19 Oct

We have a food problem in America.

Two different viewpoints…

Recently, I’ve attempted to wean myself from daily media sources and the talking heads. It’s a hard habit to kick. My primary sources of news lean towards liberal publications and daily news programs. It does not matter which side of the political divide you’re on, the world is in rough shape and nothing is getting done in the capitals of the world. It’s a pretty depressing picture.

There was an article (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/16/dining/kimbal-musk-food.html) published in the NY Times last Monday that prompted a welcome diversion in my thinking and a refreshed viewpoint on a few key issues.

Kimbal Musk is a tech entrepreneur who made his early fortune working with his brother Elon. He has the resources to do great things and his ideas about the food ecosystem in this country are worth reflection. His heart is in the right place and I was beginning to embrace his thinking until mid-way through the article. The goal of scale for the food business runs contrary to the immediate need in many communities for healthy sources of food and clean water. The need is now and urgent. Scaling industries takes time, capital and environmental resources. “The problem is that the people who made their money in tech understand disruption and scaling and all of these terms, but they don’t know how to get their hands dirty and engage the neighbors and the farmers and the cooks who make a food community”, said Michel Nischan, the founder and chief executive officer of Wholesome Wave.

Real change happens at the community level and we all have the power to affect positive change.

Alice Waters has been a food and community impact pioneer for decades. Her premise is that real change happens at the local level and small gestures ripple out to the broader community and world beyond. Her model is totally opposite of the industrial and scaled model proposed by Mr. Musk. Alice Waters never set out to scale anything beyond her community work and world class restaurant in Berkeley, California. She has worked tirelessly and consistently to raise awareness about food sources and healthy eating habits.

“I don’t want to hear another word about scaling”, Ms. Waters said. “He doesn’t know what he doesn’t know. He’s very earnest about what he’s doing, but he doesn’t know enough about farming and about the soil. He wants to do the right thing, but he just hasn’t done his homework. Not everything has to be scalable.”

Mr. Musk says he is “absolutely in conflict” with Ms. Waters. “I love her, but I don’t agree with her views.” All right then, another disagreement played out in the media.

Whichever side you fall on, at least both sides are doing something positive about a real- world problem. The benefactors of both approaches will not be concerned about where the healthy food came from for their families. The end goal is a healthier food supply with minimized impact on our natural resources.

What are we going to do about this big problem?

There are many data points and studies about food waste in the USA. Our waste is epidemic in a world of scarcity. “Studies have found that 30% -40% of the food we produce in the United States is ultimately thrown away.” [1]

We have a real and immediate opportunity to begin to make changes in our individual habits. One example of this idea in application is “farm to table” meals with fresh, local ingredients from farmers markets. The supply chain is drastically shortened, fuel is saved, small businesses benefit and, most importantly, the ingredients for meals are healthier. This is tougher in urban areas with food deserts, but the challenges can be overcome with innovative thinking.

This all comes together in a few key concepts and next steps…

Not every business needs to be scaled. There will always be room in the world for hand-tooled, customized excellent products and services. Let’s look for ways to apply scale where it makes sense and stay nimble and small where it counts.

As designers and engineers, we have the experience and drive to contribute to solutions for the world. Are we working on the right problems and how can we contribute to non-profit, focused and meaningful causes?

How can we continue to reduce the environmental footprint in the products and services we develop? This thinking should be applied early in ideation and flow through the manufacturing chain all the way to delivery to the end user.

Let’s spend more time focusing on big, real world problems and less time on political drum beating. The answers to our big problems will be developed at the grass roots level. We are a country of innovators and we know how to get things done. Let’s get about the work of doing great work for all the right reasons.

Good things will happen!

Maury Fredricks

CEO

Fredricks Design, Inc.

Fredricks Design, Inc. is a full-service design and engineering firm based in Grand Haven, Michigan. The firm specializes in working as an extension of the client studio and engineering team to identify the right problems and accelerate development of solutions from early ideation, feasibility, concept development and production of mock-ups, prototypes and show properties. Fredricks works with key Clients in the automotive interiors and seating industries, advanced rides and show action projects for themed attractions, furniture, and consumer products markets.

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[1] source: foodforward.org

image source: Wikimedia Commons

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