EARTH-AI for London
An AI system that speaks on behalf of the planet and connects Londoners with the world that feeds them.
Lead Applicant Organization Name
Lyan Cub Restaurant
Lead Applicant Organization Type
Small company (under 50 employees)
If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.
Cub Restaurant, Erika Marthins, Augmented Food Studio, MOLD Magazine
Website of Legally Registered Entity
How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?
Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?
Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?
Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?
What country is your selected Place located in?
Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.
I have lived in London for over 10 years. I live here, work here, play here. I make food for people here, I work with producers and bars and restaurants. I host people here. It is my home, and where most of my culinary education has happened, by cooking in restaurants and pop-ups to eating the many different cuisines prepared here by the city’s many inhabitants.
Lyan Cub is a collaboration between zero-waste chef Doug McMaster and Ryan Chetiyawardana, the bartender behind former World’s Best Bar Dandelyan (now Lyaness), Cub brings sustainable cooking and creative cocktails to London. ‘Sustainable living doesn’t have to be about sacrifice and luxury doesn’t have to be about waste.’
Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.
London, the capital of the United Kingdom, is truly a 21st-century city and will arguably be a template for the future mega cities of the next century.
Its history, stretching back to Roman times, is characterised by it being a melting pot of people, cultures, trades, and transformative, world-changing ideas.
It is the Babel of the modern world: the city is home to 9 million people, who comprise 270 nationalities and speak a staggering 300 languages. This mixture of nationalities, ethnicities, and languages is unequalled in Europe.
London is a thrilling, vibrant, fast-paced city, full of culture, power, decision-making, of transience and change. It’s a hub for technological innovation, finance, tourism, education, the arts. It is a place people come in pursuit of better economic opportunities. But it’s also tough, expensive, and challenging to thrive in for many.
Shaped by this, Londoners are excitable, forward-looking, sharp-witted, motivated, resilient. They expect things to be done quickly, conveniently, and efficiently. They are known for coming together whether through times of joy (the Olympics, the marathon, Notting Hill carnival), or grief—recent terrorist attacks.
Londonders celebrate their individual cultural identities and heritage, but also welcome cultures, communities and ideas outside of our own, which is how it’s been for hundreds of years. Moreover, we have that unique, shared identity of being “a Londoner”. It’s difficult to define, but Londoners have an intuitive understanding of what that means.
Nowhere is its diversity, complexity, and world-leading nature more visible than in the food Londoners make, serve and eat each day.
For example, one large London hotel reported that its 450-strong workforce was made up of 60 nationalities: this represents almost a third of all the countries on the earth in just a single hotel!
You can eat the world in London. Think of the different cuisines you can feast on here: a full English in a cafe, regional food from China and India—not just “Indian” or “Chinese”, Jamaican food in Brixton, Vietnamese on the Kingsland Road, Ethopian injera, Syrian pop-up restaurants, Billingsgate fish market, New Covent Garden fruit and veg market, cheese makers, bread makers, butchers.
But little of this food comes from London. And many Londoners no longer cook many of their meals.
Like most large cities, agriculture within London is slight: just 8.6% of Greater London is used for commercial farming. There are a handful of city farms and about 30,000 allotments where Londoners can grow their own produce, but few Londoners are really connected in any way to agriculture.
And this echoes the UK more broadly: it supplies just under half of all the food it consumes. We are dependent on the pastures and producers beyond our shores.
London has a big appetite, but doesn’t make much food itself.
What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)
What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?
Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.
—One of highest childhood obesity rates in EU: >38% of London’s 10-11-year-olds are obese.
—Children in most deprived areas twice as likely to leave primary school obese than those in least deprived.
—Children exposed to advertising of less healthy foods more prone to becoming overweight/obese: yet advertising appears on the transport network that children rely on to go to school/visit family.
—Cardiovascular disease widespread and highly processed foods widely consumed, particularly by those cannot afford healthier options.
—Hard to find healthy food when eating out/shopping, especially for night-and shift-workers.
—People increasingly reliant on food banks.
—GlobalGreenhouse Gas emissions from food production contribute to
London’s poor air quality.
—For every 2 tonnes of food eaten, 1 is wasted: Londoners discard 2.6 million slices of bread each day.
—Food miles are large.
—Excessive packaging is used for most foods.
—Policy changes have limited behavioural changes.
—Through advances over the past 50 years, Londoners have lost the connection with where their food comes from: a 2017 survey of 5,000 British children found that 18% of 5–7-years-olds thought fish fingers were made of chicken.
—London is big, competitive, divisive. People/restaurants that could share ideas, resources, suppliers typically don’t. London’s food system lacks networkedness.
—People increasingly eat alone: ~50% of Londoners were “regularly eating every meal alone” as per a Mintel survey.
—Solo dining suits food industry commercial interests: food industry emphasises convenience and profit, above all else. Meal delivery/ kits create more waste.
More broadly: it is thought that ~75% of Earth's food supply draws on just 12 crops and 5 livestock species. In contrast, 940 food species cultivated by humans are under threat.
Technological advances since 2020—AI, big data, precision agriculture, renewable energy, alt-proteins—promised to solve many global food system challenges. Many have been backed by VCs in search of the next big thing, and food systems have become more efficient and less wasteful.
The pioneering London food strategy program launched by the London mayor in 2019 helped increase the visibility of food matters.
Londoners food tastes have been shaped by newly expanded markets such asMexico, Indonesia and Turkey.
Hi-tech fridges monitor food providing recipes to use ingredients close to use-by dates. Technology-enabled community gardens have been built. Regulatory innovation has seen advances in carbon accounting of food products and carbon credit budgets.
But Londoners still don’t have access to healthy food, don’t understand where their food comes from, and throw away vast amounts of it. And obesity and cardiovascular disease are still rampant.
As meal delivery services have flourished, people cook less and eat alone more. London’s food still is mostly produced outside ofLondon, with little transparency of where it’s from or who made it.
In 2050, we've solved technical problems but disregarded the glue, the human element, in the food chain.
Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.
Londoners are divorced from food systems today: we want to help them rebuild a personal connection with their food.
We want to create a bridge between Londoners and where their food comes from—the producers, the organisms and environments responsible for it growing.
We want to do this by combining the tool that has most profoundly shaped humankind—storytelling—with one that looks set to change the future of the world—artificial intelligence (AI).
We will create a lasting paradigm shift to increase awareness of Londoners of what food is, where it comes from and its value chain.
We will create an EARTH-AI for London. An AI portal that allows Londonders and London—the city that feeds itself with food grown in other places—to see the stories behind their food.
The EARTH-AI for London is a portal where the many foods of London—their past, present, future—are documented, celebrated, connected, made open for learning and critical reevaluation.
Crucially, the EARTH-AI:
Provides information and answers optimised for the benefit of Earth and its ecosystems, and human health, not for short-term profits.
Answers questions about London’s food system. And learns from these questions.
Helps people understand where their food comes from (producers, species, countries, governments, middlemen) and the ramifications of that particular product, say, how the food they choose to buy impacts pollution, soil degradation, water usage, inequitable labour markets, civil wars.
Helps with personal diets by helping Londoners see what food would be good for them to eat, and then where, locally, they could get it from.
Answers questions about how people can get more involved in food and their community, and then connects people with similar interests.
Helps societies protect ecosystems and habitats because of increased food chain transparency.
Fosters relationships between people within communities and across oceans.
Provides governments and stakeholders information on what topics within food people are interested in. Or what resources they need to be healthier, or grow stronger communities.
Helps create a paradigm shift for Londoners relationships with food in collaboration with local businesses, national and multinational businesses, and other organisations.
Can be used as a feedback mechanism: consumers can tell producers that they would appreciate changes in aspects of their growing; London’s council can understand what citizens are interested in.
The EARTH-AI for London tells the stories behind London’s food and fosters relationships between people and their food/food chain.
High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.
With the help of our vision, London’s food system:
—Gives access to healthy food for all Londoners by allowing them to make informed choices, and to affordable food because fewer links between consumers + producers reduces food prices.
—Has reduced diet-related diseases by providing personalised food + diet recommendations, and resources on how to act on them.
—Is more transparent: Londoners have a deeper understanding of where their food comes from, and can make better decisions about if it’s good for them + how much of it to eat.
—Is exciting: the diversity and deliciousness of London’s food is better spotlighted through the portal across the world, creating a feedback loop that improves it further.
—Celebrates its food heroes, producers, cultural traditions, near + far.
—Has encouraged more food growing spaces because people are more engaged with food: London has started growing a greater percentage of its own food! These spaces help bring communities together, individuals to make new friends, make areas safer, and boost people’s physical and mental wellbeing.
—Supports social fairness and economic equality across the world by championing organisations and producers who represent these values.
–Helps protect the global environment by championing the work of those who seek to protect it, and providing accurate information that emphasises choices that benefit the earth and its ecologies over profits + efficiency.
—Informs policy! The AI can provide feedback to the Greater London Authority (local government) about what issues Londoners are most concerned about, and what services might be better funded.
—Creates better technology: the AI can integrate concepts from the circular economy + inclusive design into food systems: data about Londoners and their food interests could be shared with other food technology services and analysed by academic researchers.
—Connects users to other relevant tech platforms + apps.
Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?
What if you could talk to planet EARTH? What if you could ask questions about where and how your food has been produced? Even who produced it.
What kind of resources that it involves and what the supply chain from field-to-fork looks like?
What if you would consider EARTH as a friend instead of a resource to be used (and abused)?
Imagine if the EARTH could tell you what problems it was facing, and where, and how some of your food choices might be contributing to them.
What if it could tell you how you were best placed to help with those problems, to mitigate or even solve them?
Imagine if you could share with it what problems concerned you most, and then it could connect you like-minded folk in your area already addressing them?
Stories are universal in that they can bridge cultural, linguistic and age-related divides. Stories help bring people together, coalesce around a common purpose, abide by a certain set of life rules or morals. And food is humankind’s common language: it’s logical to build commonality around food. In fact, all cultures are characterised by food rituals and habits that bring people together, encourage certain behaviours, and safeguard certain customs.
In our vision food is the medium. Storytelling is the tool. “Earth” (or the earth and places that are the source of the food that feeds London) is the storyteller.
Against a backdrop of people being divorced from food systems, we need to get and hold people's attention, to design the stories we tell for longevity, to design food systems around common purposes and mutually beneficial goals and outcomes (not mere profitability for a few).
In the same way that we need to redesign physical food systems to be regenerative (i.e. to stop damaging the environment and contingent organisms), we need the narratives and stories we create around our food to be regenerative. That is, in tech speak, we need our stories to be sticky!
We need the stories to expand the world beyond people's natural bubbles and echo chambers. We need to design narratives that will ensure that the world develops in such a way that people have sovereignty over their food, have access to healthy food, and the world’s resources are not damaged beyond reprieve.
In a digital world the importance of storytelling is even more critical. The digital world is characterised by the short-term, shotgun approaches, attention deficit, dispersiveness and a lack of cohesion.
Our AI vision will allow Londoners to ask EARTH about their food, where it comes from, who made it. And it will reply with not only short-form answers (such as to a question: “which uses more water to produce: 1 L of almond milk or 1 L of cow’s milk”) but will open up a rich, multimedia and interactive universe connecting to more complex questions (such as “who made my almond milk, where did it come from, and what’s the effect of me buying it?”). From such a question a user might zoom into watching a live stream of the farm in a province in Mexico where the almonds were grown, watch a documentary about recent unrest in that province, or learn about the trip the almonds make to get to London. They might be offered suggested alternatives to almond milk and a recipe: let’s say to make oat milk, using oats grown in Norfolk. Another Londoner recently searched the same question and ended up asking whether they could grow oats themselves in their allotment. The AI could connect the two people. Next season, perhaps, London’s allotments may have a new plot growing oats. Perhaps the new user is also interested in an allotment space but there is none available locally? This data could be fed back to the Greater London Authority and be included as evidence for the provision of more allotment spaces.
Answers will be crafted to be as engaging as possible, tailored to users interests/demographic/previous interactions/dietary requirements, and designed to nudge users towards lasting positive changes in their food habits and rituals. Most crucially the AI will act in a way optimised for the benefit of the Earth and its environment, and for the equitable rights of workers.
Users can dive deep into what their food is, where it comes from, who made it, and the effects that them buying it and eating it could have on the world.
It will connect people with similar interests in their local areas, and those separated by continents and oceans.
It is much more than a simple answering service or an educational service.
In addition to the things highlighted in the question above, our system will:
Document Londoners food interests creating a living archive of recipes and culinary traditions.
Integrate live-streaming from producers across the world to provide transparency and from drones that could observe and protect endangered areas.
Could be expanded and applicable to all large/mega cities of the future.
Better monitor, understand, and prevent the benefits and disadvantages of different food production channels.
Build resilience into our food systems by creating stronger bonds within the networks (food networks, producer networks, neighbour networks, restaurant networks).
Support moves towards more equitable agriculture by increased transparency and closer links between producers and consumers.
Helps create diversity (of crops and of producers and of voices) by providing a platform for producers to be featured on and discovered on.
Champions local investment and spending by curating dietary/ingredients recommendations towards local businesses where such foods/ingredients can be found, and ideas for inspiration from local businesses (e.g. “make this salad like restaurant X does in your neighborhood”)).
In 2050, for Londoners using our AI vision:
A clearer understanding of socio-political and socio-economic issues in the food chain have made them reframe food choice as a realm for exercising and expressing important social values.
They can now make decisions based on these social values about what food rules to observe (meatless Mondays, low-carbon emission foods) based on evidence.
Social consciousness has created empathy for people producing food.
They have become the guides and educators for the food system.
They are helping their communities shape the food system within the context of their social values and nutritional needs.
Using our AI vision, Londoners now feel empowered to be the educators and codesigners of the food system in their communities and of the future. Londoners of 2050 are already questioning and shaping what the food system of 2100 will look like!
How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?
Word of mouth... the old ways are the best ways ;)