Food + Tech Connect’s Hack Dining Comes to NYC This Weekend

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What do Applegate, Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group, Chipotle, Google and Studio Industries have in common? As well as being sustenance specialists, they’re now sponsors of sustainability. Try saying that with your mouth full… The reason? Food + Tech Connect’s forthcoming Hack // Dining NYC, taking place this weekend, June 27-29.

The event, brainchild of F+T Connect’s Danielle Gould, is designed to bring the best minds together to rethink, redesign and potentially ‘hack’ the future of food. But this isn’t any wacky lab modification experiment, instead it’s all about creating a better future not only for foodies but for the planet as well.

Each brand will be putting forward real business challenges for participants to solve. This is as much future-proofing as problem-solving, with many sponsors welcoming tech innovation in an industry looking to change. Before putting their ideas on the table, attendees will first be schooled in understanding and ideating around a problem to unlock the most creative solution. From crafty chile to digital drumsticks, the event is sure to be fun as well as fruitful. At least that’s what everyone on either side of the divide will be hoping for.

Edible caught up with each sponsor and Food + Tech Connect’s founder before the event to discuss the concept of sustainability.

Food + Tech Connect, Danielle Gould, Founder:

Tell us more about Hack // Dining NYC?

We started doing hackathons 4 years ago to catalyze innovation in the food and design space. Interest in technology and awareness of sustainability has grown, which has brought people together and propelled these topics to the forefront of people’s minds. For example in our second year we chose to tackle the Farm Bill and publicize it. We want to help get people thinking about the food industry and setting up businesses to address some of the challenges faced within it.

How did you choose the partners for the event?

Two years ago Food + Tech Connect teamed up with Applegate to extend the reach of the event. This year we realised our goal was to help kick-start companies to challenge traditional food practices. We recognised the opportunity to bring partners committed to innovation via engaging Silicon Valley and other leading food brands already working in this space.

What challenges do you foresee in the area of food and sustainability?

Due to the amount of innovation in this area we no longer have to catalyze interest. But demand is growing for insights and transformational technology that can support innovation in the industry.

Applegate, Gina Asoudegan, Director of Communications:

How did you and Applegate get involved in Hack // Dining NYC?

In my current role at Applegate, I lobby and work on issues like GMOs and the overuse of antibiotics in animals raised for food. I’m increasingly interested in how technology can be applied to these issues and to the food system in general. For instance, I’ve seen how technology can be used in the meat industry to impact profitability for a farmer raising animals. Technology can be applied to streamline meat processing and distribution from regional farms to give provide economies of scale and reach larger accounts like hospitals and school districts.

The hackathons address challenges in the food system in a holistic way by bringing people together with diverse backgrounds. It’s rare that issues get tackled by groups of techies, designers, farmers, policy-makers and entrepreneurs. We all benefit from that. Last year for example, Applegate launched a challenge where one of the attendees reframed the problem in a completely new way. This provides us with a model we can use internally to address challenges and spark innovation.

What does the future of dining look like to you?

When people have access to high quality real food wherever they eat. Convenience and quality should no longer be mutually exclusive. The size of the food industry makes that challenging. Purchasing decisions can help address that. For instance, imagine if every hospital in the US decided to serve only antibiotic-free meat and poultry. One large-scale decision would change, for the better, the way millions of animals are raised for food and remove millions of pounds of antibiotics from the system. We need ideas and ways to accomplish game-changing projects like that.

How can technology support Applegate’s mission to change the meat we eat?

Technology can be used to measure consumer sentiment on food-related issues, which could assist with lobbying for legislation like GMO labeling and removing antibiotics from animal agriculture. Imagine if we could provide a real number to legislators to inform them about voter sentiment on various issues in their districts. This would also inform our own efforts to raise awareness.

Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group, Elizabeth Meltz

Why did Mario Batali get involved in Hack // Dining NYC?

We were eager to get involved in something with a potentially tangible outcome. In the past panel discussions or conferences have led to more information or more agreement but not a lot of movement. With this event we hope to experience something different.

How do you envisage this event will contribute to the area of sustainable food?

No one is going to solve food problems in a weekend, or with an app. However an event like this can get people exercising the muscles of change. We need new thinking to move toward solving these issues and give us the tools to do so. I’m hoping we’ll emerge with the building blocks for a tool that will make it easier to abide by food safety standards and, ultimately, make our food system safer.

How does this reflect Mario Batali’s ethos towards this topic?

We’ve always made food safety and sustainability a priority. The hope is to make compliance with food safety standards easier, particularly for small operators who don’t have the resources to devote to these issues.

Chipotle, Mariana Cotlear, Marketing

How did Chipotle get involved in this event and why?

We want to change the way people think about and eat food. Chipotle launched a food integrity program to reflect that. Our philosophy extends to the way we think about the entire business of food. Technology has an amazing role to play in helping us and our suppliers collect data to be more sustainable. We want to support organisations and initiatives at the forefront of new thinking in the industry. Hack // Dining NYC represents that.

What is Chipotle’s hope for this event and what does sustainability mean to you?

We’d like to challenge others to think how technology can impact restaurant design, building and operations to become more sustainable. For me personally sustainability means doing things the best way possible at every level, from the ground up. It’s about buying local and supporting the local economy.

What does sustainability mean here in New York?

New Yorkers are very passionate. We want to channel that passion in productive ways to integrate sustainability into Chipotles everywhere.

How can the Tech industry contribute towards a sustainable and edible future?

This is an exciting moment in the food industry. Technology is digital but the food industry is still approaching things from an analog perspective of ‘food in, food out’. Now both industries have a mutual interest and passion in reworking that model. It doesn’t have to be about big things. For example, something as simple as using GPS to help guide the logistics of food delivery can be very beneficial and economically viable.

Google, Michiel Bakker, Director of Food:

What are your hopes for this event?

This event is about creating casual collisions. These lead to insights and insights lead to solutions. It’s a great way to get more people thinking in new ways. Despite being very traditional, the food industry is starting to change. Our partners might not have been around 5 years ago for example. As society changes so does demand. So this event can help find creative ways to overcome some long-standing and new challenges for the industry.

What is Google’s ethos around food sustainability?

We strive to make the world a better place, so Google is always seeking opportunities to build sustainability into the food chain. The way our company thinks about food is like a preview of society. Internal demand amplifies extremes in the spectrum, which can be indicative of consumer demand down the road. People here are hungry for data and choice. Surfacing more data about calories in food, for example, can help inform decisions and making the ‘right’ choice.

What does sustainability mean to you personally?

Influencing suppliers and others in the food industry through technology and ideas to solve the world’s problems in new ways. We want to leave the world in a better state than we found it. It’s all about figuring out how to make more a positive impact on the environment and ecosystem. Mankind is so inventive, I have no doubt we’ll achieve that.

Studio Industries, Mike Lee, Founder:

Explain Studio Industries’ role at Hack // Dining NYC?

The hackathon model is an environment where new ideas can incubate and flourish. However they’re also pressure-filled situations, so we created design packs to give hackers the tools they need to tackle problems and create solutions. The goal is to add structure for hackathon novices and accelerate productivity for more seasoned participants.

We created the design hacking toolkit to show how to build empathy with a user, focus on key moments, ideate a vision and build a great prototype and pitch. At the end of the day, the idea is for everyone to hack as thoughtfully and efficiently as possible. We’ve also been working closely with the hackathon sponsors to craft their weekend challenges. It’s important to frame the problem the right way, which is especially true in an open innovation context like Hack Dining.

Why is there a need for design thinking in food?

The food system is incredibly complex. You can’t solve the most daunting issues in food with technology alone. That’s where adopting a design mindset comes in; it teaches hackers to adopt a holistic approach to problem-solving. We’re broadening people’s horizons on food innovation by teaching them to become designers, who in turn become more creative innovators.

Our next project, the Grocery Store of the Future, will showcase how a creative and prototyping mindset can influence food in the future. By asking the question, “what could your grocery store look like in 50 years?”, we want to push the boundaries of what people can imagine, create and ultimately, consume.

What does food sustainability mean to you?

Food sustainability means diversity, both in the traditional sense of promoting biodiversity in our agricultural system and also changing the culture of how we consume and relate to food. Any system suffers when there’s a lack of biodiversity and it’s largely why our food today isn’t terribly sustainable today as a whole. The wider the range of foods we consume – preferably produced responsibly and naturally – the more we can bolster the sustainability of the system overall.

Ruth Temianka

Ruth Temianka is a writer, editor and entrepreneur.

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