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Do Canadians Eat More Healthily Than US Americans?

I started wondering about this when I saw the photo essay of a week's worth of groceries around the world (I posted it here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/971368). Then a Canadian friend said she believes that, overall, Canadians eat more healthily than Americans, maybe not less fat, carbs and so on, but less processed and fast food.

Chowhounds who know both Canada and the US well enough to say something about general eating habits, is this true?

I realize both the US and Canada are big countries with diverse populations and widely varied lifestyles among their residents, but on the whole, what are the differences in the way people eat and relate to food, mealtime, and cooking?


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  1. I believe Canadian consumption of poutine contributes to a longer and healthier life. Their beer is also better.

    16 Replies
    1. re: beevod

      US craft beer production is far more substantial than Canada's.

      1. re: Chinon00

        Québec has a huge array of craft beers.

        1. re: lagatta

          For sure but nothing like Californ, New England or the Pacific NW.

          1. re: Chinon00

            Of course, California has 5 times more people than Quebec, so it's not like most people would expect Quebec to offer as much variety as California (let alone California, New England and the Pacific NW together).
            That being said, I know a born and bred, craft beer-loving northern Californian, who has never visited Quebec, who considers La Fin du Monde his favourite beer ever made.

            1. re: prima

              La Fin du Monde, Maudite, Don de Dieu, Trois Pistoles, Cheval, etc are all favorites of mine. Having said that I responded to a comment "[Canada's] beer is also better [than America's]". Due to our quality, variety and vastness that's just not a true statement.

              1. re: Chinon00

                I was responding to your reply to lagatta. I would think whether another Chowhound believes Canadian beer is better or worse than American beer is a matter of taste, rather than a matter of fact.

                1. re: prima

                  He didn't say he preferred or liked Canadian beer over American he said "their beer is also better". He made a judgment.

                  1. re: Chinon00

                    Beevod's statement that Canadian beer is better would be an opinion and a matter of taste, as well as a generalization. Not a judgment based on fact, not a universal truth.

                    But to be clear, I was responding to your reply to lagatta, who is a she. I was never responding to beevod's comment that Canadian beer is better.

                    1. re: prima

                      Ok Quebec does a nice job. And let's hope opinions are based upon more than preferences tho'.

            2. re: Chinon00

              I live in BC and we have 80 plus craft breweries. Im surprised at the amount in the states. Interesting article old but per capita Canada kicks butt and BC has quadrupled its craft breweries since 2011


              1. re: daislander

                Hi, daislander:

                I live in Washington, close enough that Van is within reach.

                Every time I've been in BC, I've been shocked at how expensive beer is, even dreck like Kokanee and Extra Old Stock.

                What's a pint of craft beer go for these days?

                Aloha Eh,

                1. re: kaleokahu

                  All alcoholic beverages, and most non-alcoholic ones, are more expensive in Canada. Remember that there are far more social programmes to pay for, especially healthcare. People in the US have to pay for this through insurance.

                  1. re: kaleokahu

                    In a restaurant, about 7 bucks. Buying an individual pint can in the LCBO, maybe $3-4.

                    1. re: kaleokahu

                      Canada has lots more taxes on alcoholic beverages, which drives up the price.

                      I would keep in mind that Canada has 1/10th the population the US does, so with equivalent microbrewing communities you'd have about 1/10th the number. California has a larger population that all of Canada.

                      I've had a variety of good micro beers in BC and Ontario, including very local stuff. For example, there's at least two brew pubs in my home town of 60,000 people that sells their own beer in bottles.

                      Unfortunately, Unibroue is the only decent Canadian beer I've seen outside of Canada.

              2. http://www.weightymatters.ca/
                This Canadian MD addresses the same sort of diet and obesity issues as American ones.

                he wants
                1. An evidence based Food Guide.
                2. A national school food program
                3. A national trans-fat ban
                4. Mandatory menu-board calories

                1. Perhaps expat life promotes equal excesses, but as an American who often moves overseas for years at a time, none of the Canadian expats that I have known (either casually or very well) have had "better" eating habits than my American acquaintances.

                  1. Regarding fast food, I can think of one difference - Tim Hortons


                    1. This debate sort of revolves around what you consider healthy but interested in others' opinions.

                      1. Restaurant servings wise, I would say American portions are larger.

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: mtlcowgirl

                          I have definitely noticed this.

                            1. re: sandylc

                              Sure servings vary by restaurant genre but on average I think US servings are indeed bigger, loaded up with garnish etc.

                            2. re: mtlcowgirl

                              Absolutely. We've actually experienced a waiter asking us if we were Canadian when we commented on the portion sizes.

                            3. Based on the per capita sugar consumption and BMI indeces, Canadians do eat more healthily than we in the US, but not by a lot and both the US and Canada fare poorly compared to Europe.


                              1. I've lived in both countries, and I haven't noticed huge differences in the daily diet of people. The one thing I did notice was that in the US, restaurant portions tended to be significantly larger, particularly at chain restaurants.

                                1. Every country in the world eats healthier than the US.

                                  12 Replies
                                    1. re: Kris in Beijing

                                      Mexico by far eats healthier than the USA. Fresh cooked foods made with fresh vegetables and fruits, very little processed and packaged food ends up on a family table.

                                      1. re: genoO

                                        Traditional wasn't always super healthy.
                                        I think Americans build a mystique stereotype about "natural foods of indigenous peoples" -- I've heard the "so many fresh vegetables" argument many times in reference to Chinese food. Yeah, so many fresh vegetables, fried and sauced!!

                                        From 2001:

                                        We defined four dietary patterns, each named for the food groups that were most predominant relative to the other clusters: poultry and alcohol, milk and baked products, traditional Mexican, and meat.
                                        Surprisingly, we did not identify a clear "healthy pattern" group in this population, as has been generally observed in other ethnic groups.
                                        Although the traditional Mexican diet contains relatively high intakes of legumes and dietary fiber, it also was high in cholesterol.
                                        Contrary to our hypothesis, those consuming the traditional Mexican diet pattern had high BMI and waist circumference values, which did not differ significantly from other groups.

                                        1. re: Kris in Beijing

                                          The study was for Mexican/American, not people living their life in Mexico. Those people would be called Mexican. Read and understand.
                                          And how exactly does your study group poultry with alcohol? And who is "we"? and "our hypothesis".?

                                          1. re: genoO

                                            How do you explain that Mexico is the fattest country in the world?

                                            1. re: linguafood

                                              Here is a fun thing to do, go to
                                              http://www.worldlifeexpectancy.com/ and check things out. I found that opening separate tabs for each country makes it easy to compare their general health.
                                              Very interesting to see what is killing your fellow countryman. Personally I would rather die fat and happy than with lung cancer or Alzheimer's, but that's just me.

                                              1. re: genoO

                                                As we all know, there are no smokers in Mexico.

                                                The average life expectancy in the US is 79.8 years and in Mexico it's 77.2.

                                                1. re: Roland Parker

                                                  Considering how much poorer Mexico is than the US, that is hardly surprising, and indicates that health outcomes are not too bad there!

                                              2. re: linguafood

                                                The quick and dirty answer to that question is the greater consumption of drinks with a high sugar content (sodas, juices, etc.).

                                                So if a definition of healthy is overall consumption of processed goods, that's one measurement. But if the definition goes to the overall consumption of calories (in particular the consumption of calories via beverages), then that's another measurement.

                                        1. re: GH1618

                                          After my snarky, knee jerk response I decided to do a little research and it appears that in a recent study of 125 countries, Chad comes in last with some impoverished 3rd world countries filling out the bottom rungs of the list. The USA was tied with Japan at 21 and Canada came in at 25 so generally speaking, to answer the OP, the US eats healthier than Canada. Considering the wealth of the US it's understandable that we would stay out of the bottom of the list but one would think we'd be near the top.

                                      2. I spend a few weeks in the States each year, and live in Ontario. In general, most Canadians and Americans that I know eat and relate to food, mealtime and cooking in similar ways.
                                        I think some of the differences in rates of obesity has to do with junk food and fast food being so cheap and plentiful in the States, and healthier foods being relatively expensive. More products, more advertising, more processed foods to try. The selection of chips, cookies, cereal in a typical Canadian grocery store looks very limited compared to what's for sale in a typical American grocery store. It is interesting to me, to see I often pay the same or less for produce (even Californian produce) as my friends in California and NYC. That being said, meat and dairy cost more up here. I've been paying between $2.50 and $3.50/litre of skimmed milk, yet 2 l of pop is often on sale for $0.99.

                                        10 Replies
                                        1. re: prima

                                          The skimmed milk you buy seems expensive to me. I live in Tokyo and a liter of low-fat milk costs a bit over $1. But regular milk (4% fat) can be as high as $2.50.

                                          1. re: Tripeler

                                            Interesting. The skim, 2%, 3.5% milk usually are the same price/litre in Canada. Canadian milk prices are set by the government, in an attempt to protect the dairy farmers and dairy industry.

                                            1. re: prima

                                              Would that the UK government do similar to protect our dairy industry from the rampaging supermarkets. There is a real squeeze on the farmers.

                                              Prices are currently £0.44 per litre for standard semi skimmed and £0.87 for organic semi skimmed (0.74 and 1.46 USD)

                                              1. re: Harters

                                                What's frustrating in Ontario, is that supermarkets then set their own price (which seems to vary more for milk than for other staples such as bread or eggs) which varies from location to location, even in the same chain of stores in the same city, above and beyond whatever minimum price would be needed to allow to protect the dairy industry. My local gas station's convenience store, and a nearby drugstore usually charge around 50 to 75 cents less on a one litre carton than the 3 closest grocery stores, and I can save around a dollar if I was to spend gas money or subway tokens to shop at a discount grocery store (which happens to be owned by the same corporation as the drug store and the grocery charging the most).

                                                1. re: prima

                                                  Yep, I understand the frustration (and apologies for giving the $ conversion in USD, rather than CDN).

                                                  1. re: Harters

                                                    No worries, Harters. The USD and CDN have been close in value in recent years, anyhow. Close enough that I don't bother with conversion math when shopping for groceries in the States, whereas I still use conversion math while shopping for shoes in the UK!

                                            2. re: Tripeler

                                              i was told when i lived in japan that milk prices are controlled because the government wants to encourage children to drink more of it, and since milk is also part of the mandatory kyuushoku for schoolkids, schools need to be able to afford it. this was supposed to be re: tripeler, but i'm not sure it went to the right place.

                                              1. re: chartreauxx

                                                I would imagine that if the Japanese government was encouraging milk consumption in schools, they would also provide a separate sales channel for the milk, and subsidise it that way. Still, many things in Japan are surprisingly cheap. Eggs are sold in packs of 10 (not dozens) and 10 eggs will be less than US$1.50 in many cases.

                                                1. re: Tripeler

                                                  yeah i have no idea if it's true or not, just the explanation i was given. i believe it also has something to do with the dairy lobby having a lot of pull, and also general concerns about osteoporosis, thus meaning the government wants to drive up milk consumption across the board (not just for schoolkids), especially for women and the elderly.

                                            3. re: prima

                                              I can't pay the price for the one litre. It's often more expensive than the 4L bag of the same brand. With two kids we do go through the 4L bag no problem, but if we didn't I'd probably give it up or see if I could freeze the bags.

                                            4. According to an Oxfam report last January


                                              USA and Canada rank close together overall (21 and 25). USA ranks a bit better on affordability, Canada a bit better on health (diabetes and obesity).

                                              1. Hi, ninrn:

                                                IMO, your query is analogous to asking if Hitler was more evil than Stalin.

                                                Per capita, there is a White Castle for every Chick-Fil-A, and a Tim Horton's for every Taco Bell.

                                                IMO, generalized Canadians are likely to wind up somewhat healthier than generalized Americans only by dint of the former having universal healthcare.


                                                1. i'm not sure it's even possible to claim an entire country eats more or less healthfully. i think kaleo's onto something with the universal health care comment - though i will concede there's some possibility that american food lobbies, laws, and advertising might influence our diet in ways not seen in countries without those factors. still suspect the health care thing is the real kicker. especially once we're talking affluent industrialized nations, i suspect it's all a bit of a spectrum - some people are very very unhealthy, some are very very healthy, and most somewhere in the middle.

                                                  1. After a few meals at Joe Beef and Au Pied de Cochon, I'd say there isn't much difference. ;)

                                                    4 Replies
                                                    1. re: Bkeats

                                                      Both are big with the American tourist market, and both their fare and portions reflect it.

                                                      1. re: mtlcowgirl

                                                        I doubt they were opened with the goal of feeding Americans. That would be a crappy business plan. Though there are many American, I suspect most diners on any given day are Canadians.

                                                        Just read the most recent issue of Lucky Peach, the all you can eat issue. There is an article about Canadian and specifically Quebec eating habits written by a French-Canadian and that gives the distinct impression that they eat as large portions as those south of the border.

                                                        1. re: Bkeats

                                                          That isn't my impression at all, overall. Not talking about Au Pied du Cochon, which is a real groaning board place. I find average portions here smaller than those in the US cities I've been too, and larger than those in France. Of course, all of those are gross generalisations. For example, in France I found portions in Lyon much larger than portions in Paris, and similar to here (Montréal).

                                                          1. re: lagatta

                                                            If you can find a copy of Lucky Peach, I would suggest reading the article. It goes fairly far back into history and relates contemporary accounts of travelers to Quebec where they remark on the prodigious quantities of food that were served even back in the 18th and 19th centuries. Obviously small sample set but it gives the impression that Canadians in general are not light eaters.

                                                    2. I think US Americans and Canadians are very much alike. I don't see a huge difference in term of diet preference or health problems. I do believe Canadians cook a bit more at home than Americans, so that maybe where you get the idea of less processed and less fast food.

                                                      1. I have lived in both countries and don't see much of a difference in the way Canadians eat vs. those in the US. The same crap food fills most of the grocery store aisles in both countries.

                                                        1. We are Canadians who live 6 months a year in Florida. What I've noticed is that dairy products are considerably cheaper in the USA. Produce is cheaper in Canada vs US chain stores. We shop at small produce markets & get better selection & pricing. Publix (West Palm Beach) has almost a monopoly on groceries. Whole Foods is too expensive for most families. The biggest difference is the portion sizes in chain restaurants.

                                                          1. I think it's disingenuous to lump large groups of people together simply because of geological proximity.

                                                            4 Replies
                                                            1. re: pedalfaster

                                                              Not sure what you mean by disingenuous, pedalfaster. I think everybody knows, as I said in my original post, that there are wide variations in the way people eat in most large countries, especially wealthy ones. But there is a general American culture, even if there are many varied sub-cultures and counter-cultures within it, and, at least to non-Americans, there does seem to be a general American food culture. I just wondered how different the general food culture of Canada is from the general food culture of the US. Don't see what's insincere or deceptive in that line of enquiry or the responses it provokes.

                                                              1. re: ninrn

                                                                As 1/2 of of a vegetarian/vegan US citizen couple ( we grow a big chunk of our food in our back yard), I realize I am the wrong demographic you seek.

                                                                Carry on.

                                                                1. re: pedalfaster

                                                                  Pedalfaster, they are talking about norms, medians and averages, not your specific (and admirable) case.

                                                                  I pedal everywhere too, but not so fast as I did when I was younger...

                                                              2. re: pedalfaster

                                                                "Disingenuous" means insincere, so that's not the right word.

                                                                While Canadians are certainly not all alike, nevertheless if an objective statistic taken nationwide shows a significant difference between Canada and another country, then it is reasonable to say that, on the average, Canadians differ from the others in that respect. Canadians eat less sugar per capita than US Americans, so on that basis Canadians are healthier than US Americans, on the average.

                                                              3. Canadians don't eat enough
                                                                (according to a dairy farmers app)

                                                                1. No we don't. We eat less though

                                                                    1. I grew up in the southern US, moved to Canada when I was 25 and have been here almost 20 years. I can't speak about statistics, but I do think anecdotally when I look around at a group of people here and a group of people in the south, I see more people in the south who I would consider overweight. Particularly children. If this is true and not just my eyes seeing what they want to see, which is entirely possible, I think there's probably a lot of contributing factors. In the US, you can get a fast food cheeseburger for 99 cents. That just doesn't happen here, even adjusting for the dollar. I think the fast/processed food consumption is higher in the states, but I do think Canada is probably following closely behind. Portion sizes when I go to chain US restaurants - the likes of Cheesecake Factory and Olive Garden - seem much bigger than here. Similar chains here like Kelseys/Jack Astors etc. I don't do that often, but when I do I never feel like I need to pack it up and take it home. I'm sure universal health care helps, but finding out for sure would likely take a lot of study. As well, in urban Ontario, anyway, I feel there are many more pedestrians than where I grew up...people walking to destinations or bus stops in TO, and even small towns seem more designed for walking and biking, whereas the small town I grew up in had sidewalks in the downtown area and no where else. Everyone had a car down south - a pricier proposition here in terms of gas and insurance, I think. I also do think that kids are more active. I have absolutely no idea what it is like in the states now, but when I was in elementary school I had no gym class and no recess. The teacher could take us out for recess if she wanted to, and we would play kickball (that's soccer baseball to the Canadians :) maybe once or twice a week. I did have daily phys ed starting in middle school, but my (non) exercise habits were set by then. Here, kids have phys ed - mind you usually only twice a week - starting in grade 1, plus 40 minutes of recess every day, plus now 'daily physical activity' is a (poorly executed) mandate. But again, I have no idea what is happening with phys ed classes in the US.
                                                                      Again, all this is just observation and anecdote. I do know that when my husband goes down south with me, he can't believe (or stomach) the fried-food-centric diet there. I think the Canadian diet is more akin to the diets I have seen amongst my friends who grew up in other places, not in the south. My childhood diet was absolutely atrocious - I really think that iceberg lettuce and tomatoes (on white bread sandwiches with mayonaisse) were the the only raw vegetables I ate. These habits have been very hard to break in my adult life.
                                                                      Anyway, I hope these thoughts and observations qualify as coming from someone who knows Canadian and US eating habits, though my experience with the US is almost 20 years old and limited to the south where things are seemingly quite different.

                                                                      11 Replies
                                                                      1. re: 16crab

                                                                        For a number of years in a row, Mississippi has topped the obesity rates among states, and Colorado the lowest. But recent study showed that rate of growth of obesity is about the same across all groupings etc. About the only thing this study found to 'blame' was the increase affordability of food. In the Oxfam survey I linked earlier, food was most affordable in the USA, though Canada was not far behind.

                                                                        "Americans are spending a smaller share of their income (or corresponding amount of effort) on food than any other society in history or anywhere else in the world, yet get more for it."

                                                                        1. re: paulj

                                                                          Not also the lack of "everyday" exercise? Dutch food isn't light, but the Dutch walk and cycle everywhere (it is a wealthy country, and most families outside city centres own a car - they just use it less, and many need only one as it is so easy to take public transport to work).

                                                                          Yes, I think that it is hard to live without a car in the US except in NYC and SF. Now we have carshare schemes here, so it is even easier for people who need one only occasionally.

                                                                          I also get the idea that once again outside a few exceptions such as NYC and SF, that public transport use is more stigmatised, that taking the bus is a sign of poverty and not simply a logical choice.

                                                                          As paulj pointed out, the differences BETWEEN states, and between provinces, can be even more significant. The lowest obesity rate in Canada is in British Columbia - very health and fitness oriented, and also a large Asian population.

                                                                          And no, the average Québécois or Québécoise does not live on poutine... I hate it, by the way. I love frites, rarely eat them, and pouring brown sauce on them would spoil the crisp treat.

                                                                          1. re: lagatta

                                                                            Isn't it pretty hard to live without a car in Canada except in major cities too? Not a lot of subways in the maritimes I would imagine.

                                                                            1. re: Bkeats

                                                                              I can't speak about too many places in Canada, but I live a good 45-60 minutes from downtown Toronto, in a town of about 50,000 people, and you can take a "Go Train" right from my town to downtown TO, as well as "GO buses" to a number of neighbouring towns and cities. For comparison's sake, the little town in NC I grew up in is a bit smaller than my town here but it's about 45 minutes from Charlotte, the largest city in NC. Don't know about now, but when I was a kid there was no from of public transit that would get you from my town to Charlotte, despite the fact that a lot of people did that commute.

                                                                              1. re: 16crab

                                                                                Obviously we can find exceptions to any rule or observation. I have a weekend place about a 100 miles outside of NYC. The town has a population of about 18,000. I can also take a train from very close to the town green and with one connection be in NYC in a little over two 2 hours. I know people who make that commute to work every day. I could in fact get from my city apartment to my country shack without stepping in a car or bus. Doesn't mean there are good mass transit options in the town so that you can go about your daily life. So I don't think your example proves the point that you can easily live without a car in town that you currently live in other than if you also tell me that you don't have a car and can shop/go out/run errands and get to work without it. Very few places in the world that you can do that easily.

                                                                              2. re: Bkeats

                                                                                No, but I suspect that public transport is better than in most US cities of the same size.

                                                                                1. re: lagatta

                                                                                  This is getting off the food topic but are you saying that the public transport in rural Canada is better than rural US? My guess is that its the same for both. Pretty much non-existent. I can say with a fair amount of certainty that most of the rural US has no real public transport as there is insufficient population density to support it and I would have thought Canada would be the same as you are taking about 10% of the population of the US and spreading it over a larger land mass. I'm happy to be proved wrong.

                                                                                  1. re: Bkeats

                                                                                    Canada has a much smaller rural/small town population than the rural/small town population in the States. I'm not sure how many/what percentage of Canadians live in rural communities/small towns, but it wouldn't surprise me if a smaller percentage of Canadians live in rural communities/small towns compared to the percentage of Americans living in rural communities/small towns.

                                                                                    I'd guess that 99 percent of the Canadians who post on Chowhound live in a mid-sized city with its own bus system, or in a Greater Metropolitan Area with an extended public transportation system. While I agree it is difficult to get around rural Canada without public transit, the lack of public transit in rural Canada might not be as much of a health issue as it is in the US. I know there is daily bus service in Newfoundland linking small towns to St John's, and there is bus service to towns of 600 people in rural Saskatchewan. Many people who live in rural parts of the Prairies only visit the larger cities a couple times a year, so there might not be a need for public transit, especially if they are working in their own communities.

                                                                                    That being said, it is the rural populations in Canada that have more obesity, but that could also be tied to the struggling economies in those rural areas, the larger portion sizes in the country (I say this as a frequent visitor to Saskatchewan and Alberta, where servings at small town family restaurants dwarf Toronto restaurant servings), as well as different populations with different sizes, heights, bone frames, eating traditions, etc. Most people who live in the Prairies, outside the mid-sized and large cities, tend to be bigger and taller people, from bigger and taller stock. (I'm talking about my own lineage, before anyone gets their knickers in a knot). Farmers with a Central European background are going to tend to eat more and weigh more than most people with desk jobs in Vancouver or Montreal, regardless of whether there's public transporation or not.

                                                                                    Here's an article based on the latest Stats Can information. Huron County, a rural county in southtwestern Ontario, has the highest percentage of high BMI in Ontario:

                                                                                    1. re: prima

                                                                                      Interesting article. Made me do a quick bit of research which led me to this


                                                                                      Looks like Americans in general are fatter than Canadians but its seems that some of that can be attributed to the different racial/ethnic composition of the countries.

                                                                                      So I agree on average, Canadians eat healthier than American.

                                                                                      1. re: Bkeats

                                                                                        The average Canadian might eat healthier than the average American, but not by much. :)

                                                                                    2. re: Bkeats

                                                                                      I was never talking about rural areas. I was talking about getting from small town to large city with roughly the same distance between them. There is definitely a culture of having access to a car at age 16 in the southern US that doesn't exist in Ontario. I lived four blocks from my high school and maybe walked it twice and I was the norm, not the exception. If you drive from one end my little Ontario town to the other at 3pm, you'll easily see 100 high school kids walking, if not more.

                                                                          2. http://www.healthdata.org/data-visual...
                                                                            If you want lots of interactive graphics on obesity worldwide - and by country

                                                                            1. Poutine and Nanaimo bars both come from Canada. I'd say that is pretty healthy.

                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                              1. re: jpc8015

                                                                                Not at all, but I don't think most people eat those daily. I live in Québec and have never eaten poutine. No interest in doing so. Regular frites, yes, but I like them crisp. They are an occasional treat, so I wouldn't mess them up with brown sauce and cheese.

                                                                              2. 90% of the Canadian population lives within 100 miles of the US border. Just sayin'.

                                                                                1. @chinon00 you named Quebec's worst example of craft beers! Try These ... http://www.dieuduciel.com
                                                                                  Le castor bourbon barrel aged and let me know.

                                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                                  1. re: Claudiostealth

                                                                                    Are you saying that most breweries in Quebec are better than Unibroue or that Unibroue makes average/poor beer and therefore are the worst...?