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Nutrition, Plant-foods, and Planetary Health workshop


The food industry is constantly undergoing transformational change, and one way to support positive shifts in our food systems is through knowledge transfer. One of the essential components of these evolving food systems is nutrition and understanding nutrition in the context of enhancing food systems is crucial to improving both human and planetary health. This was the theme for the “Nutrition, Plant-foods, and Planetary Health” workshop held in November at the Anita Stewart Memorial Food Lab at the University of Guelph.

The event was organized and moderated by Emma Joiner, a fourth-year student in the Nutritional and Nutraceutical Sciences program at U of G and an intern with the Arrell Food Institute. As part of the UofG coursework for the Teaching, Learning & Knowledge Transfer course, Emma developed an independent project on knowledge transfer in human health by hosting a workshop with experts in the field to speak on food systems, nutrition, and plant-based food. The workshop tied together common themes and included short presentations followed by a moderated panel discussion that proceeded through a range of relevant opinions and perspectives.

Speakers included Arrell Scholars and U of G faculty. The first presentation was from Zahra Saghafi, a Food Sciences PhD student who is focusing on how to use structure-function relation strategies to solve stability issues in plant-based milk alternatives. Erik Dassoff, a PhD student in the Department of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences, outlined future possibilities in food processing when creating new sustainable foods with the best nutritional value.
The second half of the presentations continued with Dr. Paula Brauer, a Professor Emerita from the Department of Family Relations & Applied Nutrition who spoke to previous research and theories regarding plant-based diets as well as the significance of developing novel approaches to enhance food and nutrition services. Lastly, Dr. Sunghwan Yi, an Associate Professor in the Department of Marketing and Consumer Studies presented a summary of his research on alternative approaches to promote healthy foods including the idea of “nudging” consumers to make healthier food choices.

A panel discussion generated questions and comments from the audience including some that inspired Dr. Yi’s suggestion to prioritize taste in plant-based foods so that consumers associate “healthy” with “tasty” when choosing their food. The discussion expanded on approaches to educate consumers on plant-based diets, especially those less concerned with sustainability and health. Dr. Brauer underlined the importance of food convenience in the future and that the intersection of accessibility and healthy foods is required to support planetary and human health.

A concluding conversation focused on the future of plant-based food nutrition, where Erik pointed out the importance of bridging the gap between food scientists and nutritionists to broaden the novel food portfolio in the interests of consumers. Zahra also noted the risk of misleading information influencing consumers’ perceptions of the food system and influencing the decisions they make. Workshops like these help influence person-to-person knowledge transfer and can play a key role in addressing concerns and providing opportunities to connect, question, and share knowledge on important human nutrition and food-related issues.