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Stanford-Berkeley: Food Innovation and Design Symposium

From food social capital to using blockchain for food safety: the main trends in the food space.

This week we are at Food Inno at the D-School in Stanford. Food InnoSymposium aims to build a collaborative environment of food innovators from all walks of life. It is a community that connects students, educators, chefs, food start-ups, farmers, and food policy makers to design the next food experience together.

The first speaker of the day was Daniel Patterson. Daniel is an American chef, restaurateur, and food writer, considered as a leading proponent of California cuisine. He became even more famous as consequence of “To the Moon, Alice” (a reference to Alice Waters of Chez Panisse) published in 2005, which generated considerable controversy for criticizing the tendency of San Francisco restaurants to copy the Chez Panisse style, which in his opinion resulted in a lack of creativity.

He is the chef behind Alta, that just opened in Dogwatch as well. His talk covered many points related to the food experiences seen as an instrument of social control. He aims to empower people to have good food leveraging the only good thing which is positive in the fast food scene: the ability to make people feeling at ease. The question is: can a restaurant create social change? What is the responsibility of a chef? His contribution can be summed up in the Minnesota Street Project: an affordable space for galleries and artists that opened last spring, and where Patterson brought a restaurant. At last word, he said he wants his contribution to be an entering point for people into the Minnesota Street Project, providing an affordable haven for artists and Dogpatch locals.

The second speaker was a fascinating designer, engineer, chef, scientist, (she said she struggle to define her self — maybe she is simply all of hem!).Wen Wang talked about a work that was conducted when she was a graduate student at MIT Media Lab, Tangible Media Group. The work is co-lead by Dr Wen Wang. Her talk was focused on her work on programmable material: they can be defined as every material where we need stimulus, composition and finally properties, in order to be able to get a specific reaction. She mentioned as food, as part of nature, is providing us with such materials in the first place. “We developed a concept of transformative appetite she said, “where edible 2D films made of common food materials (protein, cellulose or starch) can be transformed into 3D food during cooking processes”. This transformation process is triggered by water adsorption and it is strongly compatible with the “flat packaging concept”: it is possible to reduce shipping costs and storage space as consequently reducing the environmental print of food transportation.

The following talk was about taxonomy. We know that there is a lot going on in this space: our Matthew Lange is building the “Internet of Food” at UC Davis (and we are part of it!), Douglas Gayeton with his Lexicon of Food has been building the most comprehensive food sustainability taxonomy. At Food Inno, Dan Jurafsky from Stanford University was talking about “The Language of Food and how actual words are much more than just that. For instance, Dan is showing how every time there an increase of one letter in the length of words describing a dish, there is on average, an increase of 69 cents in the dish price. In a study of 6,500 menus, Jurafsky found that the words “exotic” and “spices” also raise the price. But other words like “mouth-watering”, “sublime” and “crispy”, tend to feature more often cheap menus. The same applies to “real” and “proper”.

“If your menu promises you real crabmeat or proper maple syrup, you’re probably not at The Dorchester” he says.

To wrap up the morning we had global panel: professors and thought leaders from all over the world who are shaping the future of food, focusing on design thinking.

An interesting work was shown by Marcel Bogers, Associate Professor of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the University of Copenhagen: a framework for food design thinking. The underlying idea is about dividing food design in term of type of interaction (perceptual, functional, reflective), as well as levels of activity (at a project level, organisational level or industry level).

Furthermore, Matteo Vignoli showed two of his main focuses. The first one is the power of experiential education, explaining Food Innovation Program and Global Mission through the IAP learning approach. The inspiration phase consists in an intense academic experience combining classical and innovative educational methodologies, such as foresight training and design thinking. Aspiration aims to expand entrepreneurial horizons and engage in the cross-pollination of ideas, cultures and culinary traditions. Finally, Perspiration consists in prototyping and testing tackling real companies’ market challenges.

The second topic that Matteo brought to the audience was about design thinking for corporate open innovation. Talking about stage and gate approach, he explained as product innovation has followed for decades a process where idea is the first step that ends with the successful launch of a new product on the market. The steps between these points can be viewed as a dynamic process which is divided into a series of activities (stages) and decision points (gates).

The real challenge here is that it is not pushing learning as it could. The main opportunities lie in designing and implementing design thinking models able to inject innovation in existing structures.

The closing speech was given by Gulvinder Ahluwalia. As the Chief Technology Officer Private Cloud at IBM US, Gurvinder is an expert on the creation of Cloud and Blockchain architectures.

A blockchain is a ledger which is distributed across different computers: it’s like a bank ledger, without the bank. The transactions themselves are the “blocks,” which aretime-stamped and “chained”: because they are distributed, there are multiple copies, and each amendment must be independently verified against more than one copy. Since blockchain data are very easy to share, everyone knows what’s going on, so there’s little chance of inaccuracies or fraud.
Currently, the biggest benefits of blockchain are seen in the food industry lies in supply chain management, aiming to have a huge impact on food safety. One of the biggest blockchain tests currently in progress in the food industry is a partnership between IBM and Walmart to track pork products in China. The goal is to trace the meat end-to-end: from producers to distributors, grocers, and consumers.

Food Inno has been a great occasion to learn and discuss more about new trends in the food industry as well as get well focused overview of the main research projects in this space. The main highlights spotted can be summarised in four main key concepts. Creating social capital through food; influence food consumption through food taxonomy; using blockchain for food safety; injecting design thinking for food corporates innovation.

This article has been written by Chiara Cecchini from our Ecosystem.

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