Below is the latest installment of 5 Good Food Ideas – ideas that are reshaping our food system for the better:
- Can Amazon End Food Deserts?
- Tackling Childhood Obesity with a Text Message
- Measuring the Carbon Footprint of Restaurants
- Monsanto Bets on AI to Protect Crops
- Why Can’t America Solve the Hunger Problem?
1. Can Amazon End Food Deserts?: John Foraker, President of Annie’s, Inc., believes it should try, especially in the wake of its purchase of organic grocer Whole Foods. Foraker argues that Amazon’s resources, scale, and delivery infrastructure combined with Whole Foods’ physical store presence provides Amazon with a unique opportunity to extend our food supply to every neighborhood in the country. Noting that ‘if you build it, they will come’ is not a solution itself, Foraker argues that a more comprehensive strategy should include education and community partnerships. Foraker’s call to action to Amazon is for the giant retailer to take the lead in convening all of the necessary stakeholders — government, community, nonprofits, food companies — to tackle this issue collaboratively.
2. Tackling Childhood Obesity with a Text Message: The Connect 4 Health trial was a randomized control study that tested two childhood obesity interventions with a group of 700 children ages 2-12 in the Boston area. The first intervention was enhanced primary care and the second was enhanced primary care plus coaching. Both groups received supplementary educational material on healthy eating habits, exercise, social and emotional wellness, and better sleeping habits, and both groups exhibited lower BMI scores after the trials. In addition to the educational materials and coaching, parents were provided monthly text messages that connected them to available resources for their children. Success for this effort and others is based on supplementing the clinical knowledge with community relationships and support. Dr. Elsie Taveras, a professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, says that there are three aspects of successful childhood obesity initiatives: 1) improving clinical practices; 2) supporting families with behavior change; and, 3) linking families to available and relevant resources.
3. Measuring the Carbon Footprint of Restaurants: Blue Star Integrative Studio, a green business design consultancy, has developed a restaurant carbon footprint evaluation system that tracks restaurant operations and supply chain emissions and compares it against competitors. The system was commissioned by the Sustainable Restaurant Group, a Portland-based sushi chain, who has released their findings publicly online. It tracks the carbon footprint down to the individual menu item (currently focused on three types of sustainably-sourced fish). The hope is that consumers will begin to pay closer attention to a restaurant’s footprint and evaluate others based on similar criteria. SRG partners with the Ocean Foundation and donates funds to the nonprofit’s Seagrass Grow project, which advocates for seagrass restoration, to offset carbon emissions. The restaurant chain should also be commended as it is a growing company located across several cities with an extensive seafood supply chain. These are exactly the types of restaurants that can have the greatest impact on emissions and consumer awareness.
4. Monsanto Bets on AI to Protect Crops: Monsanto is partnering with Atomwise to bring artificial intelligence to the business of crop protection. While pests and diseases can attack farmers’ crops, the typical crop protection products Monsanto develops can sometimes take up to 11 years to reach the market. The collaboration with Atomwise, who develops machine learning technology for molecular discovery, aims to quickly identify molecules able to help protect crops from infestations. Through its technology that can analyze millions of molecules, Atomwise can streamline the traditional trial-and-error process of discovery. It looks at how molecules interact with each other and uses machine learning to detect patterns that help to quickly identify molecules with positive benefits. By partnering with Monsanto, this technology can be deployed to farmers to protect crops faster.
5. Why Can’t America Solve the Hunger Problem?: In a new book, Big Hunger: The Unholy Alliance between Corporate America and Anti-Hunger Groups, food activist Andy Fisher takes aim at the cozy relationship between food banks and corporate donors. Fisher argues that they’ve created a ‘hunger-industrial complex’ in the wake of government abdicating its role in providing people proper food security. Much of that void started in the 1980s as manufacturing declined and government’s role in providing a safety net was downsized. Government support went away but the need for a safety need did not. Instead, charity, often in the form of food bank donations, filled the void. All of this is supported by — and now dependent upon — corporate coffers and donations. Fisher believes that food banks should do more with their massive budgets to attack the root causes of the problem rather than just treat the symptoms. He suggests that food banks focus on distributing higher quality, healthier food and on building mutually respectful relationships with their communities, as examples.