Thursday, July 9, 2009

Sustainable Food Ripe for Entrepreneurs to Drive Forward

I just read Rob Smart's article on Huffington Post defining his newly minted term "Pro Food." While "Pro Food" seems a little corny ("Pro" conjures up images of greasy, bulging Mickey Rourke), I like the idea of a more inclusive food movement that embraces the entrepreneurial aspect of changing our food system. After all, if we are to build an entirely new way of growing, processing (yes, some processing is necessary -- I, for one, won't ask Americans to grind their own flour), distributing, marketing, cooking, eating, and talking about food, we're going to need businesses to power that system.

And a decentralized system seems to mean lots and lots and lots of businesses. So as a young farmer-in-training with aspirations to start and run her own business, I really liked the direction Rob Smart was going. I also love his coverage of cool sustainable food ventures. And on first read, I liked the analogy which "Pro Food" to the Internet back in the day.

"In some very interesting ways, Pro Food draws parallels with the early years of the Internet, when it was still isolated from the mainstream in government and university labs. People, especially entrepreneurs, were starting to eye the Internet as something that could revolutionize communications and collaboration, that could democratize things long centralized. At first, they had no idea what was going to stick, but began applying time, energy and money in search of winning formulas."

I still agree with the idea that both movements have the power to "democratize things long centralized" and that in both cases, entrepreneurs need to "apply time, energy and money in search of winning formulas." But after thinking about it, I wonder if there aren't also significant differences (I haven't yet thought all the way through their significance, but here are some preliminary ideas):

-- The current food movement is often envisioned (both correctly and incorrectly) as a "return to the old ways," before the intense industrialization of food that resulted both from the development of synthetic fertilizers, and improved food preservation techniques of the 40s and 50s. The internet, on the other hand was something totally new, and therefore, perhaps, more open and ripe for innovation.

-- A Pro food movement would be a move away from a way of doing things in which people are invested (consumers like cheap meat, Conagra likes profits)... whereas it doesn't seem like there were really any norms associated with the internet and what could or couldn't be done. (Maybe the comparison isn't to the internet itself, but the reaction of the music industry to the internet?)



  1. Your analysis at the end seems fairly spot-on: The reaction of the music industry to the internet is, has been, and for the foreseeable future will be, intense fear and hatred. Until anyone who was in control of the music industry (record label exec, CEO, etc.) before the birth of the .mp3 is either retired or dead, I find it almost impossible that this will ever change.

  2. Yeah, but on the other hand, the advent of the internet has meant that tons of small artists are getting noticed via alternative channels and smaller labels are springing up as alternative to the majors... Not sure how that all works into our analogy, but I guess it'd have something to do with consumers independently discovering small farms and buying directly or through alternative businesses like a CSA or local coop.

  3. How did we get on Music? I talked to lots of those Music folks when I was running tech for Yahoo Music years ago. Derek is spot on. I don't really think it will be a factor in the food industry, however. The problem with Music was that the industry would not take the lead in redefining a legal delivery method so the pirates took over. In the case of the food industry, with the possible exception of Monsanto, intellectual property is not the big issue. It is educating people about eating smaller quantities of higher quality food.