Food fight: John Thackara

John Thackara argues that the biggest problem with the current food system is too much innovation.

From the Series

John Thackara is the founder and director of the Doors of Perception event company that organises alternative festivals in Europe and India in which grassroots innovators work with designers to imagine sustainable futures. According to Thackara, the biggest problem with the current food system is too much innovation:

Most innovation in the food business means turning a cheap thing into an expensive thing – and an unhealthy thing at that. Healthy food – fresh-from-the-field food, whole-until-the-kitchen food – loses nutritional quality, and gains sugars and fats, with each “value-adding” innovation process it’s subjected to. The direct consequence of all this innovation is a diabetes pandemic that’s growing in the USA by a terrifying 30% a year.

Fast Company recently named PepsiCo “the world’s most innovative company in food”, but chose to ignore the fact that over one third of the added sugars that are killing Americans come from sweetened carbonated beverages. And what has the response of designers been? Many are doing good business in the development of Personal Health Planning tools, “high-end wellness” services, superfoods and remote diagnostics – all of which are distractions from the root causes of this grim disease.

Designers should focus on one question only: Right now, if I spend $10 on food in a supermarket, the farmer gets 60 cents; how might we rearrange things so that I pay $2 direct to the farmer for the same food?

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