The future is ... in the ground?

May 24, 2011

I am not the best cook. My dishes are passable, but I'm hardly innovative. When I think of innovative food, I think of places like Vancouver or Toronto, where there is a lot of variety and experimentation. I didn't really think Manitoba was a hot spot of food innovation, but the truth is we are on the cutting edge of this rather exciting movement, and Portage la Prairie is at the centre of it all.

The Food Development Centre (FDC) is working with the Manitoba Agri-Health Research Network to make food a part of a treatment process to improve quality of life. Along with two other organizations working with the support of MAHRN (the Canadian Centre for Agri-Food Research in Health and Medicine and the Richardson Centre for Functional Foods and Nutraceuticals), the FDC is helping develop a diet that focuses on the unique characteristics of Canadian-grown and processed crops. The research and trials that are happening right now are exploring the links between consumption of certain crops and its related health advantages. For example, the beneficial effects of pulses and legumes on blood vessel health, or using nutraceuticals to help treat heart failure. MAHRN is using food to not only give us nutrients, but to actively keep us healthy by identifying foods that contain compounds to prevent or slow the progression of diseases. The FDC is helping with this effort by working on things like spray drying of vegetables and fruit purees, vegetable and fruit juice smoothies and shots, and the extraction of flax and hemp oils using cold press technology.

Chronic illness is becoming a serious concern as the Baby Boomer generation ages. Our regular method of health care has shown that it cannot always keep up. This just might be the solution. Imagine a world where you can go to the grocery store and buy a snack bar that can help treat your heart condition or take a shot of an essential crop oil to help with your diabetes. This is not science fiction! This is actually happening right here in Manitoba.

Linking agriculture through food to ongoing health doesn't seem like a radical idea, but using food as a form of treatment could not only change our quality of life, it could save us billions of dollars in the process. The MAHRN brings researchers and growers together. It is not only the scientists making this huge leap. The grassroots are involved here. Producers themselves are getting on board and realizing that the seeds they plant in the ground could change our very way of life.

In my more cynical moments, I have thought that, perhaps, we have seen all the great innovations that are to come. We've considered flying cars and could probably make it happen if we really wanted to. We have television. We have sent people into space and to the bottom of the ocean. We have the world wide web and phones where you can see the person you are talking to. However, what is happening with food in Manitoba is one of those exciting moments — the feeling that we are on the brink of something absolutely extraordinary.

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