Loading a truck with vegetables for shipment
Even if we think we know a lot about good and healthy food by buying organic or believing in slow food and eating local, we probably don't know much about how food actually gets to the table.
What happens between the farm and the kitchen? Why are all avocados from Mexico? Why does a restaurant in Maine order lamb from New Zealand? Robyn Metcalfe, food historian and food futurist, explores an often-overlooked aspect of the global food system: how food moves from producer to consumer. She finds that the food supply chain is adapting to our increasingly complex demands for both personalization and convenience—but, she says, it won't be an easy ride.
Networked, digital tools will improve the food system but will also challenge our relationship to food in anxiety-provoking ways. It might not be easy to transfer our affections from verdant fields of organic tomatoes to high-rise greenhouses tended by robots. And yet, argues Metcalfe—a cautious technology optimist—technological advances offer opportunities for innovations that can get better food to more people in an increasingly urbanized world.
Metcalfe follows a slice of New York pizza and a club sandwich through the food supply chain; considers local foods, global foods, and food deserts; investigates the processing, packaging, and storage of food; explores the transportation networks that connect farm to plate; and explains how food can be tracked using sensors and the Internet of Things.
Future food may be engineered, networked, and nearly independent of crops grown in fields. New technologies can make the food system more efficient—but at what cost to our traditionally close relationship with food?
Metcalfe’s new book, Food Routes: Growing Bananas in Iceland and Other Tales from the Logistics of Eating (MIT Press), is available for sale and signing.
Smithsonian.com asked two farmers to predict where the food of the future will come from. Their differing viewpoints suggest there might be a variety of visons for that possibility.