The bond between food and the entrepreneurial mindset is strong. Yet there are very few programs which consider food engineering. Find out how the entrepreneurial mindset can help us address why so many people needlessly live in a state of hunger and basic need.
by Pat Kirby, Lecturer, Rowan University
I love food. Since I was young, I have been described as a good eater. Of the basic needs, food is by far my favorite. Maybe this is because my dad is a chef.
Growing up, I would “help” him cater—and eat. This helped instill a lifelong love of food. But what does this have to do with engineering and the entrepreneurial mindset?
I have continued my relationship with food on a professional level as well. Through college, I worked at various coffee/doughnut/ice-cream establishments and then returned to catering to help pay bills. Food also crept into my academic interests. One of my first collegiate projects was a photo-journal for a core humanities class. Alas, my “Food is Life” project is best described as a very rudimentary (and incorrect) photographic Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) of food on campus.
When it comes to food, I'm fortunate. Not everyone has the privilege of enjoying an intimate and easy relationship with food.
Let's get curious.
What trends do we see related to food? There are many data points you could pull. Here are three:
There are issues (and opportunities!) with our food systems. These issues are not limited to supply and demand. There are a myriad of ways we can create value within this subject. So what has already been published on Engineering Unleashed? Below are cards to help connect food systems and innovation in this field into your classes:
Since we interact with food daily, students likely don’t think too much about it. There are very few programs which overtly consider food engineering.
But a casual browsing of some of the most promising start-ups beginning before and during the pandemic will reveal a great deal of opportunity for innovation in the different components of food systems. An increase in college classes and programs connecting curriculum to food systems could increase the rate of innovation in this field.
With obvious issues with our current food systems, we can expect global food demand to double over the next few decades, thereby further exasperating the already underperforming infrastructure on both local and global levels. Non-sustainable practices, common throughout our food systems, make it even less likely for us to account for this increased demand.
Food systems need to be considered as just that: A system.
As would be the case with a brewery, the system inputs and outputs must be considered as well as the necessary control mechanisms to ensure that supply matches demand. Beyond matching demand, we should also consider the quality of the final product.
Complete sustainability needs to be considered to improve and continue to develop the food systems necessary for the survival of our species. Water is vital in the production of food and alternatives can be examined as supply wains in regions important to our food supply.
As students, educators, and practitioners in the field of engineering it is important that we realize that we do not design in a vacuum. Our work finds its way in many different aspects of society from our local communities and throughout our existence. While our work may have broader impacts, a good spot to begin to investigate the impact our work can have is within our own college communities.
To address the complex concerns due to the inadequacies of our current food systems, the metrics on which these systems are evaluated must concern each of the pillars of sustainability, otherwise much will be wasted, and many will continue to be left wanting. This is not fair nor is it the way things should be, as food is a wonderous life partner that everyone should have the good fortune to know.
What is there to be done? We have systems in place that do provide tasty food for many. The issues are that many people are not provided for, and the current systems in place neither lend themselves as long-term solutions nor allow for easy scaling to address our ever-increasing population. Let’s allow for further place settings at the table.
Perhaps the entrepreneurial mindset can provide the scaffolding needed to address the issues with the systems that provide our food. As described earlier there already exists resources to promote the development of more sustainable food systems. We can look to the 3C's of the entrepreneurial mindset to further consider this issue and continue the great work that has already been done and reevaluate in a more complete fashion that which need improvement.
Understanding the needs of those involved with the life cycle of food (all of us, but more so those who find themselves wanting) is more important than evaluating what we can do for the sake of doing.
As an old Irish proverb says, ”Laughter is brightest where food is best.” Let's figure out how to provide smiles first, and then we can move on to laughter.
*European Commission (2014). Impact assessment on measures addressing food waste to complete Swd (2014) 207 Regarding the Review of EU Waste Management Targets. EC, Brussels.
†Cassidy, Emily & West, Paul & Gerber, James & Foley, Jonathan. (2013). Redefining Agricultural Yields: from Tonnes to People Nourished per Hectare. Environmental Research Letters. 8. 034015. 10.1088/1748-9326/8/3/034015.