Cost of Chicken Labs

Cost of Chicken Labs is our place for ideas on products that come from collecting information on true food costs around the world. We’ve started work on designing a mobile phone app that would track the consumer’s ecological footprint based on their food purchasing choices.

Follow the Frog

Early on in our project, we considered making a “follow the chicken” stamp of approval aka Eco-Footprint Tracker — it you buy food with a chicken stamp on it, it was produced well, in a sustainable manner that didn’t hurt the environment.

Today, we saw “Follow the Frog” ad that summed up our idea. So follow the FROG!

Origins of Food — Tracking Food Fraud

There’s an article on BBC: Food Fraud Tackled by Forensic Scientists by Anna-Louise Taylor.

Wine, spirits, meat and even baby food can all be faked, with fraudsters hiding their true origins. Now forensic scientists are clamping down on food fraud, which costs millions in lost revenue and can put the health and safety of the public at risk.

We noticed from looking at the Cost of Chicken crowdmap, that most people who post the information don’t know where their food comes from! This is a problem if we want to understand the quality of our food and minimize the ecological footprint by making good decisions at the supermarket. This is why we thought of creating a smart phone app that would help decode this information.

US drought may drive up world food prices

2012 July was the hottest month in American history! And there are consequences — we are starting to notice the prices of food going up and the quality of food going down. Corn, which should be cheap and plentiful and especially great this time of year, is none of those things!

Check out this video from BBC:

Cost of Chicken Video

So here it is: The Cost of Chicken video! This is our 2 minute video submission to the EDF Sustainable Design Challenge. All the kids you see in this video worked hard to make this project happen!

Social Supermarkets

With economy in bad shape, Greeks are taking food and food insecurity into their own hands — Social Supermarkets! The basic idea is to feed families who can’t afford to buy enough food and have to go without — hungry. People who can, donate food to the Social Supermarket in their community. Those who need the food go “shopping”. Sometimes, neighborhoods grow their own food and contribute part of the harvest to the Social Supermarket in their area. Here’s the story: Ingenuity and allotments provide relief in Greece.

Here is San Francisco, we have food centers which do something similar. People who can, donate food, and those who need it, get packages of food that help tie things over, reducing food insecurity.

We posted a TEDxManhattan video about people growing food and donating the extra that they can’t eat to those who need it: Changing the Way We Eat — TEDx Manhattan. It all makes sense!

Scientific American Article: How to Feed the World While the Earth Cooks

Scientific American just published an article: How to Feed the World While the Earth Cooks.

In it, there were a few interesting facts that will help up develop the Cost of Chicken App:

It takes 8 kilograms of feed to make one kilogram of cow, 4 kilograms of feed for one kilogram of pork and two kilograms of feed for one kilogram of chicken. “The number one thing you can do if you care about climate change is cut down on meat consumption,” as Dawn Moncrief, executive director of meat reduction group A Well-Fed World, noted the following day.

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

Living off the land in New York City

Sometimes, food is found in Central Park, right under our feet! Learn how to “live off the land” if you are city dweller — very cool video.

Unstable Food Prices

Heifer International organizes school children in U.S. into buying animals for farmers around the world. When Tim and I were in Middle School, we both participated in Heifer International program and our classes bough many animals for farmer in Africa.

Stephen C. Smith from George Washington University wrote an article for Heifer International: The Triple Threat of Unstable Food Prices … and What Can Be Done About It. The article talks about the causes of recent food price instabilities: energy markets, financial markets, and speculation — meaning the price of food depends on the price of oil, the price of other everyday items and the cost of doing business, and the “nervousness” caused by possible rising prices.

One of the interesting graphs shows in the article is one depicting the proportion of total income families from around the world spend on food. Here’s the graph (you can click on it are go read the article on Heifer International):

Graph of Family Spending on Food

In U.S., a typical family spends 7% of its income on food. But in Kenya, almost half of all the money the family earns goes into feeding the family. It’s easy to see that if the food prices rise fast (and income doesn’t), families can easily go hungry or choose food over school or medical care.

I don’t know if our Cost of Chicken crowdmap can document the fluctuating costs of food around the world, but I see that it is important.

Edible Sensors Let You Know If Your Food Is Spoiled

gold and silk spoil food sensor
Do you know how to pick a ripe watermelon? Our mom hits it like a drum — if it sounds deep and empty, then it’s good. …or not. Sometimes, definitely not good. So now there are sensors that are stuck on the skin of the food directly to tell how far along its ripeness (or foulness) the fruit is! Check out the article from Gizmodo: Edible Sensors Let You Know If Your Food Is Spoiled.