The future of Canadian food

We explore the future of food with innovators from across the country.

Once I’d heard of the Canadian Food Innovation Network and that they would be running a Food Tech Next Project Showcase, I was intrigued. Would this be a showcase for the latest frankenfoods or did I have a lot to learn? 

I’m glad to report that it was the latter and that Canada’s innovators are on to some seriously forward thinking research to help ensure the world’s food security and sustainability.

Having attended dozens of seminars, I met with CEO Dana McCauley afterward to commend her on producing such a flawless event. Every single speaker kept to their allotted speaking time and even those showing a tiny bit of nerves, delivered their message without verbal crutches. How refreshing. 

For the sake of brevity I will highlight only a few of the companies represented on this day and one of the most charming presenters was “BUBS” a last-mile delivery robot solution created by Toronto based Real Life Robotics.

Real Life Robotics “BUBS.” Ralf Joneikies/Ottawa Lookout

Apart from having been made cute to elicit smiles and good will from attendees, BUBS also made its way down the aisles stopping at each row to allow people to reach in and pull out some truly delicious burgers courtesy of Burgers and Fries Forever. Talk about a charm offensive.

Real Life Robotics sees its technology widely used for food delivery but also in the areas of healthcare, agriculture and even as mobile vending machines.

They have recently partnered with Recipes Unlimited (formerly known as Cara Foods) to test their second generation food delivery prototype in two Canadian cities.

Sustainability and energy were two themes underlying many of the presentations and this day uncovered for me what most of us seldom think about: Canada has some truly great minds working behind the scenes for a better food future.

CanDry Technologies out of British Columbia has revolutionized food dehydration with their pioneering device that combines microwave, vacuum and infrared technologies. It preserves 90 percent of the nutritional value of food, is 90 percent faster, and uses 70 percent less energy. 

We were invited to sample their dried pineapple and to this palate, the technology showed itself to be a game changer. It was appealingly brittle like a potato chip but the pineapple flavour that unfolded was as concentrated as if you were drinking the juice. We know that fruit fibre consumption tempers blood sugar spikes somewhat so this is a step in the right direction.  You get the fibre in addition to all the flavour.

Their prototype device is currently producing 20 kg of dried food and by June of this year the commercial unit will be running, creating one tonne of food per day. Just imagine the amount of food that can be spared from the waste if grocery chains were to employ this technology. 

Another B.C. company that will be working with CanDry is Maia Farms.

Maia Farms produces CanPro, a high quality mycoprotein that has a higher protein density than red meat. It’s developed using culinary mushroom mycelium networks that makes a complete protein that is more easily digestible than other plant proteins.

It’s also a boon for the environment with a 40 times reduction in land use and six times the reduction in CO2 emissions, compared to animal protein production.

Their work is currently being evaluated by Canada’s space agency for use during missions and their products are starting to be used by the very successful vegan food producer Big Mountain Foods whose products are available throughout Ottawa.

The day came to a close with an interview between McCauley and Dr. Sylvain Charlebois, Senior Director of the Agri-food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University. He addressed some surprising things such as Canada’s data deficit. Apparently, to track Canada’s rising food costs, we use data collected by the St. Louis Federal Reserve in the US. 

I have little in the way of stenography skills so I exchanged information with Dr. Charlebois and we agreed to speak further in the weeks ahead.

As a relative outsider, I was heartened by the ideas and bright minds behind these innovations that give us a sliver of hope towards a greener and healthier future. This is one event now labeled “must attend” on the calendar. Just fascinating.