The Tech Industry’s Plans To Fix Food Production


From Modern Meadow

One of the wonderful but irritating qualities of the technology culture prevalent in Silicon Valley and various other wannabe Silcon Somethings is the attitude that its engineers can fix everything wrong with the world. Joscelin Cooper, part of that very culture, describes how some of the Valley’s finest have turned to the world’s food crisis, writing at VentureBeat:

The technology industry can have an important impact on fixing the food system both by inventing new systems and infrastructure to reduce food waste, and ensuring that healthy, affordable food is widely available. Here are a few people and programs making a difference:

Invest in fake meat

Khosla Ventures has invested in numerous food-tech projects to create healthier foods that reduce the environmental impact of heavy meat consumption. As people in developing nations become more affluent, demand for meat products has gone up. However, the planet cannot sustain this growing market. Around 15 percent of the planet’s greenhouse gases are produced by livestock farming. Raising livestock also uses a massive amount of water, and has a detrimental (in some cases, entirely destructive) impact on ecosystems.

Investor Peter Thiel has backed Modern Meadow, a company devoted to creating tissue cultures that are biologically ‘meat’, without inflicting the damage that meat production, transportation, and slaughter wrecks upon the environment. If the idea of lab-grown meat doesn’t already warp your mind, consider that the products will essentially be produced via 3D printer.

Reduce food waste

Startup Leftover Swap allows neighbors to share their unwanted surplus food. If you have one too many portions of lasagna, or over-ordered take out, you can list your uneaten food on the app for it to be snapped up, sharing economy style. Besides helping to build community interactions, Leftover Swap also seeks to put a dent in the massive amount of food we waste every year.

Foodstar has created a technology that allows people to be alerted when produce that is near-expiration, or that doesn’t meet ‘aesthetic requirements’ is about to be pulled from shelves. Shoppers receive a notification to buy the food at a steep discount. Leftover, unpurchased food is then composted, rather than heading to a landfill…

[continues at VentureBeat]


Majestic is gadfly emeritus.

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11 Comments on "The Tech Industry’s Plans To Fix Food Production"

  1. Rhoid Rager | Nov 29, 2013 at 9:10 am |

    It was my understanding that the dumpster divers had a pretty efficient social network going on about what places dump their surplus food when… this is certainly going to infringe on their turf.

  2. Bluebird_of_Fastidiousness | Nov 29, 2013 at 10:26 am |

    Permaculture can feed the world. We don’t need any more “food.”

  3. Josh Jables Mayer | Nov 29, 2013 at 10:59 am |

    the graphic is pretty misleading. A cow yields more than one 1/4 hamburger patty. so if ur going to explain what all goes into a cow from growth to slaughter u should divide it by at least like 1,000 if ur going to compare it to 1 patty.

    • emperorreagan | Nov 29, 2013 at 8:51 pm |

      The numbers are normalized. The journal article it is based on has numbers for billions of kg of beef produced yearly, total number of animals, inputs and waste.

      You can see a numbers here and calculate the normalized numbers yourself:

      The study models that 1763 L of water are used per kg of beef produced. Converting to gallon per lb of beef:

      1,763 L / kg * (0.264 gallon / liter) * (0.454 kg/lb) = 211.3 gallon / lb of beef.

      Thus, a quarter pound of beef falls in the neighborhood of 50 gallons of water to produce according to data in the study. They quote other estimates in the article that range from 3,600 L/kg of beef to well over 10,000 L/kg of beef, so using the 1,763 number is conservative.

    • Bluebird_of_Fastidiousness | Nov 30, 2013 at 12:23 am |

      I think the most misleading part is the grain consumption. Cattle require 0 grain inputs (it’s actually toxic to them, causing imbalances in their guts that often require chemical intervention to sustain ‘health’). Those numbers all change drastically without the grain. When managed properly through ecological management, the animals are carbon negative. They actually sequester carbon through the root pruning activity of forages from grazing.

      They do drink water and occupy physical space. I don’t hold that against them though, considering that ruminants and their analogs are an integral part of the landscape and have been since animals have had legs.

      • emperorreagan | Dec 1, 2013 at 10:05 pm |

        I’m not sure what’s misleading about an average hamburger produced by agriculture as practiced today.

        The premise of the argument for synthetic meat may be misleading, as the unstated assumption in it is that it’s desirable to support ever increasing levels of meat consumption (which is what drives the present agricultural practice)…rather than a reduction to a quarter to a third of the level of current western consumption I’ve seen suggested in several articles on permaculture.

  4. Anarchy Pony | Nov 29, 2013 at 12:40 pm |

    “Oh, God help us, we’re in the hands of engineers.” -Ian Malcolm.

  5. I’ve said before that the future (if any) of animal protein for the masses is vat-grown meat and insect protein based on resource utilization and carbon burden.

    Weird to see a vat-grown meat project based on 3D printing. Great for prototyping, but it doesn’t scale. A hamburger that takes an hour to print is NOT going to sell for $4/pound.

    As for the Foodstar project, glad I’m not an investor. Supermarket websites are already tied into inventory backends; all it would take would be minor software tweaks to create those shopper alerts.

    Leftover Swap? Imagine the possible legal liability issues. If somebody gets food poisoning, who gets sued?

  6. grummbunger | Nov 30, 2013 at 8:25 am |

    the system is the all is in cycle of return to earth the numbers are invalid and if you think they are valid, then how much dies it take to maintain your very own like, didn’t your excrement value something else? the fact is there is NO 6.7 pounds of grain in that burger. just a bunch of hogwash. propaganda.

  7. Rus Archer | Nov 30, 2013 at 3:51 pm |


  8. Rus Archer | Nov 30, 2013 at 3:51 pm |

    if you need protein, you can grow mushrooms in your closet or under your bed or in the kitchen

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