We always say that food is a global language, the first commodity, transcending all ages and cultures, but it is also the leading European manufacturing sector in terms of employment and turnover. Yet, it is faced with major challenges caused by a growing population, climate change, rising consumer awareness and urbanisation.
Recent consumer trends have shown a demand for transparency, ethics, sustainability and health when it comes to food and there’s no sign of this demand diminishing. In fact, the next years will likely prove crucial in reworking the close relationships between consumers, food and technology. Technology has the advantage of bringing to light new ideas and creating opportunities for entrepreneurship and business within the food realm. This will likely mean a reframing of previous practices in all aspects of the food chain: from farming to sourcing and distribution and purchasing.
Food has always been, and always will be, a crucial part of the European heritage and Brussels can play a large role in shaping the future of food conversation. Already, Brussels has held various events around food in 2016 alone, but Google@Thought is bringing focus on the digital dimension.
Google disrupts even when is not disrupting. In Brussels, where everything speaks to the EU and every meeting turns into an event, they managed to organize a something very different: , a space to take a break from the policy issues of the day. The idea behind the format is the exploration of ideas and concepts that reach far beyond the Brussels bubble, and to enjoy some get- together time.
With Google@Thought, the concentration is on community interaction. A dedicated website allowed for audience members to participate directly in the conversation by answering online questions during the discussion. From audience input, there was immediate access to data and the ability to map and understand current opinion among the audience.
And this is precisely what happened in the November 29th seminar “The Future of Food: in Conversation with Sara Roversi”. As Brussels increases its interest for food, Google@Thought provided its distinctive approach tackling the digital dimension and establishing a very lively and interactive discussion.
Moderator of the seminar was Jon Alexander the co-founder of the New Citizenship Project and a trustee of the UK Food Ethics Council, a charity founded to bring voices together from across the food system to unlock progress towards a more sustainable future. The New Citizenship Project is a ‘social innovation lab’ that works towards including citizens in a shift towards a more participatory society.
Jon also engaged the audience to discuss with Sara through a Google dedicated website (futureoffood.eu) that allowed each member of the audience to answer online questions throughout the session.
Sara and Jon started the conversation on several levels – given the primary role and importance of food in our lives and the challenges the world faces today, how will technology impact on the relationship between consumers and food? Will it bring new ideas, concepts, and opportunities or will it be held in contempt?
The very first statement “Overall, I am optimistic about the future of food” raised a 6.65/10 optimistic average. Sara had the chance to inspire the audience by introducing the latest world innovations in the food system and demonstrating how the action and the work of the agri-food chain operators has unimaginable exponential impacts.
The following two statements “new technologies in the supply chain will dramatically change the global food system” (6.25/10) and “new technologies in the supply chain will make the global food system fairer and more sustainable” (6.11/10) highlighted what in fact seems to be the general concern: can we really rely on technology for our food system or should we expect to end up in a Stephen King’s nightmare?
Sara took the opportunity to underline something extremely important: there is no present and no future without education. Education of kids, education of teenagers, education of university students – it all starts from the opportunities presented to grow and rise as socially responsible human being. The Food Innovators of the future, such as our very own Food Innovation Program students, look up to positive disruptive examples and own the knowledge of the importance of their work on the lives of other human beings and future generations.
The audience took this chance to reaffirm what (in Brussels) sometimes tends to get forgotten: an educated consumer is a responsible consumer. An educated consumer will be not scared out by the palm oil gossip, will be not induced to consume strawberries at Christmas and will be not looking at kale as if it was the philosopher’s stone.
By the end of the session the public seemed reassured and more optimistic about the future of food. After all, as Sara pointed out, not only do we need to stay positive about our future, but we need to remember to enjoy and appreciate all our food experiences!