If you’ve ever talked to a computer network engineer about their job, there’s a good chance the topic of conversation will eventually turn to redundancy and resilience.
There’s a good reason for that: computer networks like the Internet need to be adaptable in order to withstand shocks to the system.
Compared with our modern food system, where interruptions have become the norm during our recent pandemic, the contrast is stark. But what if we could build a food system designed to look more like the Internet, where redundancy and resiliency are features built into its core?
That was one of the topics discussed yesterday during The Spoon’s virtual event where two members of IDEO‘s Design for Food team -— Holly Bybee and Rebecca Chesney — joined me to discuss how we could rethink our food system in a post-COVID world.
Much of the conversation focused on how so much of today’s food system is designed for efficiency rather than resilience. According to Chesney, the roots of this focus on efficiency took hold after World War II when “a lot of our focus went to producing as much food as we could as cheaply as possible because people were hungry. “
However, if the pandemic has shown us anything, systems optimized for speed and efficiency often don’t adjust well to changes in the operating environment. In other words, our modern food system is brittle and the stresses of COVID-19 caused it to crack.
So what would a food system with redundancy and resiliency built in look like? According to Chesney, that means thinking of the supply chain as a network rather than one linear line, where efficiency and redundancy are embraced rather than designed out.
One example Chesney gave is moving away from highly centralized meat processing plants that supply meat to an entire region. Instead, we would rely on a network of smaller players that do the same thing.
Now might be just the right time for a rethink of the food system. As Chesney pointed out, the last big redesign for our current system took place during the second World War. Today, with so many of us revisiting and reevaluating how we do business, maybe it’s time to think big and design a system built for the next 100 years.
You can watch our entire conversation below. If you’d like to join us for future virtual events (including next week’s workshop on becoming a food futurist), head over to our Crowdcast page and sign up.