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To understand the fight over the latest edition of Canada’s Food Guide, it helps to look at a map of Anglican parishes in England in 1851.

In the middle of the 19th century, the Church of England dominated the rural counties and small towns of England, while non-conformist churches – the Methodists being the largest – dominated the cities and larger towns, especially in the north.

The Cambridge historian Robert Tombs, in The English and Their History, points out that if you overlay the results of any modern British election onto that map, you discover that the Conservatives typically do well in constituencies where the Anglican Church once dominated, while Labour does well in ridings where the Methodists were strong.

The Anglican-Tory tradition of respect for institutions, preference for incremental rather than sudden change, suspicion of bureaucracy and defence of personal liberty – which can easily become defence of personal entitlement – remains rooted, not just in ideology, but in cultural geography: in smaller towns and villages and farms.

The Methodist Whig tradition embraces the fight for progress: lifting up the poor, women, minorities; improving public services; protecting the environment. It can be elitist and intolerant, regarding any opposition, as not just wrong, but stupid or evil. It is anchored in cities.

Dr. Tombs believes this schism goes back at least to the civil war and the religious conflicts that wracked England in the 16th and 17th centuries. Even so, he writes, “its reappearance at every national election seems always to astonish us.”

Settlers exported that schism to the United States – the Republican Party dominates the more rural South and Interior, while the Democrats control the coastal cities – and to English Canada. Later immigrants to English Canada from outside the United Kingdom absorbed the British political culture, and still do, although Indigenous peoples and French Canadians have their own, different traditions.

Which brings us to the fight over Canada’s Food Guide.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer wants to rewrite the latest version, which he dismisses as “ideologically driven.” He also objects to proposed front-of-label warnings on products high in sugar, salt or saturated fat.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau accuses Mr. Scheer of being a philistine.

“Canada’s Food Guide is based on evidence, based on science, based on research,” Mr. Trudeau told reporters. He compared the Tory effort to rewrite the food guide to the Harper government’s decision to scrap the mandatory long-form census.

Mr. Trudeau is not a Methodist, and Mr. Scheer is not an Anglican, but they might as well be. The Liberals crusade against food-industry-induced obesity. The Conservatives defend farmers and people’s right to choose. Left and Right. Whigs and Tories. Methodists and Anglicans. Roundheads and Cavaliers.

If the debate becomes too intense, if neither side is willing to tolerate the other, then the political culture breaks down and radicals seize their chance. Donald Trump. Brexit.

That’s why Canadians need to keeping listening to each other. The Liberals are right to insist that the food guide should not be influenced by agribusiness lobbying. But Mr. Scheer is right to point out that the guide takes reason to an unreasonable extreme.

The heavy emphasis on drinking water over just about anything else, as the guide recommends, and on obtaining protein from vegetables rather than meat is scientifically sound, of course. It is also as stern as a Methodist sermon, and beyond the willpower of many.

Most people don’t live in the country or the city. We live in suburbs. We know we should avoid processed and fast food. But sometimes there’s just no time to cook, and pizza is so tasty. Most of us aren’t going to replace meat with lentils anytime soon, although we try to eat less hamburger and more chicken breast.

Taking another look at the food guide doesn’t mean trashing it. It might mean a few tweaks, based both on science and on the real concerns of farmers and suburban parents.

Beyond that, people on both sides of today’s political divide need to show a bit more humility. (This also applies to newspaper columnists.)

Whether or not we’re prepared to admit it, most of us are Whigs or Tories, Methodists or Anglicans. We’ve been arguing like this for centuries. And no matter where you stand, you didn’t get there on your own.

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