Poverty, hunger, malnutrition, and awareness are all components of a greater theme of access, the weight and complexity of this topic seemed almost unapproachable. However, we were moved by a presentation early on in the week which looked at the growbot—a food computer developed by Open Ag through the MIT media lab. In particular, we were struck by a comment that the food computer (at the current size of 2’ x 2’) was really just an educational tool at this scale, and did not have the potential to sustain even one person- “every plant has a physical footprint, there’s no changing that”. We reflected upon this and questioned whether we could make the growbot even smaller so that it seamlessly fit into the average kitchen but also was able to provide a good dose of nutrition.
This presented itself as a difficult problem to solve, our team came together to think about how we might improve access to nutrients as a means for improving early childhood development, as this is where we saw the greatest need. Prenatal nutrients are critical in affording children the best start in life and are correlated with long term developmental outcomes. However, as we found, prenatal nutrition is complicated, with a lot of unappetizing, one-size-fits-all solutions. This was the inspiration for eve.
Seeing as large scale growing operations would not fit into the lifestyles of the average american, we focused on plants that would provide us with the highest nutrient density. Through our research into algae, more specifically the spirulina, chlorella, and red algae strains, we found that this plant was so extremely nutrient dense, and had the capability to rapidly regenerate.
Speaking to expectant mothers proved extremely useful in understanding more about prenatal nutrition and the general attitudes surrounding the topic, we were also able to speak to some of these pregnant women, and mothers about our initial ideas, presenting our ideas to get some initial reactions, and feedback. Some of the most notable take-aways from speaking to mothers was how much information, and recommendations were out there relating to prenatal health, and how overwhelming and confusing this often conflicting information could be. We heard great feedback about our preliminary ideas, however there was also concern about having to deal with the algae in its raw state, and how this may be off-putting and nauseating for some women.
From this point we were able to start designing how this product would function and what it would look like. We settled on “eve” so as to help personify the product and characterising it as a friend, companion and helping guide throughout pregnancy. The way that eve works is based around the biological requirements for algae growth. In order for algae to live it requires light- which would be provided by the food computer, as well as an input of carbon dioxide. By blowing onto eve, you are providing her with the crucial sustenance she needs to stay alive, but in turn she is analysing your breath for important information relating to which nutrients you may be deficient in. Using this valuable data, eve is able to regulate the growing conditions of the algae, as well as the specific strain, to that each individual receives custom algal growth. From this point, algae is sequestered from the water and sent to a blending chamber where it can be pulverized and combined with other added ingredients, that eve would also suggest depending on nutritional needs. Squeezing the silicone bladder at the top, the mixture can then be suctioned and consumed. After many iterations, and manipulations we settled on a very simple form for eve, allowing her to live seamlessly in the kitchen- alongside other appliances.
It became very important for us to maintain this goal of providing nutritional access to all pregnant women around the united states. In comparing costs of eve with multi vitamins, nutritionists, pregnancy drinks, and other services, pricing eve around the $150- $200 mark would still be substantially cheaper than the competition. However to help alleviate the cost, and to make sure that eve is truly accessible by all, we are hoping to align ourselves with organizations such as WIC, so that eve could be potentially subsidized.
This weeks topic of “access” has been equal parts challenging and exciting, and although idea took the form of a small scale intervention, we can see this potentially having large scale impact and ripple effects on the nutritional health of all people.
Editor’s Note: This article was written by a Food + Future coLAB Fellow to share their concepts and experiences from the second week of our January 2016 program, focused on the theme of Access. For more information, please visitfoodfuturecolab.com/access.