How we improved food transparency in one day

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Have you ever doubted your food? Have you ever questioned whether the organic tomato that you bought in the grocery store is actually organic? And what does organic mean after all? According to a Canadian study, more than 45% of all organic vegetables contain pesticides and 1.8% violated Canada’s maximum allowable limits for the presence of pesticides – for non-organic produce.

Food + Future, a Boston-based organization, mixes data, science, art, design and technology with a deep understanding of food to create a greater transparency in the food system. In March, they invited food enthusiasts from various backgrounds to participate in a make-a-thon at their Boston headquarters. I was one of them and the Department of Technology Management and Innovation and the Greenhouse @ Makerspace sponsored my participation.


The make-a-thon’s prompt was tailored around the “Illuminate” product, a spectrometer that can determine exactly how nutritious a vegetable is before you buy it. Imagine a world in which you pay per nutrient instead of per pound of produce. The participants’ task was to create a new product based on the existing technology that would have a market in a world in which everyone uses Illuminate to determine the freshness of produce.

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We broke up into groups of 4 to 6 people and started to generate ideas. The brainstorming period was centered around the question “How might we…?” that facilitated an open approach to ideas and enabled us to iterate on existing concepts. We spent the entire morning developing and improving our ideas.

Several times during the day, we came back together to listen to presentations about different methodologies we could use. One presentation focused on the design thinking process which centers around matching people’s needs with technological feasibility to create market opportunities. Later we learned about the power of storytelling and how a story could make our product pitch more interesting. Additionally, our team was accompanied by a coach who helped us transfer the theory into practice.

During the afternoon, we concentrated on the most promising idea and developed a more detailed concept. Many groups left the building to interview potential customers on the street and get feedback on their ideas. Prototypes were built and business models created. A couple of hours of intense work ended in a “science fair” during which each team pitched their project to the other teams. Finally, every participant voted for a winner.

Winning, however, was secondary. We learned a lot about the various methodologies and paths towards innovation. Personally, the most valuable part of the day were the people I met during the make-a-thon. I got in contact with experts in food regulations, restaurant entrepreneurship, food analytics and agriculture. Together we worked on ways to make our food system more transparent and to improve the quality of food that is available to us. I’m glad that I had the opportunity to meet such extraordinary people and participate in this event.

Jonas Günther
MS Management of Technology, ‘18

Jonas is the head of the Food Computer team. The Food Computer project received the NYU Prototyping Fund I & II. A Food Computer is a controlled-environment agriculture platform that aims to produce more sustainable and higher quality food. His participation at the Food + Future Makeathon was sponsored by the Department of Technology Management and Innovation and the Greenhouse @ Makerspace.