The Food System Invisibles

In a previous post, I introduced OpenIDEO‘s challenge to better connect food production and consumption. Currently, the 619 concepts that were submitted are evaluated by IDEO’s online community. What struck me, is the majority of the lauded concepts are focused on an increased connection between production and consumption in the stage of the end-user.

A public kitchen, local markets, alternative distribution systems and increasing the transparency of the system through open days, apps and additional information all address an interactive connection between business (food) and consumer (hungry). What I, as a consumer, often do not realize is that most of the economy actually runs on business-to-business.. business.

So, when a tech-savvy friend of mine mentioned an article on TechCrunch by Ali Parvoti, angel investor and supporter of the grass-fed meat industry, I was interested to read what a tech-perspective on reconnecting food production and consumption sounds like. In essence, Ali takes the story upstream, before the food and the hungry actually meet.

He parallels the highly regulated nature of the food industry to that of the energy sector. That means that the sustainable food movement with their private enterprises, need to spark the change. And not policymakers. But what’s more important is that those “new” technologies out there, often based on a return to nature-based, less industrial processes, need to be applied at the heart of the system, where business meets business.

This does not mean I don’t encourage (and enjoy) initiatives such as OpenIDEO, and Ali’s bottom-up led FixFood – we really need the pressure on all parts of the system. I just wanted to stress that there’s a part of the system, before food meets the consumer, where a lot of small enterprises operate and do great stuff we never get to see.

It’s often the invisibles who precipitate the unpredictable tipping point of a system.

2 thoughts on “The Food System Invisibles

  1. Good point Barbara, the B2B world is MUCH larger than the B2C world. Coming to work at a B2B company like DSM really reveals all the hidden supply streams that make a single consumer product possible. That’s why consumers (who naturally think of things in terms of B2C) need to pressure food suppliers to think about their entire value system (supply chain), the same way they are doing that for electronics and apparel, and make it clear what people are buying (the way wines are starting to show transport distances).

  2. I agree, Devin. There’s a big world out there, where business meets business. Maybe all of those aware, working in B2B themselves, can at least try to address this issue from within? Or is that a lost battle? Concerning the food system, I do feel as if small-scale B2B already form strong and stable networks of provision, eventually meeting the consumer through i.e. organic markets – making a change upstream the processes.

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