Everyone loves a plate of French fries. We all know how bad they are for our health, but we inevitably convince ourselves that one serving won’t do us that much harm. At least, this is what I tell myself whenever I sit down to enjoy my favourite fried food. A serving of fries from time to time won’t do all that much harm to your body. However, if we give in to our cravings for grease and eat fried food regularly, our health deteriorates. Over time this tasty indulgence will catch up with us.
Imagine if you could actually lay out on a table all the fries and greasy food one eats over a year. We would end up with a mountain of the stuff. Now just think about what your poor body has gone through to process all that grease.
When I was younger I could afford to eat high-calorie fatty foods. I was active through our family contracting business. I was on my feet all the time and in my spare moments I was involved in sporting activities with my friends. At one point, our family ran a restaurant business where my younger brothers and I served greasy fast food to the entire community of Attawapiskat. We were grease pushers. For several summers, my friends and I basically lived on nothing but French fries and poutine. French fries are bad enough but poutine… oh my God.
French fries, burgers and poutine are more or less a staple in Northern Ontario. In the summertime, just take a drive down a major northern highway and count how many chip stands you will find. It is the same in remote First Nation communities. We seem to be addicted to grease. Wherever there is a need for fast food, there is a little restaurant or stand with a bubbling deep fryer transforming the ordinary potato into crispy, greasy, finger-licking-good fries.
Few of us stop to really consider what all this grease intake means for our health. We just don’t see this as a problem until it bangs us over the head with a heart attack, stroke or diabetes.
Well, with all that said I have some good news from Mattagami First Nation near Timmins. I was happy to hear that recently a restaurant owner in that community has decided to tackle the issue of grease right where it counts: the menu. Bruce McKay and family, who own and operate the Mattagami convenience store and restaurant, have tossed out their old fatty food menu for a selection of homemade meals that are low fat and lower in calories.
It was no easy task to move away from a menu that revolved around French fries and all types of breaded and deep-fried hunks of fat. Bruce tells me that it all came to them over a period of years and that one day he and his wife Betty just got fed up with the fat. They really began to feel guilty about feeding people foods that were not very nutritious or healthy. They felt bad that Elders were coming in and eating up gobs of fat that were plugging their arteries and causing all types of health complications. They also felt terrible at realizing that the local youth were following in their Elders’ footsteps and becoming addicted to all those greasy, fried foods.
I was amazed at the fact that Bruce and his family were courageous enough to make the change for the betterment of their community. Of course, any businessman would fear making drastic changes to an operation that is making money. I mean let’s face it, grease sells in the north. Happily, the community of Mattagami First Nation has embraced the new menu and they are now enjoying the change of healthier options in meals. Bruce has disconnected the deep fryer and he hopes he can keep it out of service as he and Betty now produce low-fat meat sandwiches, homemade soups and wonderful salads. They also did not forget the homemade desserts.
There is no doubt about it, Bruce and Betty have taken a risk with this new healthy menu and although there have been some growing pains, community members are getting used to having a meal that does not jeopardize their mortality.
Perhaps the McKays are really on to something in the wake of an emerging trend hot on the heels of movies like Super Size Me. Maybe we are all ready to make the move to eating meals that taste great and do good things to our bodies. I’m thinking that the deep fryer would go well up on a shelf in the Mattagami Restaurant and Convenience Store, after all, that’s where all the antiques and reminders of yesteryear are sitting.