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As food experts, we can't ignore the technology

Dietitian Rachel Begun on why collaborations between food and technology are everywhere, and the goal is to solve our biggest food challenges.

I have never been all that into technology. I like using it, but I've never been inspired by it nor felt the need to learn more…until recently.

Why now? Because it maris has crossed over into the sphere of what I am inspired by: good food.

The intersection of food and technology is happening, and in a monumental way. Collaborations between food and technology are forming, and often the goal is to help solve the many food system challenges we face.

I raise the topic with you—the foodservice professionals—because your impact is great. You serve billions of meals every single day, and so your food purchasing, meal planning, kitchen protocols and education efforts reach far and wide. Should you choose to engage, these food technology ventures can have a dramatic affect on your food production impact. Even without participation, you (and your customers) can become better educated about the food you buy, prepare and serve.

The collaborations are many, and over time I hope to bring more to your attention. I'd like to start by introducing you to three collaborations that have captured my fascination. The summaries are a combination of their own words (because they can say it better than me) and my thoughts on how foodservice can potentially engage.

Food and Future coLab is a collaboration between Target (food retailer), IDEO (design firm) and the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) Media Lab that is pushing the edges of technology, business and design to build impactful ventures that create a future of abundant access to good food, a solid understanding of our own nutrition and complete trust in what we eat. Some of the technologies and business prototypes the group is working on include:

POLY—an education tool that centers around a controlled plant-growing environment, called the PolyBot, that brings science to life through a hands-on, contextual curriculum.

Illuminate—a transparency solution and data platform that verifies the authenticity, quality and safety of food.

Good & Gather—sets a new standard for food packaging transparency. It strips away the imagery, logos and health claims common to most food packaging to prominently feature what is normally the fine print—the ingredients and nutrition facts panels.

I had the awesome opportunity of visiting the MIT Media Lab to learn more about the platforms Food and Future coLab is working on. I can certainly see foodservice offering food-based curriculum to education clients and customers. I know many clients and customers would also appreciate foodservice taking the lead on unearthing transparency in the food that is served. And simple labeling that highlights ingredients and nutrition facts might just be the answer for branded and unbranded grab-and-go foods.

Global Fishing Watch is a collaboration between Oceana, SkyWatch and Google that uses satellites and other technology to enable anyone with an internet connection to see fishing activity anywhere in the ocean in near real time, for free.

This puts power into the hands of seafood suppliers, seafood purchasers and consumers to watch for illegal fishing activity, habitat destruction and fraudulent fish marketing. This is powerful information, particularly for foodservice organizations purchasing large quantities of fish. You can decide who you want to purchase from based on their fishing practices.

Square Roots is an urban farming accelerator that builds campuses of indoor, climate-controlled, hydroponic farms. The modular farms squeeze the equivalent of two acres worth of farmland into a shipping container that can produce food all year-round. The accelerator than provides mentorship to help entrepreneurs grow businesses around growing local food.

I see a real opportunity for foodservice professionals to partner with the students, executives and health professionals you serve to partake in urban farming. Even if the entrepreneurship piece of the collaboration isn't relevant to your operation, the concept of educating associates, clients and customers about urban hydroponic farming certainly is.

I encourage you to browse through these three websites. I'm pretty sure the wheels in your food-centric brains will start spinning.

Rachel Begun, MS, RDN, is a nutrition and culinary consultant and special diets expert. She helps the food industry create healthier food environments and educates the public through media interviews, writing, blogging and public speaking. She is a scientific/medical advisory council member for the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness and helped them relaunch their GREAT Kitchens and Schools, Colleges and Camps programs.

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