I've been watching a lot of TED talks lately and it's not uncommon for there to be a sponsor ad either at the beginning or end of the video. Consequently, I've seen the following ad about making our food supply chain smarter quite a few times.
At first, I was impressed by the coolness of the technology. If we're losing 25% of our food to spoilage in transit, it seems reasonable to use technology to improve the situation. If we could decrease the spoilage, then maybe we could feed more people. I could certainly hear my mother's voice chastising me about letting food go to waste. Besides, working on our food chain would be much more interesting and socially relevant than working on software for a bank, or (shudder) a weapons system.
But then, I had the opportunity to see the ad again... and again... and a few more times. And then it dawned on me... If we're losing 30% of our food in transit, then isn't the problem the transit? Maybe we shouldn't be transporting our food quite so far, then less of it would spoil. Maybe the problem is that we live in cities and are so divorced from our food production systems. Locavores have already recognized this problem and are working on it. Others, including Michelle Obama, are planting on urban vegetable gardens to promote healthy eating.
These ideas crystallized when I saw the following infographic from Good magazine.
According to the USDA, farmers are receiving less than $0.16 out of every dollar that we spend on food. The rest goes to "marketing," which is not advertising, but rather "the entire system that links farms to consumers, including transportation, processing, and distribution." Good's food editor, Nicola Twilley, goes on to write, "In other words, the infographic above means that we spend five times as much on getting our food from farm to table as we do on actually growing it."
So, the ad on making our food supply chain smarter is actually advocating more money in the marketing side of food production. Is this cool? Not so much.