Mapping our Food System: Bringing Two Ways Of Life Together

By Caitlyn King

Locavore is a recently coined word that has gone distances in the past couple of years. It was named the Oxford American Dictionary Word of the Year in 2007 after being coined by 4 women here in the San Francisco Bay Area. Their mission: to challenge people to eat food grown and made within a 100 mile radius of their location. The Locavore website talks about their experiences and is inspiring to those who have the faintest interest in the sustainable food movement. My question: is eating locally practical for students?

Time Crunch, Grab n’ Go
College is structured around investing in time. Spend it one way, and it is lost; it can’t be applied elsewhere. When it comes to studying, Berkeley students are willing to give up anything to get an extra hour of cramming. This can include fueling up on bad food to prevent starvation during a time crunch. Top on the list: yogurt parfait or a sticky bun from the Golden Bear Cafe while running late to class in the morning. Likewise, the late night study session usually calls for a grab n’ go torpedo-shaped dinner. Subway or Chipotle anyone?

I asked around to see if this grab n’ go lifestyle was a good representation of students. A 3rd year Sociology major, Lisa Chan, told me details about her eating habits when she is busy. Chan admitted that the most efficient route she has available is under her bed: Instant Noodles!

Chan explained that if her noodles fall through, she will debate lines, price, and how fast the service is when looking at eateries. As Chan said, “Efficiency is always key when I am in a time crunch, I scope it out to find what will match my needs the quickest.”

Chan is a true example of how students will go for what is available, quick, and cheap to fill their empty stomach. As a result, ‘Grab n’ Go’ habits butt heads with the Locavore movement that we are encouraged to participate in. Sometimes we don’t have time to shop for local food, let alone cook it. So we sadly rely on serviced food to survive.

Though we want to vote with our dollar, time crunching means eating out, which usually means buying serviced food made from Sysco and BiRite products. With technology constantly moving forward, people have already started to invent tools for locating restaurants that use and provide seasonal and sustainable prepared food.

It Begins with a Seed, then a Sprout
Food Sprout is home to a business dedicated to connecting consumers to foods origins, in addition to helping producers source more sustainable options. It is designed to actually map where food comes from before it is sold to the consumer.

This website lists many restaurants and products, however a lot of the actual mapping of sources has yet to be filled out. Visitors to the website have the opportunity to add information about restaurants, farms, and products that they know about.

Andrew Naber, the founder of Food Sprout, admitted that he was one of the many who was influenced by the documentary Food Inc., which discusses where our food comes from and the problem with our food system. He saw the movie in December of 2009, and noticed that “It was evident then that our food supply is secretive. I felt there were probably enough people that want to expose this so I began development of Food Sprout for this very reason. To lift the veil of secrecy on what I call Big Food.”

Naber also explained why much of the information still has to be added to the website. “The most time intensive part is connecting the dots. We can load lots of data into our platform quickly. The real value comes when you can connect Company A with Company B and show the relationship between them.”

He later explained his frustration in how many large businesses aren’t willing to share information, causing his mapping progress to move slower than expected.

In the end, Naber made it clear that his goals and purpose for mapping food and its impact lie in the future of the environment and the generations ahead. He ultimately wants Food Sprout to “have an impact on the food system by influencing consumers to act different and therefore force businesses with bad habits to change.”

His idea will hopefully spread far enough to not only make this site a leading search tool, but to change the way that our food production, restaurants, and ingredients are made. Mapping out our food sources brings hope to the two concepts of a Locavore and a ‘Grab n’ Go’ life. If sites such as Food Sprout expand enough, the ‘Grab n’ Go’ consumer may be able to jump on board the Locavore movement. The future looks bright, but it will take some time, pressure, and a blend of knowledge to get it in gear.

Caitlyn King is a 3rd year Conservation Resource Studies major with a minor in Public Policy. Her hometown, North Lake Tahoe, harvested her love for the environment and its preservation. While college initially deteriorated her adamant high school practices of health and good eating, she is slowly moving back to her old habits while being surrounded with large amounts of local and delicious food. When Caitlyn isn’t studying for school, you can often find her on the fire trails running, crocheting, or baking up a new rendition of chocolate chip cookies.

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  • scottshapiro

    Thanks for letting all of us know about Food Sprout!

  • Zoe Kornberg

    Food Sprout looks like it could be a really useful resource once it fills in more information in its individual restaurant pages. I wonder how we could help them get that information filled in. Maybe the founder, Andrew Naber could ask the restaurant owners themselves to fill in the information since they know best where their produce comes from. I could see this being a very difficult process to undertake. Michael Pollan spends 400 pages in The Omnivore’s Dilemma telling us where his four meals came from.

  • Keli Benko

    This article is great, I’m definitely going to check out Food Sprout. I think it’s great that the site is interactive like wikipedia where visitors can contribute information. It seems like that approach will help fill in the gaps faster than if he were doing it alone. It’s an awesome idea and I can definitely see a site like that being influential and helping people decide where to source their groceries and restaurant visits.

  • nancy

    Its seems like a really great idea to start something like Food Sprout and clearly is very difficult. But do you think that they will ever be able to get all the restaurants to give out their information or even keep their information updated in the long run? How easy would it be for a business to fabricate their sources and such? Still, if the ideal of this site could be achieved, it could make a significant difference in letting the businesses know which practices and foods we support.

  • Patricia Argueza

    Great article! Food Sprout is an awesome idea and is a highly approachable way to raise awareness about the faults of our current food system. 🙂

  • Jameson

    A lot of students that I know including myself prepare many of their meals themselves. It is a great way to take a break from the books and relax a little. I think it would be great to have more education on simple healthy meals that can be cooked within a reasonable time. If the Grab n’ Go is as common as you say it is, then I think it is only because students do not know how easy it is to cook their own meals, nor how rewarding it is. One of my favorites is sauteed onions and mushrooms with a salad on the side. It doesn’t take too much time and the finished product is my own handiwork that I can be proud of. When I am done eating I am ready to go study some more. I know for myself that standing in line and consuming a giant Chipotle burrito takes longer to complete than my onions, mushrooms and salads.

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