Food, environment, and digital culture

Of all the current imbalances in the world, perhaps the most accentuated, serious, and absurd is the large amount of food that is thrown away every day along with the enormous amount of people who go hungry. Millions of tons of food are in the garbage and millions of people with serious nutritional problems. In the middle, is a hole of inaction that can begin to close through some decisive contributions from different initiatives linked to digital technology and, evidently, with governments supporting and sustaining programs and developments of this type.

So urgent is the need for answers to this problem that many of the initiatives that have been underway for some time are framed within a specific concept: the internet of food or food tech. The first one arises from the macro-concept of the internet of things but there are people who consider it inaccurate because not necessarily (or not only) an internet connection is needed for this type of development. That is why the second term, food tech, arises, which encompasses all the advances in both connectivity and new digital technologies that can be useful in reducing food waste figures at all stages of the chain: from the harvest itself to the moment it reaches the home for consumption. The goal is to achieve maximum sustainability within the agri-food industry to care for the environment and reduce as much as possible the gap between those who have nothing to eat and those who have plenty to spare.

Zero hunger is one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals for the 2030 Agenda, specifically number 2. In order to raise awareness through technology, the online platform Hive Minds has emerged, designed in an interactive way through a game that can be downloaded or enjoyed online, and which seeks to consolidate itself as a playful device for the debate and problematization of all the global mega-trends on sustainability. One of them is food, duly categorized within this game and within which are included some concepts that integrate its extensive glossary with 170 terms: fair trade and KM 0 products, food waste, crop diversity, alternative diets, or eating disorders, among others.

Tomás Guido, leader of #plantauno and promoter of the project, intervened in the round table From the bottom up and added that Hive Minds “wants to be a tool to think and build maps that allow us to align our projects as cultural managers in a context of sustainable development goals.”

Plastic production has increased by 620% in the last 30 years. 90% of the waste generated by the world of food is not used. Every day more than 720,000 kg of food are thrown away in Catalonia alone, equivalent to 260,000 tons per year and which, if not discarded, would be enough to feed 500,000 people for a year. In this context and with these overwhelming figures is that the link between digital technology and food sustainability is one of the fundamental pillars of Digital Ideas. That is why many of the activities organized address the issue from different angles. In the round table Emotionalizing in the digital world, for example, participated Ignacio de Juan-Creix, founder of the innovation company Plat Institute works around the concept of augmented gastronomy, i.e., in R&D development initiatives for food. There he referred to the disruptive conception of innovation that they use in all their projects: “We use art to ask questions and design to find solutions”. One of the initiatives promoted by Plat Institute is Foodture Barcelona, a platform for the exchange of innovation projects around the design and development of sustainable food technologies, in which artists, designers, startups, inventors, companies, or brands that wish to share disruptive projects converge.

Another project that goes along the same lines as the above is the exhibition Remix El Barrio, organized at the Disseny Hub Barcelona building in 2021 and which is part of this concern for food waste. For two months, artworks and design pieces made with biomaterials from food waste were the protagonists of this initiative with which MATERFAD, the Barcelona Materials Center, set out to disseminate knowledge in the field of technologies linked to recycling. The exhibition nested innovative practices linked to neo-craftsmanship that uses food waste as raw material: olive and avocado pits, coffee peels, vegetable and fruit skins, or leftovers from restaurants. And it was part of a pilot program in which several designers learned techniques on the design of biomaterials and explored projects with food scraps using artisanal techniques and digital fabrication.

Back to the field with digital initiatives       

The rural sector in Spain is the epicenter of so many contemporary debates, some of them based on commonplaces about the hackneyed concept of “empty Spain” that contribute little or shed light on the subject. Fortunately, digital technology coupled with the proactivity of many cultural entrepreneurs give the field the right framework to think about their problems seriously and make fundamental contributions to a strategic area of the economy and key to the care of the environment. Digital Ideas seeks to be a meeting and exchange space for many of these experiences.

The artist Solimán López is the creator of OLEA, a project that consists of the production of a new olive oil in which the code of a cryptocurrency synthesized in the DNA of the product has been inserted. In this way, a new liquid is obtained through which NFTs, sculptures, audiovisuals, and installations emerge, that is, an unprecedented universe of creative possibilities. The goal is to turn OLEA into the first cryptocurrency for olive oil transactions and to develop a second stage of this project and extend it to other sectors of the food industry.

By uniting biotechnology with cryptocurrencies, OLEA represents a novel conceptual look at contemporary art by proposing a connection between two historical economies: cryptocurrency and agriculture. And it does so from olive oil, a millenary and fundamental product within the Mediterranean culture, which represents a fluid symbol through which a space for social reflection is generated.

And if OLEA means a return to the countryside through one of its emblematic crops, El Cubo Verde is constituted as a network and a space that tries to bring together artistic initiatives related to the rural world: artist residencies, exhibitions, and agroecology projects. The common denominator is not only to return to the countryside but to do so by questioning and promoting alternative ways of belonging to this habitat through artistic practices.

And if we think of rural environments, the idea of the garden is closely related not only to the countryside but also to the city itself, where the garden acts as a kind of refuge. Garden Atlas was born as a platform, with the idea of linking landscaping and nature in urban environments. It allows editing content about urban gardens without the need to be a landscape or botanical specialist, visualizing them in an intuitive way, encouraging the exploration of urban vegetation, and making gardens and their activities known to the community. In this way, there are projects of private domestic gardens and large historic gardens of great heritage and natural value, all from a reflection on the effects they cause in a city and in the bodies of human beings themselves.

The food crisis in the context of climate change is a cross-cutting theme in all disciplines. And, as we have seen, digital culture is not on the sidelines but, on the contrary, feeds a large number of projects that are not only born from creative abstraction but are also accompanied by applications and purely practical solutions to achieve a more sustainable and just environment for human beings.


By: Laureano Debat