Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Food for thought... and eating

Dig-In Challenge to emphasize healthier diets, local produce

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Here's the bad news: There's growing evidence that suggests inactivity combined with too much of the wrong food will mean that for the first time in history, kids will live shorter lives than their parents.

But look at the bright side. It will be good for the economy. Really.

A new report prepared by the International Monetary Fund says people are living on average three years longer than expected, which is throwing a curveball at pension planners and governments, not to mention retirees. In fact, it could add as much as 50 per cent to the cost of aging, raising the question of whether we can afford increased longevity.

"If everyone in 2050 lived just three years longer than now expected, in line with the average underestimation of longevity in the past, society would need extra resources equal to one to two per cent of GDP per year," said a Reuters report on the study prepared for the IMF's World Economic Outlook.

It predicts governments will increasingly have to consider raising the retirement age, increasing taxes to fund public pension plans and lowering benefits.

So plunk your kids down, turn on the TV, break out the potato chips, pop and pizza, knowing in your heart you're being a fiscally responsible, thick-blooded Canadian, eh.

If, however, you don't subscribe to this perverse sort of logic, you might consider loading up the family and heading to The Forks April 21 for the 1 p.m. launch of an innovative effort at getting Manitobans talking holistically about healthy eating.

Food Matters Manitoba is launching its Dig-In Challenge, an opportunity for 500 families to spend the next five months learning how to source locally grown food, learn new food skills and support fair food.

A boot camp this is not. In addition to an entertaining afternoon of locally grown food demonstrations, conversations with farmers and a scavenger hunt, the next five months are aimed at helping people make small life changes in their food-sourcing and eating habits.

By signing on to the challenge, people commit to diverting $10 of their weekly grocery bill to locally produced food, participating in at least two of the 40 activities suggested on the Dig In website per week and attending at least one of the 20 workshops planned during the next five months. In exchange, they gain access to a host of resources, new recipes and an ongoing opportunity to dialogue with other food lovers and producers. "We see this as a great opportunity for farmers and consumers both to simply connect with one another and exchange information," says Dig In co-ordinator Sagan Morrow.

It provides a unique opening for farmers, who perceive a lack of awareness among urban folk about their issues and challenges. Here's a chance for them to not only be heard, but to hear what concerns non-farmers have about the food supply.

The website activities are accessible no matter where you are in your "food journey," ranging from holding a local food potluck with neighbours to growing fresh herbs in a window box to visiting a farm on Open Farm Day Sept. 16. The challenge website found at is loaded with ideas, recipes and information -- and opportunities for participants to blog about their experiences.

Morrow says the challenge is already 25 per cent subscribed in its 500-family goal, so she's optimistic this will be a successful start to their four-year campaign to gain a higher profile for Manitoba food issues.

There is a clear link between healthier eating and cooking from scratch or growing some of our own food, skills fewer of us practise all the time. And healthier eating leads to better living, which has significant implications for our own quality of life as well as for the economy.

For example, consider the well-publicized obesity epidemic. About 10 per cent of Canada's GDP, or about $184 billion annually, goes to health care. The Public Health Agency of Canada says that in 2005, obesity-related chronic conditions in adults accounted for $4.3 billion in direct and indirect costs. Some analysts estimate obesity costs the health-care system more than smoking.

In other words, if our aging population isn't saddled with chronic but preventable illnesses, it will be less drain on the GDP, so we might be able to afford living longer. If our kids are healthier, they'll be more productive, which means they can take us in if we outlive our pensions. Plus, supporting Manitoba-produced foods and products makes a stronger local economy.

So Dig In Manitoba. Are you up for the challenge?


Laura Rance is editor of the Manitoba Co-operator. She can be reached at 792-4382 or by email:

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 14, 2012 B8

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