January 08, 2008

The big chill

Shopping for a snack in central London yesterday evening I counted an extraordinary 78 metres (256 feet) of chiller cabinets in one small central London branch of Marks and Spencer.

Marks and Spencer have made a laudable commitment to make all it UK and Irish operations carbon neutral within five years. "We'll maximise our use of renewable energy and only use offsetting as a last resort" pledges the firm in its Plan A. In Plan A, M&S is committed to act on waste, raw materials, healthy eating, and fair trade. For example it has banned white veal and calves liver from its shelves, and is playing a leading role in an industry consortium called WRAP.

But M&S's Plan A has a huge, glaring omission: refrigeration. More than 50 percent of food in developed countries is retailed under refrigerated conditions - a factor due is large part to the open display cabinets of the kind I paced-out in Notting Hill yesterday. As a consequence, food retailers waste insane amounts of energy: a single open-fronted freezer costs 15,000 pounds (22,000 euros) per year to run in energy bills alone - and that does not include the embergy (embodied energy) involved in each unit's manufacture. Unchecked, air conditioning units and chiller cabinets will cause hundreds of billions of tons of CO2 to be released into the atmosphere in the next 50 years.

Off course, M&S may reply, if food were not refrigerated, a good proportion of it would rot or spoil. Up to 40 percent of fruit is lost post-harvest in some food systems. Such a loss of produce represents a waste of energy on its own account, since wasted food embodies the energy used in its production, processing and transport. Nonetheless, as things stand today, it looks as if M&S is resigned not to reduce, but to offset, the massive energy emissons from its supply, storage and retail operations when its five year deadline for Plan A expires.

The alternative would be for M&S to change its business model to one of shopless shopping, and close down most of its retail outlets. And why not? Refrigerated trucks, warehouses, and high street stores, are expensive and wasteful steps, and therefore profit-reducing costs, in the journey from farm to table. M&S is well-placed to become the radically de-centralised distribution and quality assurance platform that all towns and cities need to relocalise their food systems.

Posted by John Thackara at 08:20 AM | Comments (0)

November 30, 2007

Who is afraid of local food?

In the October issue of Blueprint its editor Vicky Richardson's accused Designs of the time (Dott 07) of secretly buying 10,000 pounds worth of fruit and vegetables when our Urban Farming project in Middlesbrough "did not generate adequate grub for the guests". Vicky declined to name the greengrocer for whom Christmas came so early - and I hereby confirm that her charge is ridiculous and untrue. But she did give me the space to publish this reply.

"The biggest problem with the porkies in her (Vicky's) story is that you can't eat them. Dott's Urban Farming project was not an aesthetic game, nor a yuppy lifestyle fad. It was a practical response to the urgent necessity to develop alternative food systems from the ground up.

Standing in Harvey Nichols Food Hall, or wherever it is that Biueprint's editor shops, food supplies may well look secure. But as I write, there are empty shelves in Caracas, food riots in West Bengal and Mexico, warnings of hunger in Jamaica, Nepal, the Philippines and sub-Saharan Africa. Record world prices for most staple foods have led to 18 percent food price inflation in China, 13 percent in Indonesia and Pakistan, and 10 percent or more in Latin America, Russia and India, according to the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO). Wheat has doubled in price, maize is nearly 50 percent higher than a year ago, and rice is 20 percent more expensive, says the UN.

Harvey Nicks may look well-stocked now - but at what cost,. and for how much longer? Almost a third more food was flown into Britain last year than in 2005. Air-freight rose 31 per cent in the year to 2006, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Food air miles have more than quadrupled - a rise of 379 per cent - since 1992.

The emerging food challenge we face is about energy, not ethics. Today, up to 40 percent of the ecological footprint of a city can be attributed to the systems which keep it fed and watered. On American farms in the early 1800s, the balance between calories expended and calories produced as food was about even. In 'developed' countries now it takes ten calories worth of energy from fossil fuels - in the form of fertilizers, pesticides, irrigation, and transportation fuel - to get one calorie back in the form of food.

That insane ratio was sustainable whilst energy, especially oil and natural gas, was cheap. But what about now? Since Dott's New Urban Farmers fed 2,500 people in Middlesbrough's Town Meal, the price of crude oil has shot up by $25 a barrel, and there's a growing consensus that the imminent $100 a barrel energy crunch will not be a blip, but the new norm.

In her attack on Dott's Urban Farming project, Vicky Richardson writes that "the idea that a modern urbanised society can survive by growing its own food is unrealistic and undesirable". Undesirable to whom, for goodness sake? The interests most threatened by a re-localisation of food supply are those associated with biotechnology and the agribusiness.

I'm perplexed that Vicky should cite "the spirit of invention and free-thinking" in defence of these corporate interests at a time when many of them are also embarking on radical change. Patrick Cescau, for example, the boss of Unilever, one of the world's largest food businesses, spoke recently of " seismic shifts in the world we do business in A reality gap has opened up between where we are and where we know - both instinctively and intellectually - we need to be".

Global industrial agriculture was less the result of "free-thinking" than of saturating land with fertilizers and pesticides, and soaking it with vast irrigation schemes, using cheap oil and gas to do so. That era is over. Besides, it was an approach based on brute force compared to the innovation required now to re-localise food supply at the level of the city-region.

Real innovation now combines top-down and bottom-up approaches. Middlesbrough Council was deeply impressed by the enthusiasm with which the experiment was taken up at grass roots within the community. Its officers tell me that many residents are asking how they can get involved again next year. But Dott's project was not about returning Middlesbrough to some kind of pre-industrial Emmerdale Farm. It was inspired by and complements the larger Stockton-Middlesborough Initiative, a 20-year vision for regenerating the urban core of the Tees Valley to ceate a "Green-Blue Heart” for more than 500,000 people.

Middlesbrough is in a global vanguard of city regions - from Arrezzo and Barcelona, to Toronto and the South Bronx, that are beginning to integrate food and water systems into their strategic planning. For these pioneers, food flows and water systems are a new layer of productive infrastructure, not a decorative afterthought.

Posted by John Thackara at 10:55 AM | Comments (0)

August 16, 2007

Food systems and cities: Doors event in UK

Up to 30 percent of the ecological footprint of a city can be attributed to the systems which keep it fed and watered. But when the Mayors of the world's 40 largest cities met recently to discuss sustainability strategies, food was not on the agenda. Why not?

Doors is organising a one day international debate, jointly with Designs of the time (Dott 07), to reframe the food systems of city-regions as design opportunities. The debate opens with a review of Dott 07’s Urban Farming project, in Middlesbrough, UK, which has involved more than a thousand citizens.

The debate is intended for service and food system designers; policymakers who deal with rural and urban development; urban planners and developers; and change leaders from retail, food and house building businesses.

John Thackara will moderate the day's proceedings. Among the speakers will be Chris Hardwicke, a Toronto-based architect who is involved in Toronto's emerging food strategy and who was one of our group at Doors of Perception 9 on 'juice' in India earlier this year. Chrtis is also part of a team organizing Alphabet City a festival about food, in Toronto, that immediately preceeds the Dott 07 Festival.

Key people from Dott's Urban Farming project presenting (who were also at Doors 9) include David Barrie (senior producer), Debra Solomon (culiblog.org), Nina Belk (Zest innovation) and Andre Viljoen (architect and urban designer).
Tim White from Middlesbrough Council and someone from Bioregional Quintain will also take part.

The Dott 07 Debate on food systems and cities takes place Monday 22 October, Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead 10h-17h. Tickets - just this once! - are free. But you absolutely have to reserve your seat by emailing adam.thomas@dott07.com

Posted by John Thackara at 07:39 PM | Comments (0)

February 05, 2007

Gone Juicing...

With four weeks to go before Doors 9, most of our blogging energies will be devoted to the Juice site. Why not join us? Or, nearly as good, please print the Doors 9 poster (5MB) and stick it everywhere in your environment. It will feel as if you're in India with the rest of us. And if you missed our February Doors of Perception Report special "do it" edition, the archive copy is here.

Posted by John Thackara at 09:56 AM | Comments (0)

January 02, 2007

Doors 9 conference programme

We preview our main activities for the year - especially Doors of Perception 9 in India and Designs of the time (Dott 07) in the UK in January's Doors of Perception report which (if you do not receive it by email) is here. Please make a note of the key dates. Please also pass this information on to friends and colleagues who may be interested.


Doors 9 opens with a introduction to the relationships between food, energy and design by Hannu Nieminen (Finland, Nokia), Aditya Dev Sood (India, Centre for Knowldge Societies), Debra Solomon (Netherlands, culiblog.org) and John Thackara (Doors of Perception).

Session 2 is about food in cities: Dutch architect Winy Maas (MVRDV) proposes three-dimensional agriculture, with a reference to pig cities. Urban designer Andre Viljoen explains his book about Continuous Productive Urban Landscapes (CPULS). David Barrie and Nina Belk describe their urban farming project for Designs of the time (Dott 07) in the UK. Designers Sanjeev Shankar and John Vijay Abraham compare old and new traditions of street food. Chris Hardwicke (Toronto) and Ron Paul (Portland) discuss farmers markets as hubs within food systems.

Session 3 is on food information systems. Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, ponders new ways to think about browsing for food. Divya Sharma looks at food maps. Ellis Neder (USA) and Ian Brown (Fair Tracing, UK) look at identity management and food certification systems.

Session 4 of Doors 9 is on "juice". Designers Jogi Panghaal and Ezio Manzini discuss the different ways European and Asian cultures think about food. Alex Steffen and Sarah Rich (editors Worldchanging: A User's Guide to the 21st Century) describe small and large scale changes already under way with Walter Amerika, an advisor to multinational food companies.

Session 5 of Doors 9 (yes, it's a full day, but there's food throughout) is a social technologies bazaar featuring innovative food-related projects from around the world. Among those you will meet are: Garrick Jones (UK, Ludic Corporation); Georg Christoph Bertsch (Germany, Cargo Bathing); Giovanni Canata (Italy, DxH2O water project); Claire Harten (USA) and Maria Wedum (Denmark), Dirt Cafe; Kultivator (Sweden, agriculture as art); Dori Gislason (Iceland, new lives for fishing villages); Francesca Sarti (Italy, food kiosks in Florence); Marije Vogelzang (Netherlands, Proef project); Maja Kuzmanovic (Netherlands, Groworld) ; Margie Morris (USA, Intel, food repositories).

Posted by John Thackara at 06:34 PM | Comments (0)

October 18, 2006

Lethally lit lunch

George Monbiot also writes about food in his book Heat (see below). Food retailers, especially, waste insane amounts of energy. They use seven times more power (275 k Wh per cubic metre) to run a food hall than is used in an office. For the larger stores, up to a quarter of that energy budget goes on lighting - which is to make the food look good, not for it to be good. Most of the rest (64 per cent) is used for refrigeration, which is also ruinously wasteful. Think of all those open-fronted units: A single open-fronted freezer costs a retailer 15000 pounds (22,000 euros) per year to run in energy bills alone.

Monbiot says we should replace out of town food retailing with warehouses that would service internet-enabled home delivery services. But even that sounds too transport-intensive if powered vehicles are to be involved. Bikes are the answer. Young lads seem happy to haul fat tourists around in rickshaws in London, so they (the lads) can retrained to do grocery runs, too.

Posted by John Thackara at 04:14 PM | Comments (0)

September 23, 2006

Food information systems

Two days ago I was in London to talk with design school tutors about the design competition concerning food information systems that the Royal Society of Arts is running together with Dott07. Today I learned from CalorieLab via SmartMobs that McDonald’s is now placing codes on the packaging of many foods so that eaters can scan the package with their cell phones and find out the nutritional information. "Known as a QR Code, these printed codes look somewhat like a barcode and are scannable by many photo cellphones. All sorts of information can be packed into these little codes, from the website to find the amount of calories and fat in a Big Mac to a company’s contact information on a business card," the site explains. This is good news for any young designers seeking to win a trip to Doors 9 (the prize for winning the RSA competition): you don't have to invent a QR food application - McDonalds has done that: take that as your starting point and amaze us with how much further it could go.

Posted by John Thackara at 12:52 PM | Comments (1)

September 21, 2006

Noisy food

A couple of days ago I found myself in the town centre of Carlisle, in the north west of England, at 7am. The roads were empty except for a a large white truck whose driver was unloading packaged food into a shop. An incredible, raw-edged roar of noise came from the refrigeration unit on top of his cab. The noise was so extreme that my skin started to creep, and I couldn't hear a word when someone called me on my mobile phone. I retreated into the railway station cafeteria, but it was not much better in there: Two large refrigerated drinks machines were roaring away so loudly that the sales assistant had to shout to tell me the price of a coffee.

That noise represents wasted energy. The scary thing, as I learned at the Creative Rural Economy conference in Lancaster last week, is that perpetually rising food transport intensity is government policy. One policymaker described the countryside as "post productivist", and a senior academic advisor to the UK government told me later that "the purpose of the countryside is consumption".

I suppose this is factually correct - city dwellers make 1.2 billion trips to the countryside in the UK alone, and spend 12 billion pounds shopping when they get there; but it's a disastrous policy in environmental and food security terms.

It's also mad. One supermarket is flying planeloads of turnips from New Zealand to the UK in order to drive down the prices being asked by home growers. Turnips contain 70 percent water - so the company is in effect flying planeloads of water across the world to drive down prices of a root crop that could once have been found within a couple of miles of where most of the population lives.

I also learned that if you or I spend ten euros on a food in a supermarket, less than 60 cents - 6% - of tha money goes to the farmer who grew it. The rest goes to the wholesalers, the processors, the packagers, the retailers - and to the running costs of that roaring white truck in Carlisle.

But lots of good things are happening too, as we are finding out in the City Farming strand of Dott.

Posted by John Thackara at 10:01 AM | Comments (2)

September 19, 2006

Juice button now works

If you look at the menu on the left, we've added a button labelled "Doors 9 on Juice".

Posted by John Thackara at 02:38 PM | Comments (0)

September 07, 2006

Food as a design opportunity

Doors of Perception 9 takes place in New Delhi 28 February to 4 March 2007. The theme is “Juice: Food, Fuel, Design”.

We've extended the first deadline for submissions to 30 September.

Why "juice"?

(Most of the statistics that follow are taken from the miraculously useful and interesting website of Jean-Marc Jancovci)

Global food systems are becoming unsustainable in terms of environmental impact, health, and social quality. But what to do?

The U.S. food system consumes ten times more energy than it produces in food energy. This disparity is made possible by nonrenewable fossil fuel stocks.

127 calories of energy are used to grow and export one calorie of lettuce from the US to the UK.

In 'developed' countries, CO2 emissions attributed to producing, processing, packaging and distributing the food is about 8 tonnes a year for a family of four.

Agriculture and food now account for nearly 30 percent of goods transported on Europe’s roads.

95 percent of the fruit and half the vegetables eaten in the UK are imported.

There are 52 transport and process stages in one bottle of ketchup.

In France, 20 percent of money spent by citizens on food is devoted to raw products such as fruit, vegetables, or fresh meat of fish. The rest is used to buy processed food : pasta, canned food, frozen food, biscuits and sweets, drinks, etc.

These processing industries consume energy and therefore emit greenhouse gases.

Most processed foods are packaged. Manufacturing the packaging (steel, aluminium, plastics) accounts for 70- 80 percent of the overall emissions of the food industry.

Processed food is generally bought in supermarkets which consume electricity to keep foods frozen - especially in open display units.

Most supermarkets sell industrially-grown chickens. The lifecycle of such a bird entails:
• Emissions linked to the heating of the hen house;
• Fossil fuels used to manufacture the fertilizers used to grow the grain eaten by the chicken;
• Fossil fuels burnt by the tractor used to grow the grain eaten by the chicken;
• Nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions that occur when the fertilizers are spread on the field;
• Fossil fuels required to manufacture chicken food (industrial chickens rarely eat "raw" cereals, but rather processed foods) from the cereals;
• Emissions linked to the manufacturing of tractors, to the drying of grain, and to the refinery of the diesel oil used by the tractor....

Eating meat requires intensive agriculture because it is necessary to grow a lot of plants to feed the animals.

When decaying, nitrogenous fertilizers cause N2O emissions, 300 times more powerful than CO2.

Ruminants emit methane, which is 23 times more powerful than CO2, because of the fermentation of the plants they eat in their digestive sysem.

Producing an unprocessed kilogramme (2.2 pounds) of beef (with bones) leads to the emission of three to four kilogrammes (nearly nine pounds) of carbon equivalent.

Between 65 and 70 percent of the available agricultural land in France is devoted to feeding animals.
Fruits and vegetables (except for potatoes and vineyards) acount for two percent of the total.

The amount of meat consumed by an inhabitant of the Earth has increased by 60 percent over the last 40 years while the world population has doubled. Meat production has been multiplied by 3.2

Every cow in the European Union is subsidised by $2.50 a day.
One in five people in the world lives on less than $1 a day.

The US insists that 50 percent of its food aid is processed or bagged.

Poor diet and physical inactivity account for 35 percent (and rising) of avoidable causes of deaths in the US.

People in industrialised countries eat between six and seven kilogrammes (about 15 pounds) of food additives every year.

Supermarkets are heated in the winter and cooled in the summer. Heating and cooling stores represents, in France, between 1,5 and 2 million tonnes carbon equivalent carbon.

Supermarkets are usually located in suburbs – so we use cars to get there. In the UK, 25 percent of car journeys are to get food.

In the home, our use of processed foods causes us to use more energy in fridges and freezers, stoves ovens, microwaves.

In France, the electricity consumption linked to eating (fridges, freezers, dish-washers, stoves and ovens, not to mention small appliances) represents 22 percent of all energy consumed at home,

25 percent of domestic waste is composed of food waste which, when landfilled, leads to methane emissions.

Is that all mad, or what?

That is why Doors 9 is about food and energy.

Posted by John Thackara at 09:34 AM | Comments (1)

July 08, 2006

Doors 9 call for projects

Food continuously circulates through the landscape into our homes and Bodies. It thereby organizes our calorific, symbolic and social energies. Juice, the essence of food, can also mean credit, electricity, access, flavor and love. The topic of food, as product as well as service, as metaphor as well as material, as energy as well as connectedness, will preoccupy us at Doors of Perception 9. The encounter will be held in New Delhi from 28 February to 4 March 2007.

Doors 9 begins with a two-day Project Leaders Round Table. This might involve you if your project is concerned with:
- Innovative ways to share, prepare, cook and eat food;
- Urban farming, new links between producer and consumer;
- Practices that transform urban-countryside interactions;
- Sustainable packaging and distribution scenarios;
- Effective uses of new technologies in relation to food.

The deadline for receipt of proposals is Friday 8 September 2006. Projects should be informed by a real location or situation and engage multiple disciplines and dimensions. Hypothetical, conceptual, and unrealizable proposals will not be favoured.

Proposals will be reviewed in September based on a concise project description. Send us an email (Subject header: “juice project”) on these five points:
a) title of your project;
b) 10 word description;
c) 100 word description;
d) name(s) of author(s);
e) URL

Your proposals will be reviewed by:
Aditya Dev Sood, Centre for Knowledge Societies (CKS);
Debra Solomon, culiblog.org;
Juha Huuskonen, PixelAche;
Amy Franseschini, futurefarmers;
John Thackara, Doors of Perception.

Notification of finalists will be by Friday 22 September. If invited, you will need to pay for your travel to India, but we will cover your accommodation, food, and basic event costs, as well as your registration fees for Doors 9. Send your project description to: editor@doorsofperception.com

Posted by John Thackara at 08:21 PM | Comments (0)

July 06, 2006

Doors 9: design and architecture schools

If you are a design or architecture student, or recently so, we have teamed up with the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) and Designs of the time (Dott07) to offer travel-included scholarships to Doors 9 for the winners of this year’s RSA Design Directions competition. The two themes we have set are on Food Info Systems and on Sustainable Tourism. These documents are previews of the official Call which comes later in July at the RSA site.

Posted by Kristi at 02:08 PM | Comments (0)

January 20, 2006

Rural design

What are the key design tasks facing the new post-agricultural rural economies and settlements? A conference in the UK in September will map out a new role for the arts and design in response to new social, environmental and economic regeneration priorities. Among the strands and seminar topics currently being developed are:
• Arts and agri-tourism, artists projects in B+Bs, farm barns and cattle marts
• New rural media, digital art, design and the new rural knowledge economy
• Rural arts and design festivals, rural performing arts and touring projects
• Rural community broadcasting, convergence and cultural applications of ICT
• New urban-rural business partnerships, and arts-led rural cultural diversity
• Future farms, art-farms, rural art workshops and agri-design industry clusters
• Rural Biennales, proposal for a European Region of Rural Culture & Design
• Designing the new rural settlements; rural housing and architectural initiatives
• Investing in rural community-led design, crafts and arts as cultural capital
• Designing alternative land uses, renewables and new energy & fibre crops
• Food as cultural economy, urban agriculture and urban-rural foods initiatives
• Contemporary rural, innovative crafts and design-led rural regeneration
• Rural textile/fashion design and smart clothing interfaces with agriculture.
The conference is being developed by the Rural Cultural Forum, Arts Council England, LEADER+ UK, Culture NW, LITTORAL Arts, and the Lancashire Economic Partnership. 10 – 13 September 2006 at the University of Lancashire. The event is listed here along with other events to do with the changing rural economy and land use.

Posted by John Thackara at 09:59 AM | Comments (1)

November 07, 2005

How fast is fast food?

"Quick-serve restaurants are having a tough time keeping the fast in fast food, as menus become more complicated. At San Diego-based Jack in the Box restaurants, for instance, it takes an average of 228.9 seconds – 3.8 minutes – to get burgers out the drive-through window after an order is taken". This startling information comes from a new study by the trade magazine QSR which rates burger, chicken and taco chains. QSR analysts estimate that speeding up delivery by as little as six seconds can improve sales by 1 percent or more. That's because about 70 percent of all fast-food transactions occur at the drive-through window, and the busiest two hours at most restaurants are during lunch. To enhance (and enforce) efficiency, "many chains use digital timing systems, software and headsets to keep the packages of onion rings emerging with lock-step predictability", the report says. "Indeed, some chains can monitor individual stores instantly from their headquarters to make sure the clock isn't ticking too long on each order". Who said the command-and-control economy was over? That last charming add-on probably came from Wharton Business School, whose banner ad features prominently on the QSR site.

Posted by John Thackara at 08:35 AM | Comments (0)

August 10, 2005

Infra for food

If we are to re-localise food, a new generation of information systems will be needed as support. Many of today's food systems rely on closed networks in which access to information is controlled by entities (such as supermarkets) that are not keen on cooperatives and localisation. The good news is that open source software for food systems are already emerging. A story in Indymedia shows the People's Food Co-op in Portland, Cascadia, ringing out items on an entirely free open-source point-of-sale system (or POS) - the software needed to run a cash register and manage the pricing of all the items in a store.The story describes the project as a 'world's first', but several commenters list comparable systems that, they say, already exist. The "I was first! No, I was first!" bickering is tiresome, especially considering the vast amount of design work still to be done . We need, for example, to exploit the potential of RFID systems to give citizens far more information about about a product's history (where product = carrot) than might be comfortable for the the company selling it.

Posted by John Thackara at 08:32 AM | Comments (0)

July 15, 2005

Food that heats us up

Food 'miles' in the UK have risen dramatically over the past 10 years, are still rising, and have a significant impact on climate change, traffic congestion, accidents and pollution according to a report published yesterday, and reported in today's Guardian. Food transport accounts for 25% of all the miles driven by heavy goods vehicles on British roads. The use of heavy trucks to transport food has doubled since 1974 (in southern Europe, it's growing even faster). The dramatic increase has resulted in a rise in the amount of CO2 emitted by food transport: 19m tonnes of carbon dioxide were emitted in the UK 2002 in the course of getting food to people, a 12% increase on 1992, the report says. Airfreight, the most polluting form of food transport, is growing fastest. Tim Lang, (one of the world's leading critics of industrialised food systems, and author of Food Wars ) is quoted as saying: "If the government doesn't take action to tackle this, all its proposals on climate change will be so much nonsense." A minister called Lord Bach, who launched the report in London, promised that the British government would "work with the industry to achieve a 20% reduction in the environmental and social costs of food transport by 2012". The words 'breath', 'hold', 'your', and 'don't' spring to mind: no British government is going to take meaningful action against an industry that combines food, logistics, massively powerful retailers, and spoiled consumers. We'll have to wait for a couple of massive eco-shocks before the policy framework will change. In the meantime, there's a lot of interesting service design to be done in support of the massive move towards sustainable food systems that is already underway.

Posted by John Thackara at 07:42 AM | Comments (0)

July 01, 2005

Unexpected campaigners for privacy

A few days ago I commented that managers have not thought through the potential of RFID systems to give customers far more information about about a product's history than might be comfortable - at least, for the company selling it. A forthcoming book flagged by Institute For the Future, does include a chapter on RFID and Authenticity of Goods. But so far as I can see, the applications discussed will refer more to the protection of Louis Vuitton from knock-offs, than of ordinary folk from dodgy food. It suddenly dawns on me: we can expect the biggest, baddest players in agribusiness to come out strongly against RFID on the grounds of ....protection of privacy.

Posted by John Thackara at 09:22 PM | Comments (0)

June 25, 2005

Reading your lunch

What happens when citizens are able to 'read' product-specific information directly from a package’s RFID tag using a camera phone? Few business people that I've met have thought the consequences through. The widespread deployment of RFID tags is seen mainly as a way to improve the efficiency of supply webs - not as a way for customers to find out more about a product's history. But consider the following: The Technical Research Centre of Finland (VTT), together with the University of Kuopio and the Helsinki School of Economics, have developed a prototype for a service that can help people make better food choices by reading product-specific information directly from a package. The service shows the energy and nutrition information of food, and also offers the possibility to use a food diary and an exercise calculator. But that's just a start: that same infrastructure could be used to tell the readerphone-wielding citizen where the food came from, and when; how it was grown; what it was fed or sprinkled with; and so on. Finnish test groups experienced the pilot system as "rewarding". But vicious fights for information control between citizen groups and corporations are inevitable when they realise that RFID tags have the potential to give more of the game away than might be comfortable for some players.

Posted by John Thackara at 06:57 AM | Comments (2)

April 16, 2005

Nomadic Banquet

A reminder that among numerous archives of Doors 8 stuff not on this site is Debra Solomon's Nomadic Banquet. We are still receiving presentations and other material which will be posted here in due course.

Posted by John Thackara at 08:06 AM | Comments (0)

November 23, 2004

Needed: Nomadic Banquet benchmarks

One of the pre-Doors 8 field projects we're supporting is an India leg of Debra Solomon's ongoing quest to enable "nomadic banquets". The idea is that people move round a city from street vendor to street vendor - each one being th best at, for example, dumplings, noodles, vodka martinis, whatever.
We're keen to hear about any other locative media projects involving food, rating, mobile phones, GIS and so on that we can learn from and maybe connect with. Check out Debra Solomon's Culiblog - and then tell us about lo-food projects we need to know about. Thanks.

Posted by John Thackara at 07:03 PM | Comments (0)