Photo by Keith Weller, USDA

Hacking Sustainable Diets

Hacking is gaining unauthorised access to information. It could be difficult to access because the information is owned by someone who wants to protect it. Alternatively, it could be very elusive, a very difficult problem when the access is denied not by someone, but by our limited capacity to understand and figure out a problem. Consider the question: how far do bees fly around looking for nectar? in other words, how is pollination distributed in space? Bees wont tell us just by asking, we need to device ways of gaining that information (to hack nature) and better understand the benefits that bees create for us. In order to manage pollination and improve conservation strategies, we need to hack the secrets of bees. Broadly speaking, hacking is also about solving complex problems, it involves discovering or re interpreting information under different lenses with a purpose.

The problem we want to hack is: What is a sustainable diet? The honest answer is we don’t know, we haven’t figure it out how to distinguish a sustainable from an unsustainable diet. Although there is a heated debate between different belief systems (e.g. organic, fair trade, minimalistic diets such as raw, primitive diets, or cultural preferences), there is no agreement on what a sustainable diet looks like, or what would be good proxies of sustainability when it comes to food production and consumption beyond market instruments and fashion. A hackathon fulfil two purposes: gathering people around a problem, but also redefining a problem by discussing it. Even if we don’t reach a definite answer, discussing the problem transforms our own perspective of it, sheds light on how others interpret it, and collectively develop a shared understanding. A hackathon in that sense is not limited to programmers, but it is open to whoever has interest on discussing and generating ideas for sustainable solutions.

This project is not funded, but colleagues of mine from the SARAS institute are taking these ideas forward trough workshops and transdisciplinary initiatives. See for example my blogpost here. If you are interested on collaborating of funding this type of initiative, please drop me a note.

Juan C. Rocha

Juan investigates critical transitions: from regime shifts in ecosystems to collective action in society.