Leanna Braid Interview


Owner of Pachamama talks nutrition

Leanna Braid was interviewed by Hannah Burrows on March 4, 2019. Braid is the owner of Pachamama, a chocolaterie, tea and espresso bar, & whole-food emporium, in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. Her business features specialty vegan food and drink, which  reflects respect for Pachamama (or Mother Earth), “a goddess revered by the indigenous people of the Andes for her ability to sustain life.” Braid makes her business decisions based on a strong ethical foundation that surrounds sustainability, both environmentally and socially. Through her passion for consumption of whole and plant-rich foods, she addresses the barriers that individuals face due to accessibility and the actions we can take on an  individual level to transform our relationship with food.


HB: What initially sparked your interest in consuming and promoting a vegan diet consisting of whole and plant-rich foods?

LB: I have been interested in food my whole life but became more interested in plant-based eating when I was pregnant with my daughter. It was also during this time that I began working on the vision that would eventually become Pachamama.

HB: Can you tell us about your journey of opening Pachamama and how you turned your personal interests and beliefs into a business?

LB: My journey to opening Pachamama is perhaps less  traditional than most business startups. Pachamama was borne out of both passion and necessity. After an almost 10-year career in environmental education and strategic planning with Parks Canada, I lost my “secure” government position during the large-scale downsizing that took place under Stephen Harper. At this time, I had put down some roots in Antigonish and realized that if I wanted to stay here, I would have to create my own job. I had been working on a business vision for some time that would combine my love of healthy food with my passion for sustainability and community.

Shortly after my daughter was born, my husband was badly injured and it became necessary to start the business. The timing was not ideal -  building a business from scratch and becoming a mother meant that life was extremely busy, stressful and exhausting. But it was also an exciting time.

I have always made decisions about my business based on a strong ethical foundation. Maximizing profits has never been at the core of Pachamama - I have built my own business model that incorporates and maintains a strong ethic of sustainability (environmentally and socially). To do this, I had to build my own supply chains because those available did not satisfy the ethical requirements I wanted in place. In essence, I have become my own supplier, distributor and retailer. This allows me to build relationships directly with growers and other suppliers, to maintain better pricing and to stand behind all the products that have become part of the Pachamama brand.

Photo: @pachamamafoods on Facebook

Photo: @pachamamafoods on Facebook

HB: How did you initially form the relationships that you now have with farmers that supply your business (both locally and worldwide)?

LB: Initially, this meant doing a lot of research, making a lot of phone calls, meeting face to face with local growers and organizations that support them. Countless hours were spent reading and researching supply lines and digging through layers of “middlemen” to find direct sources of products. In short, hard work, persistence and a dedication to thinking outside the box.

HB: What do you think is the biggest issue that the farming and food production world is facing at the moment?

LB: There is no simple answer to this question, in part because food production and the problems we currently face regarding food security are so interlinked with other large-scale problems such as climate change, globalization, the industrialization of food, the breakdown of community, etc. However, if I had to highlight one issue it would be the increasing fragility of our food system due to many of the factors mentioned above. Food security is declining as the impacts of long term food industrialization, societal disconnection from food, and availability of “empty” foods in the form of highly processed goods continue the rise.

HB: Studies have shown that exposure to poor quality food environments amplify individual risk factors for obesity such as low income, absence of transport, and poor cooking skills or knowledge. How can individuals combat these risk factors and find ways to purchase and consume more whole foods?

LB: This is a challenging question because it is impossible to answer without examining the reasons for these limiting factors: poverty, mental and physical illness, lack of food education, etc. In the current system of food production and distribution, the barriers to accessing whole foods are often  insurmountable. The existence of food deserts in urban areas, the astronomical cost of whole foods in northern/isolated  communities or the lack of publicly funded healthy food school programs are just a few examples of this.

I believe that it will take more than simply the actions of individuals to make change and combat these risk factors. More public education and funding regarding healthy eating and whole foods is needed so that some of these barriers can be removed, or at least reduced. The new Canada Food Guide is a step in the right direction and will hopefully begin to guide policy, programs and education. All schools should have gardens and teach the basics of growing and preparing food. Governments should tax           unhealthy/processed foods and subsidize whole foods and local food productions.

HB: Studies have revealed that there is a direct link between soil health and human health, and that the chemicals used in industrial agriculture are among the causes of modern illness. What is your take on this? Do you agree with this statement?

LB: I cannot articulate it better than Jane Goodall when she said, “Someday we shall look back on this dark era of agriculture and shake our heads. How could we have ever believed that it was a good idea to grow our food with poison?”

HB: Indigenous people see the Earth as something to be nurtured and nourished. How can we develop such empathy for the Earth and change our current relationship with it? Additionally, how may we inspire people to change the way we farm, eat, and think about food?

LB: I wish I had answers to these questions. In my opinion, it is difficult to foster this empathy without changing the capitalist system that currently dictates food production education, economy, etc. Until corporations and governments are held accountable for their actions and their impacts in the planet, it will be difficult to address these larger issues.

However, this does not mean we cannot take action on an individual level to transform our relationship with food. Choosing local and whole food options, when possible, is important but it’s also important not to judge those who are not able and to examine why this option has become a privilege and not a right. In terms of inspiring others, I try to live by the following: Make changes where possible, whether big or small; Take more time to prepare food from whole ingredients; Have gratitude for the food you eat and for the planet that produced it; Learn about how to grow your own food, even if it’s just one plant to start; Enjoy simple foods because nutritious, delicious food does not need to be complicated; Don’t be afraid to experiment with and try new whole foods; Resist the temptation to eat fast food, processed food, junk food etc., because your body will thank you; Whenever possible, vote with your dollar; Share your love of food with others; Resist judgements about the food choices of others, and instead, examine what might be the    reasons for their choices and decisions.

Remember that in the current system, there is no perfect way forward, only your ability to make the best choices you can based on the information to have. Strive to seek out this information and small changes will lead to changed habits.

HB: Charles Massy, a farmer and scientist, believes that if people ate truly nutrient-rich food out of healthy soil, the national health bill would be slashed right away. He claims that the big chemical companies and big food companies know exactly what they are   doing and, therefore, he sees this as a form of genocide. Do you agree with this statement?

LB: I completely agree that spending on public health would be greatly reduced if people had reasonable access to healthy, whole foods. I think large chemical and food companies, which are often connected to pharmaceutical companies, are driven by profit and greed and this leads to producing, processing and packaging food in the cheapest possible way to maximize shareholder profits. A convenient side effect, from the perspective of these companies is the consumer addiction that arises from eating foods packed with salt, sugar, preservatives, processed fats, etc. used to both cheapen the cost of the good and to increase the stability of foods for transportation and display on shelves.


Canada’s 2019 Food Guide


New food guide to advise less meat, less dairy, and more company

Canada’s new food guide is expected to be released in the spring of 2019. It is anticipated that it will differ greatly from the previous “food rainbow” that has hung on the walls of classrooms and dietetic offices for decades.

The first Canadian Food Guide was published in 1942. At the time it was used to promote and support agriculture and the rural economy. Since then, there have been very little changes to the food guide. Our previous food guide was a simple demonstration of what most of the population knows to be four food groups: fruits and vegetables, grains, milk and alternatives, and meat and alternatives. The four classifications were seen on a rainbow design featuring a number of food examples.

This year’s food guide has a proposed illustration of lots of whole-grain foods, plenty of fruits and vegetables, as well as protein foods. Notable changes will be the lack of acknowledgement for dairy, as well as referring to the previous meat and alternatives group as “proteins.” The new illustration is also said to be missing fruit juice as an example, as it is no longer seen by dieticians as a healthy necessity to children or adults.

Protein foods will include tofu, beans, fish, nuts, and peanut butter, with meat and milk also featured as two of the 28 examples. This is very telling to how much change we’ve seen in how the world and Canadians view dairy and meat products. When the food guide was created more than half a century ago, food security was problematic, and our milk and meat products were often produced by local businesses. Unfortunately, this is no longer the reality for Canadian consumers. With a number of societal, environmental, and industrial changes, the new food guide will be following suit.

According to recent research published by The Guardian, humans and livestock make up 96% of all mammals. Milk and dairy consumes a vast majority of farmland and contributes to extreme climate change and pollution, yet it only accounts for 18% of all food calories and only one third of protein. To put it simply, the dairy and meat industry is causing more harm than good.

Deforestation for farm space, methane emissions, and fertilizer use causes the same amount of greenhouse gas emissions as planes, trains and automobiles combined. There is a suggested shift that scientists advice is needed to adjust our future to a sustainable one. Researchers say the average citizen needs to eat 75% less beef, 90% less pork and half the number of eggs, while tripling consumption of beans and pulses and quadrupling nuts and seeds.

The Guardian refers to 2019 as a “key year in the overhaul of a broken food system.”

Interestingly enough, another significant change expected in the food guide is not necessarily the what? Rather, the question is how? 

There is expected to be thorough advice on the habits Canadians should be exhibiting in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle. This includes cooking more, enjoying your meals, eating with others, and drinking more water all the time.

This new food guide is expected to stray from its original purpose of sponsoring the agricultural economy, and will be geared towards promoting a better quality of life for Canadians. There will be less emphasis on servings and specific types of food, and more focus on nutrients, how much we need, and our habits.


5 Tips to Help You Have a Healthier Homestretch


From your Dietetic Intern Emily Mork, BSc HNU 2018

You’ve survived the passing deadlines, the midterms, the group project meetings, the papers and assignments. You’re almost there, the end of first semester. With finals looming and study hours adding up, it’s important to not just survive but thrive during the dreaded exam season. 

Here are a few of the best tips for maintaining healthy habits during the high stress times:

1. Conscious effort

Making an effort to maintain your healthy habits during exams can make the world of a difference! It is common for students to deprive themselves of sleep, exercise and proper nutrition during exams for a variety of different reasons – but just because it’s common doesn’t mean it’s okay. Instead of justifying your lack of sleep, poor eating or exercise habits and blaming it on the season, make an effort to live the life you did before studying consumed your schedule. 

This might mean aiming for 8 hours of sleep, but knowing a solid 6 is more realistic or choosing to walk to the library instead of driving. Sneaking in as much physical activity and sleep as your schedule can handle will help you feel motivated to choose more nutritious options. Just try your best!

2. Prep & pack is the way to go – limit convenience options

It’s super tempting to pick up a fast-food breakfast sandwich en route to the library for a full day of studying, but convenience options are typically high in fat and sodium and could leave you feeling groggy and hungry shortly after. Try packing your own snacks and meals ahead of time. I promise, the extra 15 minutes it takes before bed to pack a nutritious lunch is so worth it the next day, not to mention you’ll save money! Find an option that is easy to pack and go that you’re actually excited to eat – there’s no sense in packing plain veggie sticks if you’re dreading eating them during your afternoon study break. 

A few of my favourites are salt and vinegar rice chips, air popped popcorn, hummus and veggies, pretzels and cheese or apple with peanut butter. Choosing a snack or meal with both carbohydrates and protein will keep you fuller (and focused) for longer. I’m not saying to forgo exam time treats altogether, but I do believe that saving bagels or burgers for after your hardest final (or if you have two exams back-to-back) will make it taste that much better!

3. Breakfast is key

They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but it’s even more important during exams! A balanced breakfast will help fuel your studying by helping you to remain focused and providing your brain the energy it needs to retain information. While a good breakfast is the ideal start to a study day, it is absolutely essential to eat before a 9am final! I cannot stress this enough! Waking up earlier before those dreaded morning exams to enjoy a coffee and a well rounded meal will help you feel energized, satisfied and confident before entering your exam – and maybe provide you an opportunity to review your notes one more time if you’re into that. 

Make ahead breakfast options like overnight oats, or omelet cups are great options that are inexpensive, easy to prepare and nutritious

4. Stay hydrated – iced coffee doesn’t count!

Did you know that adults should consume no more than 400 mg of caffeine per day? That’s equivalent to 2 small coffees from the SUB or Mini Moe’s! Drinking too much coffee during exams may have the opposite affect you intended as overconsumption of caffeine can lead to trouble sleeping, headaches and nervousness, which are not symptoms you want to feel in addition to stress. If you’re a coffee drinker, limit yourself to 2 cups per day and spread them out, for example have one in the morning and one later in the afternoon as opposed to drinking them back-to-back. Ensure you are consuming plenty of other fluids during exams, preferably water whenever possible. Dehydration can have many of the same symptoms of being over caffeinated - headaches or light-headedness, trouble focusing and tiredness. Carry a water bottle with you throughout the day, make some flavoured or infused water or consider trying a sparkling option with no added sugar to help keep you drinking. 

The bottom line to avoiding unnecessary headaches and nerves is to drink more water and less coffee this exam season. 

5. Potlucks

Finally, get together with friends and classmates to use what’s left in your fridge and freezer with a potluck meal. Collaborate to avoid buying more groceries this close to the break and get creative in the kitchen! Soups, casseroles, or pasta are great options that you can make, share and hopefully have leftovers to pack for your next day at the library. Cooking with friends is a great way to unwind, relax and take a break from your books without wasting time to enjoy the social aspect of eating. This is also a great opportunity to hang out with your friends before the long winter break - the more the merrier!

Hopefully with these tips you can have your healthiest exam season yet. Keep an eye on our Instagram account @stfxsportnutrition for some exam time recipe ideas. 

Just think, this is the final stretch before enjoying all of those yummy holiday goodies and if that’s not motivation, I don’t know what is! Wishing you the best of luck and happy holidays, you’ve got this!


Opinion: International Students and Health Insurance


Why the current system needs to change

International students studying at Nova Scotian universities are currently ineligible from receiving provincial health coverage. In a way, that makes perfect sense; often times they are not full time residents nor do they pay all the requisite taxes that permanent Nova Scotia residents would pay.
However, once one realizes all the additional costs international students pay to attend university as well as the economic opportunities they give their respective areas, health insurance seems like a fair commodity to offer them. 

Eight provinces currently offer healthcare to their international students; one of which is New Brunswick. In 2017, New Brunswick Post-Secondary Education Minister, Roger Melanson stated “International students make our campuses richer and more diverse, and we are proud today to extend health coverage to international students who are enrolled and pursuing studies in New Brunswick universities and colleges. This will help address additional out-of-pocket expenses international students face when studying in New Brunswick, make post-secondary education more accessible and affordable for them, and help us recruit more international students to our campuses.” 

In Nova Scotia, international students are required to purchase private insurance that covers their stay in province but only on a year-to-year basis requiring renewals each year. In a StFX-specific context that means purchasing the Students’ Union Health and Dental plan coverage through “Student Benefits.” This coverage is extremely costly, $1,085.00 to be exact. Keep in mind that this is on top of all other fees including Students' Union dues and the $16,168.00 international students pay for tuition. Ridiculous.

Most health care providers in Antigonish accept this insurance, however, the after hours clinic on Church Street does not, meaning international students must pay out of pocket every visit. Having provincial insurance would, of course, alleviate this problem. 

Clearly, as international students in Nova Scotia are financially burdened more than their domestic colleagues, being able to save $1,085.00 a year would make obtaining a Canadian education much more accessible as well as alleviate some of the financial pressure that international students contend with throughout the academic year. 

New Brunswick Health Minister Benoit Bourque stated “our government knows that the availability and delivery of health services have a significant impact on the quality of life of the people of our province, we are proud to be able to extend health-care coverage to international students and provide them with the same level of health care that their peers enjoy in Canada.” 

International students bring a lot to Nova Scotia, many have a desire to stay after graduation and economically as well as culturally contribute to the province. Yet, they are deterred from opportunities in Nova Scotia because of the lack of government health care. Provinces such as New Brunswick are a much more attractive option in that regard. 

Post secondary institutions in Nova Scotia and the province as a whole are losing out on lots of great talent, so something must be done. The lobbying organization, Students NS is advocating for MSI (Nova Scotia Health Card)  insurance for all full time international students immediately upon arrival; something that the StFX Students’ Union supports and a pillar of President Sirois’ campaign. 

This initiative still has a long way to go as the government may be reluctant to shell out the $452,440 a year to make it happen but that is chump change in comparison to the positive economic impact these students bring with them. 

All in all, I think it is completely fair to make the argument that Nova Scotia is behind the times. The province is not as competitive in attracting and retaining foreign students as others due to the lack of MSI coverage. The positive economic impact international students make far outweigh the debit that will be incurred. The current healthcare system is inequitable and inefficient, and it's time for a change.