The Business of FoodTech: Eating Our Own Tail

Such buzz these days about Food Tech –  how mobile devices and delivery platforms and farming drones and food hubs will redefine how we eat, how we shop, how we farm and how we determine where to go to get our information about the food system…. It’s a lot of buzz.

Smarter professionals than me, focused exclusively on the comings and goings of the food technology universe will tell you we are in an unprecedented time of transition – led in large part by the application of technologies to redefine what we know about food.  These professionals are right.  We are all well served to follow and engage with the likes of Brita Rosenheim (@Baconista), Danielle Gould (@dhgisme, @foodtechconnect), Nina Meyers (@nina_meijers, @foodtechconnect), and Danielle Nierenberg (@DaniNierenberg, @Food_Tank) who make it a mission to stop and absorb the happenings in new world of Food Technology – and share them with us.

With over 20 years in high tech enterprise software, most of which has been focused on High Tech Supply Chain, I can tell you that technology – more specifically software – is only as good as the human beings using it.  Technology is simply a tool for addressing questions.   This, of course, means that food technology and the sector that seemingly has sprung up with a vengeance around us in the past five years, is only as good as the humans asking the questions they seek answers to.   I would further argue that the humans asking the questions they seek answers to are only as good as the very questions they are asking.

Can I get take-out delivered to my home while sitting on my couch, using my two thumbs on my mobile device?  Can vegetables grow upright, in a box, underground, on my counter in my kitchen?  Can I order my morning coffee from the back of the line and have it waiting for me when I reach the counter?  Are the drones flying overhead at industrial farms creating a perception that being a farmer is a profitable and viable career?   Can I pay for my meal by tapping a screen anchored to my table, to avoid waiting for the waitress to bring me the check?  Do eggs developed in a lab make my mayonnaise healthier?

I took a class in college called “War and Technology”.  This class had a cyclical mission – to explore how our human desire for war through the ages shaped the evolution of military technology – and how the evolution of military technology shaped our human desire to go to war.  It’s Ouroboros – or as Wikipedia puts it, “The Ouroboros often symbolizes  introspection, or cyclicality, especially in the sense of something constantly re-creating itself, the eternal return, and other things such as the Phoenix which operate in cycles that begin anew as soon as they end.”  The snake ate its tail for me for the first semester of my sophomore year, while I sat in silent horror at the nature of human existence.

Is the food technology space a novelty?  A harbinger?  An adaptation?  This space is as frustrating to me as it is fanciful.  I can only conclude that today’s state may very well be a wake-up call for us to see that we are eating our tails.  A call to stop looking at new food technology as leading “fundamental change” in this food system only to perpetuate the commercialization of said technology until something newer and shinier comes along.  Can we, as consumers, as technologists, as thought-leaders, as producers, as shepherds of the earth, begin to evaluate how we are leading the evolution of the technology and begin to ask better questions?

What say you, FoodieData thinkers?  What questions have you been asking?

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