Monique Keiran: Canadians, Americans differ in food habits

On a visit south of the border, I found myself staring at the nutritional-information panel printed on a box of Triscuits. At first, I stared without really looking — after all, the low-sodium Triscuit sold in the U.S. is pretty much the same as the low-sodium Triscuit sold in Canada, right?

But something about the information penetrated the fog of my inattention and focused my penetrating powers of pointy-headed perspicacity on one line:

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Serving size: eight crackers.

Now, I’m hardly a Triscuit expert, let alone a Triscuit-packaging expert, but I was almost certain that number wasn’t what this particular pointy-headed Canadian remembered as the recommended Triscuit serving size. It seemed … generous.

Was I mistaken?

My spidey senses tingled “no,” so with the permission of my host, I clipped the information from the box and stashed it in my luggage. A trip to the snacks-and-crackers aisle at a local grocery store confirmed my suspicions. In Canada, the recommended serving size of low-sodium Triscuits is four crackers.

A quick and highly unscientific glance through the Canadian and American food guides suggests that more daily calories might indeed be recommended if you happen to be standing south of the 49th parallel.

As well, equally unscientific content posted on an online message board indicates serving sizes might tend to the larger size in the south, especially in restaurants. Canadian, Aussie and Asian contributors marvelled repeatedly and at length at the portions.

American contributors agreed U.S. restaurants provide often-absurd amounts of food. Some said many people who eat out expect to take food home to enjoy the next day, while a few admitted they try to eat it all at the first sitting.

Approaching the issue from a different angle, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada reported in 2010 that Canadians tend to believe that “you are what you eat,” and value nutrition and quality over taste. Americans, say the authors, tend to view food as fuel for the body, and seek foods that are, above all, tasty, convenient and good value for their dollar — which (I think) means “lots for little.”

The same report indicates that we spend double the amount on fish and seafood that our U.S. neighbours do, per person, per year. As well, Canadians eat an average of almost 25 kilograms more fresh fruit and almost 46 kilograms more fresh vegetables each year than Americans do.

Elsewhere, I gleaned that the most popular breakfast cereal in Canada is Special K, which is marketed as a healthy-lifestyle choice to women. The U.S. counterpart in breakfast-cereal popularity is Honey Nut Cheerios, a sweeter version of original Cheerios.

All of this paints an interesting picture to contemplate as we feast upon turkey, tofurkey, turducken and other foodstuffs on this (Canadian, not American) holiday.

But before we start feeling all virtuous and superior about our eating habits, remember that these statistics are averages. Not everyone eats well north of the 49th parallel, and not everyone survives on junk south of it. Canada’s more numerous Asian newcomers, for example, could be skewing our results toward fins, fruits and veg and away from the mac ’n’ cheese the rest of us apparently (according to another study) snarf regularly.

Some of the numbers might also be based on population samples, not actual sales. Or the numbers could be based on self-reported eating habits, which would mean Canadians are (a) bigger liars than Americans, or (b) deluded, instead of (c) better eaters.

On the less-healthy side, TD Economics reports we spent about three times more per person on beer and wine than Americans did last year. Canada has higher taxes and tariffs, but even after the numbers were adjusted for price differences, Canadians still each spent $317 US more on booze.

And for many of the fortunate among us, our food consumption this weekend will be as generous and indulgent as any similar restaurant or holiday-time serving sizes south of the border.

And that would be after we’ve eaten our four — or was that eight? — Triscuit canapés and imbibed our pre-dinner wine or beer.

keiran_monique@rocketmail.com

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