The Path to a More Transparent Food System
Most of us have a narrow view of our food system. We only see the produce display in our local grocery store or the plate at our favorite restaurant, rarely finding an answer to questions like “when was this tomato harvested?” or “who cultivated this kale?” This lack of a complete understanding of the food we eat is the result of a purposefully opaque food system, reducing a multitude of complex inputs into a limited array of familiar outputs.
But what if we could take a more holistic look at the food we eat? A more transparent food system would allow us to focus on the qualities of food that directly benefit us such as diversity, flavor and nutrition. With a better understanding of our food’s journey, we can make more informed, better choices about what we eat.
In his seminal book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, author Michael Pollan illustrates the challenge of food transparency by comparing a wild pig roast to a chicken nugget. Pollan praises the former meal for its “almost perfect transparency”:
"Scarcely an ingredient in it had ever worn a label or a bar code or price tag, and yet I knew almost everything there was to know about its provenance and its price. I knew and could picture the very oaks and pines that had nourished the pigs and the mushrooms that were nourishing us. And I knew the trust cost of this food, the precise sacrifice of time and energy and life it had entailed."
The chicken nugget on the other hand “obscures all… relationships and connections” according to Pollan. Its journey from chicken to nugget is intentionally muddied by its creators, glossing over the myriad of unhealthy ingredients and processes involved in its creation.
Unfortunately, the mysterious chicken nugget is a better metaphor for the average food experience than Pollan’s idyllic pig roast. The reality is our food system is broken, eschewing transparency for efficiency and making it difficult for us to make healthy choices.
The quality of produce has suffered due to the lack of transparency in our food system. Fruits and vegetables are now grown for travel rather than taste and nutrient content. They are cultivated using unsustainable monoculture farming techniques, picked before they ripen, and transported for weeks via a supply chain, wasting more than half of what is shipped from farm to table. In his book Tomatoland, Barry Estabrook illustrates this problem through an analysis of the average store-bought tomato:
"According to analyses conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 100 grams of fresh tomato today has 30 percent less vitamin C, 30 percent less thiamin, 19 percent less niacin, and 62 percent less calcium than it did in the 1960s. But the modern tomato does shame it's counterpart in one area: It contains fourteen times as much sodium."
The end result of this opaque food system is “fresh” produce that is anything but fresh, lacking both in diversity of flavor and nutrients. Nutritional value is being traded for superficial appearance and marketability.
Slow to Change
Thankfully, awareness is growing that this food environment has a direct negative effect on our health, a direct result of calls for greater transparency in the origins of our food. More of us want to know where our food comes from - seed to plate. A 2016 Nielsen survey shows that two-thirds of North American respondents want to know everything that is going into their food, with similar results among respondents from other parts of the world.
While the food industry is responding to these demands, their attempts at transparency are not always effective, often creating more confusion than clarity. From questions about “organic” labeling to challenges standardizing the meaning of expiration dates, the food industry still stumbles to provide the transparency that consumers are looking for.
The challenge of creating a more transparent food system is one of the inspirations for SproutsIO. Our indoor growing system brings clarity to the process of growing food, pulling back the curtain on what transforms a seed into beautiful produce.
SproutsIO allows you to monitor the growth of your fruits and vegetables both visually through our easy to maintain and beautifully designed growing device, and digitally through our software and sophisticated plant sensors. You also can control the growing environment, steering your plants towards your own flavor preferences, such as delivering a savory or sweet tomato, to cultivate Personal Produce™ This hands-on growing experience is designed with transparency as its central purpose.
We also strive for transparency throughout our company. From working with domestic manufacturers to partnering with seeds banks sourcing organic certified non-GMO heirloom varietals, we share our commitment to SproutsIO’s absolute quality and positive impact. Our growers also have an open line of communication with our team; we take the time to respond quickly to inquiries and even host live chats to discuss the issues that are important to our community. In order to build an experience around transparency, we focus on these values in everything that we do.
Our goal is to bring you closer to your food, helping you make informed choices when it comes to the food you enjoy and share. Through our uniquely transparent system. SproutsIO makes a deeper connection with food possible, creating a new, healthy lifestyle through Personal Produce™. While the impact of SproutsIO may seem small in one home, when many of us grow with SproutsIO, we have the ability to impact the way our food is produced and distributed, creating a more transparent food system.