On the latest episode of The MIT Press podcast, Robyn Metcalfe, food historian and food futurist, discusses her new book, Food Routes: Growing Bananas in Iceland and Other Tales from the Logistics of Eating.
Even if we think we know a lot about good and healthy food—even if we buy organic, believe in slow food, and read Eater—we probably don't know much about how food 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? In Food Routes, Robyn Metcalfe 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?