Despite the longstanding association between Montreal and artery clogging foods, such as poutine or tire d’érable, the Montreal “Expo Manger Santé et Vivre Vert” showcased the slightly more toned underbelly of Montreal food culture.
The exposition took place at Place-des-Armes between March 11 and 13, and featured 250 companies, including Canadian staples such as Nature Valley, GO GO Quinoa, RISE Kombucha, and Rachel Berry Grocers. The massive conference room, filled to capacity with Montrealers of all ages, was a testament to the global growth in food consciousness, and the highly lucrative market for artisinal foods.
The massive display of Montreal’s health companies together in one room drew attention to the way in which health food has become more available in recent years. It would be difficult to walk through the conference hall without noting brands sold at Bishop-Mountain Hall or McLennan library. These health food companies are slowly becoming integrated into mainstream campus food services. For example, SNAX now carries products from Aux Vivres, a local vegan restaurant, and McGill’s cafeterias sell Crudessence’s raw salads and Kind’s gluten- and sugar-free granola bars.
In her four years at McGill, U3 Political Science student, Carly Walter, remarked on the growing presence of healthy food alternatives on campus.
“There has been a huge rise in avocado toast,” Walter said. “It’s everywhere I look now.”
Walter noted this wasn’t the case until her second year at McGill. She drew attention to larger shifts on campus such as the replacement of Pizza Pizza and Tim Hortons in McLennan with Première Moisson Bakery, and the Dispatch coffee stand in the McConnell Engineering Building.
U3 Political Science student Kathleen Tully suggested that healthy eating is on the rise as people become more aware of what goes into their food.
“[The] increase in healthy food options and kombucha availability is a good indicator of this trend,” Tully said.
Companies such as Première Moisson, however, which occupied a large corner of the Expo, raise an interesting question as to what companies are commonly considered to be ‘healthy.’ Although most McGill students recognize the local Montreal bakery for its macaroons and pastries, the company blended in at Expo Manger Santé among a sea of ‘artisanal’ health companies, offering samples of their gluten-free cakes.
While the Expo Manger Santé et Vivre Vert’s mission is to “increase awareness about the importance of our eating habits and lifestyles in relation to our health and the environment,” there seemed to be a very vague notion of what constituted ‘health.’ There were a large number of vegan food companies, just as many gluten-free cakes and cookies, and more than a handful of organic chocolate stalls. Like Première Moisson, the majority of companies at the Expo seemed to associate themselves with ‘health’ by omitting certain ingredients like gluten, or convening to a certain standard of production such as ‘organic’ or ‘fair trade,’ rather than the wholesome, nutritional qualities of their products.
Juliana Hayden, U2 Political Science, was skeptical that companies such as Première Moisson’s gluten-free options are actually healthy.
“I don’t equate gluten-free with health,” Hayden said. “You still have to actually look at the ingredients. The same goes with vegan food. Not all vegan and gluten-free products are actually all-natural.”
Hayden pointed to recent backlash against gluten-free products that often contain far more preservatives and chemicals than bread made with real flour. These gluten-free products are produced for the benefit of people who suffer from Celiac disease or gluten intolerance, and the idea that they are ‘healthier’ is often misconstrued.
Marie-Lawrence, who attended the expo with her daughter and husband on Friday afternoon, said that although she, like Hayden, was skeptical about the marketing that goes into health food, she thought the availability of options would encourage people to adopt healthy diets.
“I’m a vegan for health and environmental reasons, so I was really happy to see so many Montreal companies catering to a vegan diet,” Marie-Lawrence said. “I definitely wouldn’t constitute the amount of ‘fauxmage’ cheesecake I ate at the crudessence stand as healthy, but they help make a vegan diet sustainable for me.”
Expo Manger Santé et Vivre Vert is a clear indicator that Montreal companies are trying to accommodate, but also profit from, a new wave of healthy eaters. What constitutes a ‘healthy’ diet, whether that be gluten-free, vegan, artisanal, or organic has yet to be defined.