In a region blessed with a myriad of farmers, food producers and one of the country’s best farmers’ markets, residents of Woolwich and Wellesley townships are spoiled when it comes to local foods.
But it’s not always easy for Canadians to connect with the meats, produce, craft beers and wines and specialty products on offer in their communities.
To bridge the gap, researchers at Wilfrid Laurier University and Western University have launched a smart phone app, aptly titled, “Smart APPetite” that strives to make local food more accessible.
“The goal of this app is to increase the consumption of local foods because that creates local jobs,” WLU Geography and Environmental studies professor Sean Doherty explained. “Every dollar spent on local foods promotes the local economy.”
And eating local foods is good for your health, Doherty adds.
“We also think there is a health implication tied to consuming local foods that we are going to be testing over the next couple years.”
The app is free and works by sending short text messages about local food availabilities, nutrition tips and information about food preparation that is customized to the user’s individual preferences.
If you’re a vegetarian, for example, you won’t be receiving information about the local butcher’s latest cuts. Or perhaps if you’re a big fan of craft beer, the app would be keyed into providing directions to local breweries.
It’s a win-win for consumers and producers, Doherty explains, as consumers get pertinent information that leads them to great meals and producers get free advertising for their products.
The project is a practical way to apply – and further – research being undertaken by academics at WLU and Western, Doherty said.
“When I heard that the endgame of this research work was to take our research to do with human tracking and behavioural change and lifestyle impacts on health and turn it into something that could come full circle to change people’s behaviour, potentially down the road, I was like ‘I’m in.’”
He continued, “I have a longstanding interest in tracking human activities and travel using sensors on a body to get a good understanding of a person’s daily life. It turns out, your daily lifestyle, meaning where you go, how you get there, how much walking or physical activity you’re getting, where you do activities, how long you’re spending at home, how much time you’re spending being sedate or active, that has a huge impact on your life, your wellbeing and your health. It also has a huge impact on city and travel flows and urban design, so it is a huge component in urban planning but also in health because the links between lifestyle and disease are big. As geographers, we’re starting to make closer causation links between what we do on a day-to-day basis and how it affects our health. And that is a little different model of health than we are used to. … Increasingly prescriptions are becoming things like changing your life, whether it’s your eating habits, a lack of physical activity or even the environmental pollutants you might be exposed to.”
Doherty’s research strives to establish causation links between certain lifestyles and behaviours with health.
Typically, that involves the collection and analysis of data without any practical implications for the persons being studied.
With the Smart APPetite app, Doherty and his colleagues are able to actually give people useful information that can have a positive impact on their health as well as on the local economy more broadly.
The app launched in November and is still in the beta phase. Currently, most of the information the app provides relates to the Middlesex County area, though the group is looking to expand.
For more information check out www.smartappetite.ca.