Food Systems Concept Exploration

The full title of this course is “Food Systems: Interventions and Remediations.” Our projects are meant to explore ways we can affect positive change in the system. Some potential areas of exploration include education, policy, agriculture, awareness, and technology. To go along with that partial list I have a list of partially-though-through ideas. While the ideas themselves may not be complex, the way they overlap categories is a reminder that we’re trying to intervene and remediate a complex system.

It’s important to me that each idea is trying to achieve something specific. The scale of the idea is less important to me than an achievable, theoretically scalable prototype or proof of concept. This isn’t because of the truncated class length but rather because overly-lofty ideas with vague ambitions to solve the coming food crisis do nothing to help. You could say they provide inspiration or give us an ideal to strive for, but I think an idea that approaches a problem like a key does a lock is more inspiring, more thought-provoking, and more tangible to the audience that needs to understand it.

Concepts

Build familiarity with alternative food sources such as crickets and educate/raise awareness that food trends are, in some sense, manufactured by designing a hypothetical brand of alternative food source products, including messaging, packaging, and website.

Develop an interactive infographic that reveals the invisible structure of the food system and helps sift through the overwhelming amount of information. This educational tool maps the complex connections between policy decisions, economics, trade agreements, the stock and futures markets, food production, consumption, and trends.

Create a series of food science-based art pieces/”products” that reframe the way we think about food and make a statement about the dearth of general knowledge about food. (E.g. DNA jam, iron trinkets made from fortified cereal, bottled pure chlorophyll, etc.)

Resource management game in the style of “Drug Wars.” Players are tasked with managing the production, trade, and distribution of food resources across different regions of the US. It’s an educational tool that reveals the complexity of the US’ food structure through game play.

Develop a prototype grey water management solution base on sustainable aquaculture–using oysters (or other bivalves) as a bio-filter to reclaim grey water from home usage and building runoff in urban environments. This could be particularly impactful on costal cities. Oysters literally helped lay the foundation for New York City. Can they help sustain it?

Create an algae bloom in the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool as a show of solidarity for the underrepresented alternative resources lobby in Washington DC.

My Problem with Solutions

This is in response to week 2 readings for 'Food Systems.'

I have a problem with “solutions.”

Specifically the ones proposed in articles written by journalists who get home and wash the dirt out from under their fingernails after a couples of hours on a farm or in food start-up accelerator videos that double as business plans or “innovative” Kickstarter products are designed for lifestyle-blog aspirations rather than ecological impact.

It’s an issue with generality and vagueness. If I hear anything similar to the phrase “…we’ll need to feed nine billion people by 2050…” one more time, I’m going to smash an heirloom watermelon, Gallagher-style.  This overused soundbite is supposed to strike fear into the heart of the public?How is someone supposed to grasp gravity of that statement? Most people in the demographic you’re trying to reach have a hard time imagining numbers over whatever their Instagram following is. Good…repeat it, use it in every communication you make. That won’t render it completely and totally meaningless.

It’s fantastic that people are designing $400 countertop aquaponic kits. I love the idea of inspect-based tofu. You eat out of dumpsters? Cool! But these aren’t solutions. They’re not short term solutions. They’re not long term solutions. They’re experiments at best and start-up ideas at worst. Go ahead say it…say “but we’ll need to feed nine billion people by 2050.” Yes. But no one is going to feed 9 billion people with the four springs of basil growing in their glorified fish tank. People still don’t eat regular tofu. And eating waste isn’t going to help anyone who lives where they don’t have food to waste in the first place.

Any of these ideas could be the seed of something great. Something that’s going to save us from what’s coming. But first, we need to figure out HOW the thing gets implemented. Then we can call it a working model. It won’t be a “solution” until it feeds…you know.