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We Are What We Eat

To make ourselves better co-living habitants on this planet by our actions

Photo of manikanta polisetti
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Lead Applicant Organization Name

Omnis Design Solutions LLP

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.

Shreyas Foundation School, Ahmedabad

Website of Legally Registered Entity

www.studiocarbon.in

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • Under 1 year

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Ahmedabad

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

India

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

India

What country is your selected Place located in?

India

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

My team and I have all grown up in different parts of India. Among the many differences that make us unique, the one thing that connects us is a common thread of a strong culture of food irrespective of the region we come from. An unbroken thread of culture and science has seen the development of complex, holistic and multilayered food systems where people, food, geography and culture are seamlessly integrated.

We have had the good fortune to grow up in such a place just when it was going through the changes of modernisation. This afforded us an opportunity to be a part of the long tradition and at the same time be a witness to the gradual erosion of it.  We believe the knowledge encoded in the food practices of our region are invaluable not only to India but the world. We are interested in exploring how this knowledge, practices can be integrated into our current and future culture around food.

With past experience in studying water systems in India 2 years ago, we started extensively studying water systems across India through deep human-centred research. We started learning more about the impact of water on agriculture, and eventually our food and health, which led us to do a systematic study to understand the relationship of water, food and health in India. The more we’ve looked at this 5000-year-old civilization through our lifetime as well as our design research, the need to learn from its past wisdom and imagine a hopeful future becomes even more urgent

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.

India can be described as an amalgamation of a multitude of experiences. It’s difficult to convey the feel of the place through words alone. The idea of India, not referring to it as a nation but a place of confluence and incubation of various cultures, cannot be captured in a singular narrative. We can describe it as a way of living that developed in this eastern part of the world.  Indian culture is an exposition of a holistic way of life. Here food is intricately woven into the culture and geography of the place.

Every region of India has a food palette specific to that place which is composed of different elements. The food is prepared with locally available ingredients, paired inventively to create a spectrum of tastes. The food here is also very connected to the changing seasons on the subcontinent. The beginning of each season is marked by a festival and food holds a central part of the celebrations. For eg. The festival of Makar Sankranti which marks the end of the month of Winter solstice is celebrated with the sharing of various sweet preparations of sesame seeds whose higher fat content makes them an ideal food for winters. Examples of innumerable such practices around food designed into our culture can be found in the daily lives of people of India.

India is essentially an agrarian society, with over 60% of its population practising agriculture. But the trends are slowly changing. The younger generations are getting education, and building aspirations of moving to cities. By 2050 over 50% Indians of the 1.7 billion people are projected to be living in cities. This new urban, young India aspires for a life it sees through extensive capitalism and popular media. An urban home, a nice car, weekends at theatres or beer bars is where the hopes of the nation’s young are moving. 

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)

3287263

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?

1380004385

Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

The current food system has challenges such as:

- Sensitizing people about the source to plate journey of the food they are consuming
- Shifting people in adopting a diet in tune with their own bodies and surroundings
- Countering the advertisements from packaged food companies to influence people’s choices in the right direction
- Building a strong culture around local and holistic food practices

We also face challenges specific to these sectors:

Environment:
A large scale industrialized approach to agriculture to feed the raw materials for agro-industries releases pollutants and effluents that do long term damage to the environment. Such industries engage in unsustainable use of resources often permanently damaging the local ecosystem of the region

Diets:
Recent years have seen a substitution of local, home-cooked nutritious meals with processed foods made at a remote location. Companies producing such food, market the food to be tasty and enticing which influences people to ask for the same standardized taste. Such food is engineered, designed for the purpose of being addictive to ensure people come back to the same food again and again. This commodification of food has led to people increasingly adopting a less nutritious, unhealthy diet.

Economics: The current economic model and parameters of prosperity measurement treat food like any other commodity ignoring its health aspects. The study of the agricultural produce in the country mainly concerns itself with a select set of major food crops and encourages a standard diet for all people.

Culture: Lifestyle changes have eroded the traditional institution of the family especially in the urban parts of India. People are increasingly living in nuclear families or in single-person households. This has reduced the practice of not only sharing the food table with someone but also the rituals around preparing food. The cultural practices around food such as preparing pickles, home-made snacks are replaced by ready-made items from supermarkets

Technology: The role of technology as an enabler in today overshadowed by the problem induced by it by creating a culture of convenience. Such a culture encourages a fast-food approach and nudges us to make undesirable food choices. Technology companies also misrepresent the real cost of food services by offering them at a subsidized cost.

Policy: Policies keep a check on the quality of food being produced in the country but fail to go beyond the traditional metrics of quality. They fail to capture the intangibles behind food production. For eg. Setting up of sugar industries leading to farmers engaging in large scale production of sugarcane which being a water-intensive crop would affect the local ecology in an adverse manner. On the other hand, government policies encourage setting up agro-industries which produce processed food consumed by the population, ultimately leading to diet based lifestyle problems

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

The challenges presented in the previous questions are symptoms of a systemic problem in the food system. We wish to take a people-driven approach to this problem. We believe the right way to bring about a positive impact on the food system is to work on the demand side of this system. When people’s choices of food are positively changed, it will have cascading effects on other areas of the system.

We are working for the future of food to re-establish the relationship between the final consumption of food to the journey of food before reaching this final point.  By doing this we wish to nudge people into a more mindful way of consuming food by making this journey available to them and enabling them to be an active part of it 

The gap between the act of producing food and the act of consumption is the cause of the disconnect that exists between people and the food they consume. By bridging this gap, we would be able to tackle a majority of the current challenges:

When people become aware of the environmental cost of processed food they will shift towards the more sustainable options for food. This may be done by highlighting the real cost of such products by using metrics such as Virtual water content. This will also nudge people to make healthier choices for food reducing their dependency on other nutritional supplements. 

The approach of making people participate and engage with the production and preparation of the food that they will be consuming will not only make people demand the right practices in food production but also create the missing connection between them and their food. This could be achieved by either bringing the source of food closer to the people, enabling people to play a part in producing food for themselves or by leveraging technology to create a channel for people to engage with their food as it is being produced. 

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.

Imagine this. It’s in 2050. You wake up to a beautiful day. You can still breathe a breath of fresh air. You get up to the news of global warming signs being declared completely safe. You think of the days that were. How Earth dodged the bullet of climate change. How a steady change in consumer behaviour in the early 20s and 30s completely shifted the centre of power in food systems. People became self-sufficient and there was a drastic decline in the consumption of processed and packed food. Corporates rallied, but the demand dictated a revolution.

Now, those people and the generations to follow are reaping the benefits of their decisions. Earth is once more refreshed with life. There is no such thing as a developing country. There is a ‘planetary approach’ driven government that also provides power to the individual. With climate change and food disparity solved, our civilization has evolved into an interplanetary species. Because of the development in self-food technology, arranging sustenance for inhabitants on Mars has become pretty straightforward. 

You get out of bed. You remember how tired you would be before when getting up in the morning. Healthy eating habits have slowly improved productivity. You do a happy dance as you prepare your breakfast. 

You get ready for work. You work as a modern farmer. Generations ago, the family switched from intensive crop production and fast agricultural practices to more traditional practice. The demand for organically grown crops led to a shift in farming patterns. More people started using regenerative practices and permaculture. You go to the local market to get some vermicompost and biochar. You think about how life is better now. You don’t need to worry about low water aquifer levels.You smile as you walk into your sunny farm. Life is good.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

Food is central to all the activities we do. As humans, we have built relationships around food that go beyond nourishment. The current inclination of people in India, especially urban India is to move towards pre-packaged, ready to eat food. The younger population views food very differently from previous generations. Convenience and variety are the two factors that drive the food choices for this new and growing demographic. This is being leveraged by big corporations to further their motive of selling more heavily processed food. The advent of mobile technology and e-payment services has enabled this new food consumption behaviour. The current policies of the region for commerce and industries are also encouraging setting up of large scale agro-processing industries with the view of ushering economic growth, while not being mindful of the effects that this is having on people's food habits. Our vision is to make people shift and to nudge them into a more mindful food practice by making them engage more deeply with the food they consume. 

Ready to eat food dehumanizes the food experience by removing the other actions around it such as choosing the ingredients, cleaning the raw produce and preparing the food. A consequence of this is people consuming food without being aware of its environmental footprint and nutritional value. This manifests in problems such as obesity and food wastage. As much as 50-60% of lifestyle and non- communicable diseases are food-related and yet they are being treated by ad hoc diagnosis based medicines rather than by dealing with the root cause. It is, therefore, necessary to make people aware of the relationship between the food they consume and their bodies, the seasons and the environment.

In 2050 we envision a place where food becomes a part of a larger vision of how we place ourselves with nature. Our relationship with food will not just be restricted to the act of consumption but we would also be deeply sensitive to the cycle of generation and disposal, that are a part of the process. We believe that looking at food from solely a nutritional perspective robs us of the other roles that food can play in our wellbeing. The correct approach is to look at food more holistically and integrate it into our habits, customs and culture more deeply. Each individual should be involved in growing, rearing and harvesting of the food that he/ she consumes, in some capacity or another. This would ensure a world where food is not only respected as a resource, but its significance as a constituent of culture is acknowledged and leveraged for an integrated approach to living. 

Such an understanding of the food we enjoy would be ingrained in every individual, right from childhood through customs and traditions. Knowledge of food, its preparation and sourcing would become a part of formal education for every child before they are taught other higher sciences. Each generation would add to the ever-building knowledge of holistic food practices leading to a movement of advancement in food culture. This would cause major changes to many areas that form a part of the food system. Let’s have a look at some of them.

 

Environments

At one point in human history, we started growing so fast that nature could hardly keep up. It was being used up even before it got time to regenerate. Letting nature run dry like this led to major problems such as pollution and climate change. Currently, GMO is changing the natural world at a faster rate than it has ever done before.

A revolution in food systems would reverse this process, allowing nature to regrow and attain its former glory. Like India, if every part of the world grows and nurtures pride in what food grows locally, the stress on food trade would decrease drastically. This not just reduces pollution due to logistics, but also due to mass production at the source. When indigenous crops are grown in cycles, the soil would remain healthy for years. A vital balance between life forms such as plants, pollinating bees, microbes in the soil, birds and even pests would be achieved. 


Diets

Trying to find one right diet for everyone is foolish. Each body is unique in structure and how it responds to the food we take. Understanding body compositions and personal requirements is important to develop a nourishing diet. Because when it comes to food, one size does not fit all. 

Ayurveda tells us that everyone is different. These differences can be followed under three different body types, namely Vata, Pitta and Kapa. Identifying foods according to these body types can help in treating ailments, and help in keeping the body in balance. Using these principles of Ayurveda, we can identify characters of food. 

As our world becomes more globalized, so do our bodies. Never before have we had access to such a wide variety of cuisines and diets from all around the world. However, our ultimate vision is to let both nature and humans be in-tune with each other. When we consume food that has less virtual water, it inherently means having food that is: locally grown, has lesser additives, is not a GMO and also supports the local ecosystem.


Economics

The economy evolved because of our ability to grow food. The age-old barter system revolved around the exchange of goods for food items, and vice versa. Hence, food and water have always been the focus of our civilisations. Wars were fought for it, and will be fought for it. We believe that by promoting awareness and consciousness about virtual water, we can make a dent in reducing water and food shortages. It will make the global economy more focussed towards a healthy growth of local economies. This decentralization of economy would make regions self-dependant and their economies safe from global depressions.

In the future we envision, farmers’ knowledge would become priceless. They will give rise to a new type of experts called Pharmers, who produce body essentials and medicines. Pharming would become one of the highest paying jobs of the time. Each outgoing school student would have basic training about growing food and pharming. The field would become more mainstream than other sources of medicine. This would dictate a shift in the economy from Pharmaceuticals to local production of food and medicines.

When the public distribution scheme is redefined to serve the economically backward in the country, the same system would take off the burden of producing cash crops and promote farmers to grow a diverse variety of crops. When farmers understand their regional geography and characteristics, they will make informed decisions about what variety of crops to cultivate. This local economy and consumption would reduce the dependence of the system on the global supply of food and water. Local communities would grow and lead to other forms of economics, such as barter systems.


Culture

The future that is envisioned by us, is one which nurtures the growth of micro-communities in an organic manner. These micro-communities will form local social networks that help and develop each other. Our aim is to move away from the “individual” and embrace the thought of the “us”. It is only with “us” that communities are able to be one with nature and grow with it. This sense of shared responsibility helps not just thrive the environment, but also the local culture.

Advancements in technology are inevitable. The idea is to develop this technological ecosystem in such a way that it is conducive to these forms of local cultures. These advancements would give rise to new forms of festivals and traditions. People would have their daily rituals around their environment. Technology would play a part in influencing and eventually becoming a part of the belief system of this form of culture.


Technology

Technology drives our choice of food and influences our health directly. For example, the advent of the refrigerator led to us storing food items well beyond their natural shelf life. It took us away from fresh produce and shifted our mindsets to a more hoarding nature. Thus, it is important to make use of this important aspect of food systems to our advantage.

Technology thus plays a very important role in realizing this food vision. It would be instrumental in advancing the vision, since it is only with technology that we can manage to have a backyard garden in a small space. With technology, we would be able to visualize, show and sensitize the future generations about the consumption of virtual water in food.

In return, the vision would also give back to the world of technology. With food and water problems solved, and the world would set its eyes on the next big thing. New innovations in medicines, body care and life sciences would follow. A decentralized ecosystem would make lives of off-planet colonies very easy. This would further accelerate technological advancements. This cycle would continue, and technology and food systems would continue to grow in symbiosis.


Policy

Sustainability and economic development often don’t go hand in hand. For the food vision to work, policies need to be developed that overlook financial returns and have a conscious thought about the well being of the entire ecosystem. GDP needs to be evolved to include more than the economic development of a country. 

In the future, policies by governing bodies would move away from an anthropocentric approach to a more holistic approach, that benefits all entities present in the system, living and nonliving. Having seen the value in equal distribution of resources through food systems, governments would start prioritizing fair importance to all entities for each decision.

Local communities would give rise to custom policies specific to each region, geography, culture and food cluster. Fluidity in policies would further lead to a growth in such communities. The effect of such governance would spill on to other aspects of society, and would lead to overall progress of humanity.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Email
  • Prize partners
  • Instagram

7 comments

Join the conversation:

Comment
Spam
Photo of Zsofia Pasztor
Team

I would love to connect with your team. We see AI and technology as very important part of our future as well.

Spam
Photo of manikanta polisetti
Team

Hi Zsofia, Have gone throught your submission. Great work. Happy to connect.

Spam
Photo of Zsofia Pasztor
Team

We are putting together a team around Western Washington to make this Vision a reality and sooner than 2050. Smart tech innovations will be part of it and our local university programs are interested in having students join in later on. Would you be able to be a mentor for students? If it is something you are interested in, could you share your email address with us?
Thank you!!

Spam
Photo of manikanta polisetti
Team

Hi Zsofia,
You can connect to me at manikanta@studiocarbon.in

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