released last January. “Sure, consumers are part of the problem. But they’re not the problem.”

The report was a scathing indictment of the food industry, which accounted for 86 per cent of all food waste in Canada. The good news, however, is that many in the sector listened and zero-waste restaurants and independent grocery stores are popping up with greater frequency across this country, attracting consumers concerned about food’s impact on climate change. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, food waste contributes approximately eight per cent of total global greenhouse gas emissions. Here are just a few examples of eateries changing business and consumer habits: the Sprout in St. John’s, Nuburger in Winnipeg, Café Mountain Mercato in Canmore, Alta., Terra Breads in Vancouver and Épicerie Loco in Montreal. And shoppers need not be left behind with these grocery stores that have their eyes on sustainability: Unboxed in Toronto; Nu Grocery in Ottawa; and Terraterre in Edmundston, N.B.

Mocktails on the menu

The biggest trend in bars was drinks without booze, which is not to say that your neighbourhood pub was suddenly overrun with teetotalers. But chances were better than average that more people were raising a glass of a non-alcoholic beverage.

In 2018, alcohol consumption around the world fell 1.6 per cent, according to IWSR, a leading supplier of data and market intelligence on the alcohol drinks market worldwide. It’s a figure many attribute to the burgeoning trend among millennials and gen-Z’ers to cut back on alcohol intake.

Elevated mocktails, such as the orange juice-heavy Atomic Cat, have been popular for the past few years and bar owners have eagerly jumped on the trend because, for one thing, they can charge more for a booze-free Bellini than a Perrier or diet soda.

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Beer makers, too, have tapped into this thirst for non-alcoholic beers, with big brewers (Budweiser and Heineken) and small (Calgary’s craft Partake Brewery) investing heavily in a category that increased by more than 50 per cent between 2013 and 2018, according to research by Beer Canada. Though it’s worth noting, non-alcoholic beer still only accounted for 1.2 per cent of total beer sales in Canada in 2018.

As for booze-free spirits, Seedlip, a high-quality, Britain-based distilled non-alcoholic spirit, seems to be the Canadian go-to for now.

An all-star arrives in Toronto

Canada has had many Michelin star chefs pass through, but none have planted roots here. That changed this year when Michelin-starred sushi chef Masaki Saito opened his tiny restaurant in Toronto’s Yorkville neighbourhood, becoming the first to cook in-house and open a restaurant in his own name.

Sushi Masaki Saito feels like a hushed high-end salon. Almost impossible to spot from the street, it’s tiny and exclusive with patrons paying $500 a person to eat the chef’s Edomae sushi, a type of sushi that is common in Japan, but almost unheard of here, made with fish that has been aged for weeks.

Saito, who is only 31, earned his two Michelin stars at Sushi Ginza Onodera, on Fifth Avenue in New York, before coming to Toronto, a city he applauds for being culturally diverse, to open an establishment that finally has his name on the door.

A new culinary high

Phase 2 of Canada’s cannabis laws came into effect in October, making it legal to buy a raft of new products including edibles, vapes, drinkables, extracts and topicals that include hemp and cannabis, opening up a new retail opportunity for entrepreneurs catering to consumers who love to indulge.

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Cannabis caterers and chefs, including Munchy Brothers in Toronto, the Nomad Cook in Vancouver and Canolio Gourmet in Montreal, have been scrambling to fill demand for infused dinner parties hosted in private homes or at discreet bars and restaurants. Health Canada has not yet approved the sale of cannabis at restaurants so patrons are going to have to wait a year or two before they will be sipping on a Stoney Negroni – it’s a thing in California – and ordering off the Pot Menu.

Cannabis beverages, too, aren’t far behind. Molson Coors has teamed up with Quebec producer Hexo Corp. to launch Truss, a line of weed drinks, and B.C.’s Tilray, with Budweiser-maker Anheuser-Busch, is testing CBD and THC drinks.

It’s all still early days, but with start-ups such as Toronto’s Cannabis Cooking Company teaching students how to properly dose everything from gingerbread cookies to vegan dishes, Canada’s culinary scene is destined to reach new highs.

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