Published on: March 10, 2016
This commentary is available as both text and video; enjoy both or either ... they are similar, but not exactly the same. To see past FaceTime commentaries, go to the MNB Channel on YouTube.
Hi, Kevin Coupe here, and this is FaceTime with the Content Guy.
We talk a lot about food here on MNB, in part because a significant portion of our readership is in the food business. It also is a subject that can examined from a lot of different angles ... while I think the subject of GMOs in food is important, for example, I don't think it is any more important than talking about why In-N-Out burgers are far better than McDonald's, why a great Oregon pinot makes life better, or why food stores need to do a better job of actually being about food, and not just efficiently selling boxes, bottles and bags.
All of these subjects can be contentious, depending on who you are talking to. If you're talking to someone who eats to live, not so much. But if you're talking to someone who lives to eat ... well, a discussion of barbecue styles or great New Orleans restaurants or the elegant simplicity of a shrimp-and-lobster risotto or why bread pudding is always different depending on where you order it - all these things can raise in people enormous passion. (In case you haven't been paying attention, I'm one these latter folks.)
To be honest, one of the things I don't think about very much is agriculture. Not that I am unaware of its importance. I know where food comes from, at least intellectually, but I'm not a guy who has spent any time on a farm, or a ranch. Farmers markets, sure, but not actual farms. It's just not my thing. (Though I have to admit I was intrigued when one of my favorite people in the world told me that she'd compiled a list of things she wanted to do before she turned 50, and one of those things was to milk a cow. I'm intrigued ... but not enough to join her in the barn.)
That said, I also was intrigued the other day when I watched a recent TED talk by Caleb Harper, director of the Open Agriculture Initiative at the MIT Media Lab, on the subject of how computers will grow food in the future, and why it is important to enlist electrical engineers, mechanical engineers, environmental engineers, computer scientists, plant scientists, economists, urban planners, and yes, even farmers, as the next generation of people who will develop the next generation of farms, networking them and empowering them with technology in ways that, quite frankly, I'd never even considered.
I mean, I've seen hydroponic farms - I remember years ago when Fiesta Mart down in Texas actually built an enormous one right next to a produce department in one of its stores. It was impressive, theatrical, way ahead of its time ... and ultimately, if I remember correctly, not economically sustainable. And I know some people who are flirting with doing some of this stuff in their homes; I have a cousin who has something called a Grove Ecosystem in her home, also designed by the folks at MIT, which she uses to grow actual food that she actually eats. (The Grove system just got funded through Kickstarter, FYI...)
This is all a little foreign to me, but I'm at least smart enough to recognize that there are some significant problems that the food industry needs to start examining and addressing.
Here's an alarming statistic offered by Harper: Just two percent of the US population is in the farming business. And, he asks, "What good answer comes from two percent of any population?"
There's a window below in which you can see Harper's talk, or you can see it here. I think it is worth a look. Maybe you'll learn something you didn't know. I did.
That's what's on my mind this Thursday morning. As always, I want to hear what is on your mind.
- KC's View: