Can Technology Help Fix our Food System?

Part 1: Introduction

Clark Boyd
6 min readMay 29, 2022

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I reckon I was 30 before I tasted a real tomato.

I’d had thousands of them before then, but always from those plastic supermarket pots. Every tomato I’d ever had had looked the same, and that was by design. Supermarkets squeeze suppliers until there’s no juice left.

So when I started paying out serious moolah to get the Real Thing from my boutique greengrocers, I couldn’t go back. I honestly did think tomatoes were all red, and came only in cherry or salad size.

My berry-based epiphany really got me to thinking. Notably, I’ve been thinking about how more people can gain access to this higher quality produce, at an approachable price.

Cambridge University has produced a new, comprehensive report into the impact of emerging technologies on the food system.

In its risk-proximity matrix, they see only two areas of technology that are both:

  • Likely to reach mass adoption in the next decade

And:

  • Likely to have a positive impact on food safety

They are:

  • Genomics for food safety/agriculture
  • Digital tools for analysis, decision making and traceability

There are plenty of other technologies that they believe could reach large-scale adoption (alternative, lab-created proteins; novel feedstocks for animals; intelligent packaging), but all of these pose potential safety risks.

See, the food system is much like the financial system. It is highly complex, contains millions of moving parts, and it is exposed to shocks.

Like any network, it is more robust when it contains diversity. When the nodes are too similar and too tightly connected, even small changes can disrupt the whole network.

Our ruthlessly efficient supply chains, developed through decades of very logical decisions, have led us to a precarious point.

And yes, climate change is one of the big problems. But so is our formulaic global diet: just four crops account for over 60% of worldwide supply today.

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Clark Boyd

Tech/business writer, CEO (Novela), lecturer (Columbia), and data analyst. >500k views on Medium. I used to be with it, but then they changed what ‘it’ was.