Blog Archives

Food for Thought: Sustainability from Counter to Compost

Just watched this video — how appropriate is this? Here’s the description from YouTube:

Food for Thought: Sustainability from Counter to Compost – Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming – 2008-02-26 – The usual reaction to scarfing down a slice of pizza is: how will this affect my diet? The Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, and more and more Americans, now look at the food we all eat and ask: how does this affect our world’s carbon diet? Chairman Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and the Select Committee began looking into the process and choices our nation makes regarding food and agriculture and how those choices affect our environment, specifically the “carbon footprint” of how we grow, raise, transport, package, dispose of and otherwise provide sustenance to Americans and people around the world. And while changing the way the world creates and consumes energy is the most effective way to combat global warming, so-called “lifestyle” choices like the food we eat will play an increasing role in how to make immediate cuts in the pollution that causes global warming. Witnesses: Dan Beard, Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), House of Representatives; Carina Wong, Executive Director, Chez Panisse Foundation; Patricia D. Millner, Ph.D, Research Microbiologist in the Sustainable Agricultural Systems Laboratory and Environmental Microbial Systems Laboratory, USDA; Tom Kelly, Ph.D., Chief Sustainability Officer, University of New Hampshire Office of Sustainability. Video provided by the U.S. House of Representatives.

Cost of Chicken App Idea

So we’ve started the design of our Cost of Chicken App: Eco-Footprint Tracker. (We’re still working out the name.)

It would work something like this:

  1. Work with food producers to place QR Codes on their products. Each code provides a URL with information on the true cost of food: how far it has been trucked to be available locally; how long it has been stored (e.g. apples are stored for months prior to being delivered to supermarkets); how much energy it took to produce the food; and how much the packaging costs. Distance, production and manufacturing, storage, and marketing are all factors that contribute to the total expenditure of our planet’s resources.
  2. Once we have the QR codes, we can quickly add up all of the groceries that are being purchased and generate an approximate size of the eco-footprint for that consumer for that day.
  3. Each person (or family) could have an account that tracks all of their food purchases. This data could be graphed (or displayed in other ways) to allow people to visualize their choices in terms of the ecological consequences.

The app could work even without the QR Codes: a consumer can just enter the type of food they bought, and the app calculates the approximate eco-footprint.

It could look something like this:
QR code tracks the cost of chicken to generate eco-footprint

Packaged Food Makes Girls Hyper!

On March 16th, Scientific American Magazine published an article: How Packaged Food Makes Girls Hyper, by Aimee Cunningham. It’s about the chemical bisphenol A, known as BPA. In our house, we threw away all of our plastic containers, cups, and drinking bottles. We now use only glass and metal. Not only are we sure that they are BPA free, but the glass and metal lasts longer. So given that kids get hyper when exposed to BPA and it makes better conservation sense, why is anyone still use plastic?

Changing the Way We Eat — TEDx Manhattan

This is a cool TEDx talk about setting up a sharing mechanism to allow people who grow food in their gardens to given away the extra: to give the food that would be thrown out to someone who is hungry!

Watch the video or visit Ample Harvest website!

The Carbon Footprint of our Diets

Does it make a difference what we buy and what we eat? YES! Time Magazine did an amazing collection of photographs of families from around the world gathered around their dinner tables (or blankets) with a collection of all the things they eat. People’s choices make a difference. Here in US, on an average, we generate 22 tons of Carbon Dioxide per person per year! Of that, 8.1 metric tons of greenhouse gases are generated by food consumption choices.

Check out this interesting presentation with lots more data.

The carbon footprint factors this presentation lists is almost a perfect match for our Cost of Chicken map categories:

  • how far did the food travel to reach you? (transportation accounts for 11% of the total green house gas emissions from food)
  • how was your food produced? (food production and harvesting accounts for 83% of the total green house gas emissions from food if done in a conventional, big agriculture business way)
  • what kind of food did you get? (delivery from the producer to the store accounts for 4% of the total green house gas emissions from food)

So here’s a break down:

  1. Red Meat is the number one source of greenhouse gases from food and is responsible of 30% of the total.
  2. Milk and other dairy products come in at number two at 18% of the total.
  3. Cereals and Carbs at 11% of the total; as are fruits and vegetable — 11%.
  4. Chicken, fish, and eggs are responsible for 10% of the total.
  5. Beverages are 6%; and so are sweets and condiments — 6%.
  6. All the other food stuffs make up the rest — 9%.

By looking at the data coming in from the Cost of Chicken crowd map, we can see how much green gas we are generating.

We believe if people knew that their food choices make a difference to the environment, they would choose more wisely.

Check out this data (and see the whole presentation):

Food Carbon Footprint Analysis

And check out this video — “Cheeseburger Footprint: from Six Degrees” by Jamais Cascio

Lowell School Economics Class

Yesterday, we took a class photo of Ms. Lubenow’s AP Economics class. Here we all are holding the little stickers for Ushahidi! All those data points from San Francisco? That’s our work!

Tim's Economic's Class at Lowell High School

150 Data Points on Cost of Chicken Crowdmap!

Lowell High School Seal Last week, students taking Economics in Lowell High School were assigned to collect some data points for our Cost of Chicken Crowdmap. In just a few days, we have 150 data points! While most are from San Francisco, we do have some food data from Russia and India (and hoping to get more from other countries soon).

The most obvious conclusion from all this data so far is that no one seems to know where their food comes from! It might be that all the data was collected from big cities. But we suspect that food consumers in general have little idea of who grows/produces their food. And the companies that do do the food manufacturing try to high this information. They use cute names on their packaging: “Foster Farms Chicken”. But where is this farm? There are probably many farms that grow chicken to be sold under this name.

And so we are planing on developing a way to track where food comes from — stay tuned for the Cost of Chicken Labs — where we talk about our ideas.

We’ve Been Accepted into 2012 EDF Sustainable Design Challenge

EDF Sustainable Design Challenge Tag

We’ve been officially accepted into The EDF Sustainable Design Challenge: Encouraging Responsible Energy Behavior for Better Living. This is exciting! And it allows us to expand on our past year’s work, thinking about food production, supply, delivery, availability, and affordability for people around the world.

We’re lucky — living in San francisco, we have access to great food and our family can afford to buy it. But there are many places around the world where food is either unavailable or too expensive. Just across the San Francisco Bay, in Oakland, there are whole neighborhoods that live on produce from corner liquor stores. These areas are called Food Deserts.The Cost of Chicken project will hopefully highlight the food inequalities around the world. Even this early on in the project, we are noticing that it is very difficult to find where exactly food is produced and how far it has travelled to reach our neighborhood. The Cost of Chicken can be the basis for developing and designing new ways to provide this information to the individuals buying food for themselves and for their families. And as a benefit, we are also getting to know people who help us collect the information via the Crowdmap — kids know and understand food; our project will help kids bond together while learning more about the true cost of food.

Trusted Food Reporters from Bangalore, India

We are pleased to welcome our first two Trusted Food Reports — Founding Members! — Amogh and his twin sister Amrita. They are currently in 3rd grade in Bangalore, India. Check out their reports!

About Cost of Chicken Project

Ushahidi Logo


Cost of Chicken data collection is powered by the Ushahidi’s open source mapping platform. Basically, anyone in the world with a computer (or a mobile phone) can add information that can be tagged to a location on a map and stamped with a date. It’s simple and amazingly valuable. Ushahidi calls this collection of information a crowdmap — data by the people for the people!

DRIPS in a field helping potatoes grow

Why Food?

Last year (2010), we started a project: Deep Root Irrigation and Precipitation System, DRIPS for short. We designed a product that would help sustenance farmers all over the world grow a bit more food by using atmospheric water in a more directed way (transporting dew and fog to the roots of the plants). You can learn all about this on our website: DRIPS Project.

This year (2011), we are still focusing on food. We want to know the true cost of food — its price; the distance it traveled to get to our dinner tables; the people who grew it; the methods that were used to grow it; how it was produced; how good is it for us and for our environment. And we also want to know if there is food inequality — do some people have less access to good food then others? We noticed that some neighborhoods in the Bay Area where we live don’t have places that sell fresh produce! So for some people, it’s easy to buy high quality inexpensive food, and for others it’s almost impossible. That’s food inequality.

There’s also food insecurity — some people have to worry that they might not get enough to eat from day to day. Sometimes, it’s because they don’t have the money to buy food. Sometimes, it’s because there’s no food to buy.

Cost of Chicken project is about trying to find out where and why there’s food inequality and food insecurity. That’s why Ushahidi’s crowdmap is a perfect fit for our project — it allows us to gather information from all over the world and it lets everyone see the data right away. Because it’s not just about learning about food inequality and insecurity, it’s also about trying to fix the problem. And to fix the problem, we need to understand it.


Food is Energy; & We Need Energy to get Food

We started working on this project as part of EDF Design Challenge 2.0: ENCOURAGING RESPONSIBLE ENERGY BEHAVIOUR FOR BETTER LIVING.

What’s the most basic thing we can say about energy? Well, we all need energy to survive — we need food! Food is our energy source. And to get this energy, we need to expend energy — growing, preparing, gathering, and even eating food requires energy. It’s a tight cycle: we need food to get energy to live, and we need energy to get more food.

If we are interested in conservation and green energy, then what we are really interested in is trying to get food in the most ecologically sensitive way possible. We want to try to eat local food — this way we can save energy needed for food transportation. We want to reduce the amount of energy it takes to make food — we want to make sensible choices in food production. And we want to use green energy in all stages of production and transportation — this means using solar and wind power (and other clean energy sources), conserving water, reducing pollution, getting rid of waste.

We think everyone is for doing all of these things. And we think that everyone believes that no one should go hungry. So this project is about helping people become aware of food choices they make. By learning about true costs food around the world, we can encourage people to take more responsibility and to change their behavior for better living.

EDF Sustainable Design Challenge Tag


We hope to work with everyone who is interested in contributing to our project. And in particular, we hope to work with kids from around the world. Kids might not know much about politics, or health, or economics, or agriculture. But we all know about food! All kids like to eat good food. While we have food likes and dislikes, none of us like to go hungry. So kids understand food.

And food is a perfect communication medium — even if we don’t have a language in common, we get food. Strangers become friends over meals shared together. Families celebrate holidays and special occasions with family dinners — everyone coming together to share a meal. “Breaking bread” is an expression denoting the start of a relationship or reaffirming the bonds of friendship.

We hope kids post photos of food they eat and where it comes from. We hope they share information about prices and places and quality. And we hope that we all share something about where we live and how we live and learn about the lives of others. This is a true food anthropology project.

Trusted Food Reporters

We know that the Internet can be full of misinformation — data posted anonymously is suspect. But we know some kids that are/will be using our food crowdmap, and those we designate Trusted Food Reporters! These individuals collect real data that can be trusted. That will be marked as verified on the food reports.

As we get know more and more people who contribute to our project, we hope to designate more and more Trusted Food Reporters. If you would like to be a Trusted Food Reporter, please let us know, we would like to work with you. In the meantime, please check out the Trusted Food Reporters page to learn about those who have already earned that honor!

Submit a Cost of Chicken Report