Make it Instagrammable! This is what I hear every time I speak with chefs, designers, or any other creative person working in the food industry. If you’ve ever fallen down into hashtags like #foodporn with over 104 million images, #foodie with 47 million or #foodgasm 21 million, you won’t be surprised when I say the new food-grammer’s generation might be contributing to the food crisis. We are constantly disputing between 2 controversial trends: One that celebrates abundance and fullness, and another one that speaks about frugality, control and consciousness. Both ways are rising engagement in many aspects, but in an era of dodgy influencers and abuse of media as a social currency, we might ask ourselves if this food-grammer craze is taking us to a cliff with unreal and fake abundance.
It is undeniable that we are facing new challenges, challenges that might not be here yet, but that we need to start feeling responsible for adapting our food habits of the present to be prepared for the imminent food crisis.
Never before the food industry was producing this amount of food, but at the same time, never before the risk of this mass production was that strong. The reduction of fertile land given the increasing urbanization of rural areas, the ever-growing monoculture crops that reduce our diets to a few ingredients destroying our botanical diversity, and the ongoing losses in bee populations affecting the pollination of major food species, are just some scenarios that we must face in the upcoming years. Luckily for us, the best innovations are made in times of crisis. “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without” is a mantra that is definitely not new to this era.
This is something that has fascinated me since a long time: How do we innovate with little, how do we optimize our resources, how do we turn constraints into opportunities? In india, they even have a beautiful word to describe this: Jugaad, or frugal innovation, a system based on people’s resourcefulness. This is certainly something I can relate to while being in Mexico, where every time I go outside, I discover new ingenious solutions created under difficult conditions. From turning a raw mango into an exquisite natural snack with just a few cuts, to building one of the most complex gastronomies of the world based in 3 basic ingredients of the Mexican Milpa (traditional farming system): Corn, red beans and chili.
We can definitely find inspiration from Mexico, the rest of Latin America and from other complex historical scenarios in order to design food products that can be coherent to the frugal world we’re living on.
Cubans, on the early 90’s, faced a tough shortage of food that forced them to cook with their only resources, resulting in one of the most popular recipes on the island: Grapefruit steak. The pulp of the fruit is removed leaving behind the white part, which is seasoned with garlic and onion, and then breaded and pan fried. This way, people replaced meat, which at the time, played an important role on their culinary traditions, with a vegan option, when the word “vegan” was not even on the stage.
Vegetarians Ruin Chicken-Fried Steak with Grapefruit-Fried Steak
I was going to say this is some kind of sick vegan joke, but they use some eggs in the recipe. So I guess it's a sick…
But frugality not only optimizes resources, it also serves as social catalyst. Last year, after the hurricane Maria affected most part of the Caribbean, including Puerto Rico, chef José Andrés, with his project Word Central Kitchen , cooked for thousands of people affected by the natural disaster, creating a massive media effect which led a large amount of chefs around the world to join the cause under the hashtag #ChefsForPuertoRico.
On the other side of the world, Ms. Pauline, the owner of Pappadavada restaurant in India, decided to install community fridges outside her restaurant, where customers could leave their doggy bags for people in need to take. She was not only reducing the unwanted leftovers that were thrown away, but also preventing, as she says, a thoughtless waste of society’s resources. Moreover, this model was also teaching customers to be conscious about their portions, reducing waste even before it turned into waste. The project, nicknamed “the tree of goodness”, established an easy way to provide democratic food to everyone while avoiding the middlemen involved in the food systems. Just an open fridge serving as a bridge between 2 type of eaters, one that gives, one that receives.
Eatery Puts Fridge On Street, So Patrons Can Leave Leftovers For Those In Need
One restaurant in India is bagging the idea of a traditional doggy bag. Instead Pappadavada, a popular restaurant in…
But we don’t have to look further, there is a successful product we all know that was created under an unfortunate time of crisis. In the second world war, importing Coca-Cola syrup was very difficult given the embargo established against Nazi Germany. The head of Coca-Cola Germany decided to create a product using only the ingredients they could find at the time, in other words, the leftovers of leftovers: whey and apple pomace. Nowadays we know this product as Fanta, a reminder of Fantasy, a way of thinking with imagination.
Even though there are good and bad products, having constraints and limited resources force us to think in multiple ways. This consciousness might be a good idea to set a new state of mind, one that evolves from the opulence and wastefulness of social media and liberates creativity to focus on efficiency. We might find an answer for better and more scalable models that can lever up our resources, reuse food waste, optimize our capabilities and even re-think the way the food systems are built. I think we got to the point where we must confront the idea of living on an actual crisis, certainly not a moment of abundance.