Innovation

Technology meets food – Can there be a sustainable outcome?

We are heading towards the perfectly programmed world – where all the “things” in our lives are networked to ensure that our life is seamless. From our climate controlled homes, to the refrigerator that lets us know when we are running low on milk to the delivery service ringing our doorbell delivering that milk. In theory our everyday lives will become free to do…… do, well whatever the hell we like.

March 19, 2015

On the cusp of this third industrial revolution will we make the same mistakes that have ravaged our planet today? Or will it be the transformation of Industry into something smarter and more considered?

Surely the unprecedented levels of information and the speed at which we can process it – will enable us to avoid this.

Globally there are a lot of examples of individuals and companies trying to forge a new path.

Whether it be Google acquiring Nest – the connected home thermostat that touts it can return the cost of your purchase in 2 or less years – with the energy savings you will make.

Or with significantly less funding – Livin Studios (through the University of Utrecht in Austria) who have developed The Fungi Mutarium incubator. The prototype grows edible fungi around plastic, breaking down and digesting the plastic as it develops.

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And finally, to the delivery service arms race between Amazon and the myriad of contenders, enabling us to question our need for car ownership. Less cars on the road, which can only mean a better thing.

But when we talk about a potential disruption of the  highly efficient food industry by technology –  can we really hope to build a sustainable food system that takes into consideration the multi-faceted topic of food sustainability?

 

And what constitutes sustainable food delivered to your door?

  1. Is it simply striving towards the lowest food miles?
  2. Fresh – but what toxic chemical process allowed it to arrive being fresh from the farm?
  3. Is Bio or Demeter or Responsibly Farmed the right path?
  4. Does GMO mean more efficient farming – therefore kinder to the environment? Or are we creating Frankenstein’s offspring?
  5. How does low crop diversity impact upon insect life and their role in the ecological chain of life?
  6. Do I really need to eat meat every day to maintain my iron levels? Is there such a thing as Responsibly Fished Fish anymore? Or should I be giving up Fish for Lent?
  7. Should I be concerned about what the packaging of my artisanal heritage tomatoes have come protected in, is made of?
  8. Why don’t I see wonky vegetables in my supermarket? Where are they being kept?
  9. Have the farmers and their workers been paid well enough in order to fit my new austerity budget??? Or by buying frugally am I somehow supporting slavery?
  10. And will the engineered additives designed to increase shelf life and decrease waste give me cancer?

 

And what happens tomorrow?

How does the tomato grower, the seed company that sells the tomato seed to the tomato grower, the chemical company that sells the tomato grower the additive to extend the tomato’s shelf life, the packaging company that sells packaging to the tomato grower, the transport company that freights the tomatoes for the tomato grower, the supermarket that sells the tomatoes for the tomato grower – all co-ordinate to deliver you the most sustainable tomato?

Once you’ve solved that problem – now solve it again for another 30 000 or so products a single supermarket might sell.

Realistically it should be easy to solve – but with so many independent, competitive and industrially guarded components in the mix, can the food chain ever be made transparent?

To date it has felt that whenever technology has met food the outcome has been somewhat unsustainable. E numbers, shelf life extenders, steroids for cattle, vitamins added….And after reading Joanna Blythman’s February Guardian article “Inside the food industry – the surprising truth about what you eat” you may well be left feeling completely horrified about what might come next.

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However every revolution starts with a few committed individuals having an unwavering belief of a different vision.

In Europe The Food Assembly is linking Farm to Table, by hosting weekly pop up farmer markets. There are currently 700 “Local Assemblies” running across France, Germany and the UK. Enabling farmers to set a fair price for their local produce, and buyers to source fresh local produce. Similarly in the US Good Eggs have built an online grocery delivery model of locally sourced and farmed food and products.

But the challenge is – how can we scale the momentum – because if ever there was a time to solve the topic of food sustainability it is now.

You may want your food served with as little tech involvement as possible – but technology needs to get involved to disrupt this extraordinally efficient industry – and make it SUSTAINABLE in every sense.