The Healthy Food Question

We want to encourage a broad community conversation about food in the city. So every week until our Food in the City conference we are going to offer up a “juicy” question about food and agriculture.

Last week we started the conversation by asking about the importance of food in our lives. This week’s question digs a little deeper to explore one of the more obvious and important aspects of food: nutrition and health.

In many of the comments from last week’s post we heard that nutritious and healthy food is important to people. What we often find, however, is that what “nutritious” and “healthy” mean depend very much on who you’re talking to.

For example, there’s the debate between organic versus non-organic, or having to choose between locally grown versus non-local food. Which is the healthier and more nutritious choice? There are also the variety of diets to choose from – whole foods, vegan, raw foods, paleo diet, low carbs, wheat free, dairy free, sugar free and so on. And there are all those ethnic foods that we love and are important to us.

We can also consider the broader issues: does healthy mean healthy for me as an individual or healthy for the planet, or both?

Okay, we probably won’t have this debate over every meal. But we’d like to hear what you think.

So, our question to you this week is: What does “nutritious and healthy food” mean to you?

Join the conversation, post your comments, and share what you are thinking with others!

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About the Author
Larry Retzlaff
Larry Retzlaff is a Senior Planner with the City of Edmonton.
38 Comments
  1. 5 years ago

    I think you make a great point about healthy for the person eating it, and for the environment producing it. Both are extremely important.

    In my mind, the conversation around food that’s good for your health is well beyond what is nutritious or not. That conversation has shifted to how foods are produced. An apple is nutritious, for example, but the sprays most have on them are perhaps not. Beef can be nutritious, but CAFOs bring ecoli to the party from time to time, putting into question the healthfulness of this otherwise healthful food. ‘Local food’ just means ‘from nearby’, and is only a small part of the health conversation around food, as these other issues around production methods that essentially scare and gross people out are currently holding the trump card.

  2. 5 years ago

    Eat Fresh, Eat Clean, Eat Local.
    Healthy needs to take in consideration of both the person and the planet. It is like the climate change issue – if we can’t breath the air, it is going to kill us, and it’s long term effects on the climate is irrelevant. If we kill the planet with our growing practices, including wasted resources on lawns, we are all dead. Better a permaculture approach, where soil building and food from every yard is vital.

  3. Laura
    5 years ago

    Nutritious and healthy food is nutrient-dense, minimally-processed, and fresh. Often that requires that food be grown locally, in fertile soil, such as we have near Edmonton. Nutritious and healthy food is free from interference by corporate interests. Nutritious and healthy food is fundamental to physical and mental health, and its availability to all sectors of the population is a prerequisite to a strong community.

  4. 5 years ago

    What Health and Nutritious Food Means to Me…

    Food with a low carbon footprint (local and organic as possible), grown in healthy soil for greatest nutritional density, and is as minimally processed as possible.
    The best food for yourself and the planet is food that you grow/produce yourself. You have the greatest amount of control of what’s in/on your food, it’s better for the environment as it’s not a huge mono-crop farm (bio-diversity is VERY important for a healthy planet), you have more RESPECT for food you grow/produce yourself and there’s a minimal amount of carbon-fuel used when the longest distance your food travels is from your yard to your table (feet are clean energy).

    Albertan’s should be leading the way for building a sustainable food system. We have some of the richest agricultural land in Canada (some say the world!) yet it’s not protected… Folks in our small (yes, small compared to the rest of the world) urban centres have to break laws in order to feed their families homegrown/produced foods… that doesn’t sound healthy to me.

  5. Kathy
    5 years ago

    Nutritious and healthy food to me means organic first. This is healthy for me (no pesticides/herbicides that make me feel sick) and for the planet (no pesticides to kill the bees, no artificial fertilizers to pollute ground water and create dead zones in the ocean). Second it means local. Healthy for me (maximal retention of nutrients, a form of exercise and therapy if grown by me, a way to meet my neighbours when I share my harvest, a way to feel a sense of community at the Farmers market), healthy for the planet ( less distance to travel so less pollution, less use of oil).
    It is easy to eat well. Don’t buy fast food. Don’t buy packaged food. Fast, natural snacks are as easy as grabbing a piece of fruit, or a handful of nuts.
    Another thing healthy for you and the planet is, of course, eating less meat. Indeed the CAFO’s are terrifically unhealthy, but also land used to raise animals for meat could be utilized to grow so much more food. The grain and corn (not what they eat under natural conditions) given to cattle could be used for people instead. Increased organic grain and bean production would feed so much more of the planet with minimal greenhouse gas production. There is no reason why there are one billion people starving and one billion people eating too much on this planet at this moment. Or is there?

  6. Molly
    5 years ago

    For me personally this is a loaded question; there are many factors to take into consideration regarding health and nutritious especially with so many catch phrases being thrown around in popular culture and media bandwagons to jump on. For me finding healthy nutritious food requires deciding on personal ethics – for example buying “organic” tomatoes from Mexico versus buying tomatoes from the local farmers who have chosen to not go the certified organic route but claim “no spray” , I would by local any day knowing that the organic tomatoes have been picked before they are ripe and transported with a large carbon footprint and lost many nutrients by the time I get them.
    Healthy and nutritious eating also involves having a healthy mindset about your food and being informed on who food reaches your plate so you can you can make the choices based on personal ethics. I also believe that healthy for me and healthy for the planet should go hand in hand and mutually benefit each other.

  7. 5 years ago

    We are a small niche food producer in Calgary (& now in Edmonton in Blush Lane Organic Market) and we have this conversation with our pastrylovers all the time. Maybe ‘organic’ and ‘local’ are relative: Ie. cinnamon has never been grown in Alberta to the best of my knowledge and what we use likely originates in Sri Lanka where 90% of the world’s cinnamon comes from. Make no mistake: there is a revolution going on but there is also a tremendous amount of greenwashing going on as well. Do not underestimate what grassroots impetus can achieve however; if you eat food, you need to engage in the conversation. It’s all local: it’s from Planet Earth. It’s also all about supply, demand and greed. One of the greatest challenges of our time. 21st Century Food: Political? You bet. Pleasurable. Definitely (well we’d argue our French pastries are). Simple. No.

  8. 5 years ago

    What does CAFO stand for, Kevin?

  9. 5 years ago

    To me nutritious and healthy food means traditionally prepared and sustainably grown. Although the growing of the food is talked about a lot, the preperation of it is not and for vibrant health and well being the preperation of the food is just as important. Take a look at the following webpage to discover the 17 principles of sustainable food in which the organization I work with supports.
    http://www.arsan.ca/sustainable-foods/principles-of-sustainable-foods.html
    I also am a member of the Weston A. Price Foundation and believe deeply in thier food connections to nutrition and health…
    “Every day strive to eat high quality whole foods – the kind of nutrient dense foods our ancestors ate – to provide an abundance of vitamins and minerals – chosen from each of the following four groups: Animal Foods, Vegetables and Fruit, Fats and Oils, and Grains, Legumes and Nuts”. http://www.westonaprice.org

  10. Krystal
    5 years ago

    What does “nutritious and healthy food” mean to you?

    When I first thought of this question, I thought to myself: what is more important, healthy food for me or the health of creation? After some thought, I decided that both are on the same level of importance. If we are getting our food from unhealthy sources, we are putting creation in danger, and if we are eating unhealthy food, we are further damaging creation (ourselves).

    Health is being free of illnesses and injury (New Oxford American Dictionary). If food is coming from situations or destinations that are suffering, the food will suffer as well. Food that suffers does not taste good and I do not enjoy eating it. I want to enjoy eating my food. Therefore, I want to eat food that comes from a healthy environment. Local and sustainable farms and orchards are healthy environments to me. Local farmers are able to choose the variety of veggies they grow, so they pick the ones that taste the best and are the best for the conditions of the land.

    Another aspect of healthy and nutritious food is picking it and growing it myself. Getting my hands dirty. Getting soil in my teeth. Feeling the rain on my skin. Smelling the sweet spring air. Being in creation. I know this is not always possible, that is why I choose to buy my groceries from and make relationships with the people that grow them and know these same feelings that I have.

    Thank you City of Edmonton for asking these important questions!

  11. Ailsa
    5 years ago

    nutritious and healthy …

    these must mean so many things to so many different people, but to me they mean that I have access to the food my body needs, when it needs it. This may be meat, carbs, fruit and veg … the mix changes depending on what I am doing and where I am at in life … but I want food with minimal additives, that has been bred for taste, quality and nutrient content, not for transport, storage and sugar content. I don’t need 100% organic – I need food that is grown with care for the planet, for the individuals that consume it, and for the food itself.

  12. 5 years ago

    Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation

  13. Maien
    5 years ago

    I agree with the previous respondents choosing organic and preferably locally grown foods to support the health of my self and family. I want to add that I also see food as foundational to community and healthy social, supportive and a happy community. Food/growing food brings people together. Neighbours who garden get to know each other. I also want to live in a place which encourages residents to utilise their property for some personal (and hopefully some to share for the food bank) food production. Seniors who can teach younger people skills about growing, harvesting and storing builds healthy community. I am proud that Edmonton will be instituting many programs to truly build our community back into a friendlier more grounded environment. and I am looking forward to much more land (excellent farming land) being set aside in order to create far more local food production. In todays world of disasters, wars etc. it is simple common sense to become as self sufficient as
    possible. Healthy and nutritious food for me, includes knowing that my family and community have secure access to that food.

  14. Sarah
    5 years ago

    As a mom to two young children (and a third in utero :), “healthy and nutritious” means something I’ve chosen to buy for my family and prepared fresh, in my own kitchen. I’ve got to be honest and say that I do grab convenience snacks for our little tribe (Stone Wheat Thins, anyone?), and also that we simply can’t afford to eat local and/or organic all the time; but even for snack foods, I try to choose Sunbake Pitas, for example, from a lovely local company, over the supermarket brands.

  15. Sarah
    5 years ago

    Also, just want to concur with everything said about backyard gardens (or windowsill gardens, for that matter).

  16. 5 years ago

    Healthy food means it is nutritious! Healthy food means..food that has been grown in a way that enhances the land, the local water supply and the food naturally (no synthetic chemicals). It also means that the food that is grown as close to my home as possible. Which means either I grow it or someone I know does and I pay them (money or a service exchange). Healthy food means it is good for me and my family and is good for the environment and for our society. Bottom line I believe healthy food comes from a community food system that is sustainable, equitable, local/regional if possible and regenerative. A system in which every one can take part.

    Thanks for asking these questions. We need to have many people chatting about this. Susan

  17. […] week’s question was the healthy food question that explored nutrition and health. What became obvious from all the thoughtful comments that were […]

  18. Clara Hugg
    5 years ago

    Healthy food to me is fresh, flavourful and nutritious, preferably home grown or from farmers who do not use pesticides, herbicides, growth hormones and antibiotics indiscriminately.
    For freshness I take into consideration distance food travelled to get from the farm to my table. In grocery stores I am becoming more aware of the many items that are produced locally such as fruits & vegetables, honey, meats and cheeses, etc. that have not travelled a great distance. Just ask your grocer where these are.
    A local economy promotes good health.

  19. Clara Hugg
    5 years ago

    Thank you.

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