Turn restaurant ‘into beacon’ for healthy eating, environmental sustainability, local doc tells Science North

Dr. Julie Connolly loves Science North and everything it stands for, except one thing — its restaurant Elements.

The Sudbury family physician and mother of five takes issue with the choice of food offered, which she feels “normalizes poor nutrition, fast food and environmental degradation within the premises of a building that showcases science and evidence-based notions, and is geared toward public education.”

She wants the science centre to do better.

“This is a restaurant that sits in a science centre; it is a perfect opportunity to act as an education interface with the public in terms of human health and environmental sustainability,” Connolly said.

Dr. Julie Connolly (far right) is seen here with three of her five children (Finn, Neave and Thandeka. She has also been a family physician in Greater Sudbury for almost 20 years. (Supplied by Dr. Julie Connolly)

“Turn the restaurant space into a beacon for environmental sustainability, environmental empathy and healthy eating,” she added. “Otherwise we’re undermining the message that they’re giving elsewhere in the building.”

Connolly feels the changes should have been made already.

“We’ve known about these problems in terms of environmental sustainability and human health and nutrition for a very long time, and we still have a restaurant serving up these options in the middle of our science centre.”

Science North ‘appreciates input’

Science North’s interim CEO Jennifer Booth said she welcomes Connolly’s input to improve the science centre’s dining experience.

“We always appreciate input from everybody. It really helps us celebrate our successes and helps us with improvements and the ability to drive change in our community,” she said.

In fact, it is part of the science centres revitalized strategic plan (2022-2025), which was updated due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“One of the priorities in there was taking a good look at our restaurant offerings,” Booth said.

Visitors and customers have been surveyed since earlier this year. The questionnaire is available on the Science North Facebook page.

“The aspects of the survey include our menu offerings, price, the experience in the restaurant and what kind of atmosphere you really like,” Booth said.

Booth said the research gathered from the surveys will help to create a concept design, which will include food options, environmental sustainability, the layout and design of the space and overall customer experience.

Following that Science North will develop a business case to determine what kind of investment for funding it might need to change the space.

“Depending on the results of the survey, I can’t exactly say what [the change] is going to be yet, but it will definitely include changes to the menu options, and the space and including some sort of environmental components as well,” Booth said.

Connolly doesn’t plan on completing the survey.

“A survey of the public is not how you get at the truth, it’s how you get an opinion, and in my opinion that’s what has gotten the Western world into this chronic illness mess we’re in.”

She said any changes to Science’s North restaurant should be based on science and health facts not on survey results.

Although Connolly did add that she would love to work with Science North to redevelop its restaurant.

“It shouldn’t take a little family doctor to ruffle people’s feathers. This should have been done before, but as I said it shouldn’t be me, as a single citizen, making them aware that this is a problem.”

“All foods fit”

“It’s important to remember then when we think about healthy eating that all foods fit,” said Paula Ross, a registered dietitian with Public Health Sudbury and Districts.

“There’s certainly foods that offer more nutritional value and foods that offer less nutritional value, but it’s important to find a balance in between.”

“Recognizing that there is a time and place to enjoy some of those less nutritious items as well.”

Ross said the health unit has not yet been asked to provide support to Science North on its restaurant changes, but if they are they would be happy to “help make the healthier choice the easier choice”.

“It’s quite beneficial for those publicly vended institutions or establishments to offer healthier options because that would allow them to become a leader really in the community and help to promote health and wellness.”

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