The Real Cost of #Foodies
Make it Instagrammable! This is what I hear every time I speak with chefs, designers, or any other creative person working in the food industry. If you’ve ever gone down the rabbit hole of hashtags like #foodporn with over 104 million images, #foodie with 47 million or #foodgasm 21 million, you won’t be surprised when I say the "food-grammer" generation might be contributing to the food crisis. In the developed world, we are constantly pinballing between 2 controversial trends: one that celebrates indulgence and fullness, and another one that centers around frugality, control and consciousness. However, in an era of dodgy influencers and abuse of media as social currency, we might ask ourselves if this food-grammer craze is leading us to a cliff’s edge with its fake abundance.
The sheer quantity of food produced today is unprecedented, but at the same time the food production system has never been at greater risk. The reduction of fertile land given the increasing urbanization of rural areas, the ever-growing monoculture crops that reduce our diets to a few ingredients and destroy our botanical diversity, and the ongoing losses in bee populations affecting the pollination of major food species are just a few of the scenarios that we must face in the upcoming years. We are set up to confront a major global food crisis that will put all populations, poor and rich, developed and developing, young and old, at risk. Luckily for us, the best innovations are made in times of crisis. “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without” is a mantra that is definitely not new to this era. This is something that has fascinated me for a long time: How do we innovate with little, how do we optimize our resources, and how do we turn constraints into opportunities? In India, there is a word to describe this: Jugaad, or frugal innovation—a system based on people’s resourcefulness. This is certainly something I can relate to while being in Mexico: every time I go outside I discover new ingenious solutions created under difficult circumstances. From turning a raw mango into an exquisite snack with just a few cuts, to building one of the most complex gastronomies of the world based on the 3 basic ingredients of the traditional farming system milpa: corn, red beans and chili.
Image Credit: “Mango flor” by dj sequencer (youtube)
It is undeniable that we are facing new challenges—challenges that might not be here yet, but that we need to start acting responsible for—so that we can be prepared for the imminent food crisis.
We can definitely find inspiration from Mexico, the rest of Latin America and from other complex historical scenarios in order to design food products coherent to the frugal world we’re to live in.
Cubans in the early ‘90s faced a tough shortage of food that forced them to cook with their only resources, resulting in one of the most popular recipes on the island: grapefruit steak. The pulp of the fruit is removed leaving behind the white pith, which is seasoned with garlic and onion, and then breaded and pan fried. In this way the people replaced meat, which played an important role in their culinary traditions, with a vegan option before the word “vegan” had appeared onto the scene. But frugality not only optimizes resources, it also serves as social catalyst. After hurricane Maria affected large parts of the Caribbean including Puerto Rico last year, chef José Andrés, with his project World Central Kitchen, cooked for thousands of people affected by the natural disaster. This created a massive impact on social media, which led a large number of chefs around the world to join the cause under the hashtag #ChefsForPuertoRico.
On the other side of the world in India, another simple intervention allowed for the hungry to eat and the overfed to reduce waste. At Pappadavada restaurant, owner Minu Pauline decided to install a community fridge outside her restaurant where customers could leave their doggy bags so that people in need could take them. Her intervention not only reduces the amount of leftovers that would otherwise be thrown away, but also prevents, as she says, “a thoughtless waste of society’s resources.” Moreover, this model was actively teaching customers to be conscious about their portions, reducing food waste even before it turned into waste. The project, nicknamed “the tree of goodness”, established a simple way to provide food in an egalitarian way: to serve everyone while avoiding the middlemen involved in the food systems. Just an open fridge serving as a bridge between two types of eaters: one who gives, and one who receives.
Image Credit: www.awesomeindia.in
In the second world war, importing Coca-Cola syrup from the United States into Germany was very difficult given the embargo established against the Axis powers. In an effort to make best of difficult circumstances, the head of Coca-Cola Germany decided to create a new product using the only ingredients he could access at the time: whey and apple pomace. In other words, the leftovers of leftovers. Nowadays we know this product as Fanta. Its name serves as a reminder of fantasy and of thinking with imagination.
Even though there can be good and bad products, having constraints and limited resources force us to think in multiple ways. This consciousness might be a good gateway for us to enter a new state of mind: one that evolves from the opulence and wastefulness of social media and liberates creativity to focus on efficiency. We might find an answer for better and more scalable models that can lever our resources, reuse food waste, optimize our capabilities and even rethink the way food systems are built. I think we have arrived at the point where we must confront the idea of living during an actual crisis, or at the very least, not in a world of #abundance.
Text by our Mexico correspondent Nataly Restrepo.