“The Bay Area of San Francisco is the global capital of innovation, a place continually recognized for high-tech, but where there is still too little talk of food innovation, a rapidly growing sector. Because of this I think the project is of utmost importance.” It was with these words that the Consul General of Italy in San Francisco, Lorenzo Ortana, welcome the official delegation of the Food Innovation Global Mission.
“For Italian companies in particular,” added the Consul, “I think coming here is important, indeed essential, to understand the revolution that is currently underway in the food sector. There are places like the University of California (UC Davis – visited recently by the FIGM delegation) where cutting edge research on food is taking place. For us Italians, it can be difficult to change our ways, but it’s also true that we can never rest on our laurels, especially in this area where we are particularly good. Coming here is important to understand the ongoing revolution and to try to gather the latest in important innovations. I think that these visits are very useful for Italian companies and we at the General Consulate are highly supportive these types of meetings.” (Watch the video here)
As you can see, after a first week exploring food research in places like the University of California Davis (UC Davis), our delegation now enters in the heart of the “Made in Silicon Valley” entrepreneurship experience. First up: an icon of entrepreneurship, the operating headquarters of Facebook in Menlo Park with nine colorful buildings and a courtyard full of shops, bars, restaurants, a private bank and post office all under video surveillance to protect employee privacy. To continue, a visit to hospitality giant Airbnb whose offices are in a former tram deposit five stories high that has been transformed into an office place. The same concepts of hospitality and movement that are at the core of the business are echoed in the workplace. To explain how food is experienced by the 3,000 Airbnb employees, the students met food hero David McIntyre, Director of Global Food Programs for 25 of the Airbnb offices around the world and a former guest in Reggio Emilia at FIP headquarters. His mission is to create a culture of food that is sustainable for the environment and that creates engagement between colleagues thanks to a menu that changes each day and is inspired by the cuisine of Airbnb homes around the world. One day the menu might be inspired by a cottage in Provence while the next a treehouse in Yellowstone Park, or even a log cabin in Canada or a trullo in Puglia, and so on. The company cafeteria leaves nothing to chance. Each menu is designed to eliminate unnecessary waste and optimize all ingredients.
The Food Innovation Global Mission’s immersion into the latest in the entrepreneurial world continued thanks to a meeting with Patrick Brown, founder of Impossible Foods and creator of the classic-tasting burger made entirely from plants. “I want to find a way to satisfy the demand for meat but in a more sustainable way,” explains Brown, who is trying to meet carnivorous tastes while focusing on the health of humans and the earth. For the students of FIP it wasn’t the first special burger they found on the FIGM. In fact, in the Netherlands they had the chance to see in person the “in-vitro” burger that costs $250,000 created by scientist Mark Post. This time, armed with gloves and hairnets in Patrick Brown’s laboratory, the delegation was able to follow all the preparation phases of the burger. From the “meat” dough made with heme (a substance responsible for carrying oxygen through the circulatory system of animals and from which the typical meat taste derives) all the way to the cooking and plating of the burger.
The California leg has been the longest yet for the 14 students of the Food Innovation Program. In the cradle of worldwide innovation, the theme of food and market reference are always at the forefront and the territory was the perfect place to find food system icons, rituals and heroes. For example IDEO, one of the most famous studios in the world working to create impact through design. How? By getting large corporations to think like startups in order to create a purposeful atmosphere and tackle projects such redesigning an urban garden or creating a relationship between food and health. Also important are their collaborations such as that with Ikea, the furniture giant that challenged IDEO to come up with ideas for the kitchen of 2025 and start building it today.
America is a main source of images, traditions and icons commonly recognized around the world. One of these, perhaps among the most popular, is that of the Super Bowl, the championship match of the NFL (National Football League). For this evening the students experienced a traditional pop-culture event in a place just as iconic in the American myth: a ranch. To be exact, the TomKat Ranch Educational Foundation, immersed in a prairie where 1,800 cattle are raised, always promoting sustainable methods and thus hoping to become an example to others by achieving a positive impact on the quality of meat and also the environment.
Everyone who works with food, from farmers to chefs, could be called makers—that is, those who create something using their hands and tools of all kinds, explained Sherry Huss, vice president of the Maker Faire which the FIP students experienced last October in Rome and which the Future Food Institute led the organization of the entire food area. An exceptional guide, Huss accompanied the students to discover Healdsburg SHED, a place where ideas and projects from across the food chain come together in practice and are studied and monitored at a high level. Similarly, reduced environmental impact and attention to product quality are just some of the goals of the Ceres Community Project born in the heart of California. Its true strength is in its solidarity. The Ceres Community Project works to bring healthy and tasty food to the houses of the terminally ill. But that’s not all. The meals are prepared by youth that want to learn to cook, and so at the same time the project allows for the education of an entire community about the importance of healthy food.
Working in the kitchen means getting dirty, getting involved and above all studying and continuing to learn each day. This is well known by the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) as vice president Greg Dresher explained to the delegation his Puglia-based project. “We decided to open a department in the heart of southern Italy to let American students study the traditions and strengths of the Mediterranean cuisine,” says Dresher, referring to the headquarters in the castle of Ugento, in the Lecce province. To experiment, teach and encourage new business models in the food sector is also the mission of La Cocina, a non-profit founded in 2005 that aims to help future food entrepreneurs develop their projects with specialized support and by making local and professional resources available to them. To support entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley is also the goal of Kitchen Town with their focus on projects that have at their base health, culinary diversity and environmental sustainability. The same theme, environmental sustainability is at the center of Imperfect Produce, a startup that delivers to homes so-called “ugly” fruit and veggies that aren’t sellable in supermarkets because of their imperfect look.
Having finished the California leg, the FIGM delegates move to Japan where they will spend the first half of their time in Osaka discovering eastern traditions like tea, ramen and sushi. Following Japan they will head to Korea, China, and Singapore, before returning to the Emilian food valley after two months of travel.