Real Food Campaign Labis creating Tools for Transparency in the Food Supply
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You think increasing nutrient density in our food supply is as important as a Hulu subscription (w/ ads) or one family outing to Chuck-E-Cheese. If .001% of the population of the US cared as much as you, the entire lab would be run by the people, for the people. You rock!
You get it - big time and long term. You think understanding and eventually measuring food quality is as important as paying a premium for organic food or taking a vacation once a year. That's not small potatoes (haha). But you're willing to put your money where you mouth is (haha again).
BTW you get to send us a sample a month that we run for minerals (Na --> Pb) - soil or food! Maybe it's kale in your garden, or soil in your back yard, or those carrots you buy but want to know more about. So that's cool too!
We are researchers and tech developers trying to figure out which carrot at the grocery store is more nutritious, why it's more nutritious, and how to measure 'nutritious' in the first place. Of course, it's not just about carrots - we’re interested in the nutrition of all farm produce, but it’s a nice starting point.
“Ohh surely we know the nutritional value of a carrot… Even Google knows the nutritional value of a carrot!,” you say after a simple web search.
First - we’re researchers, we love skeptical. Skeptical is good :)
Second - yes... you found an average carrot... from a handful of samples… and a few stores... in the early 2000s... probably collected by the USDA. While it is better than nothing, that data doesn’t answer our question. So we ran a survey of 532 carrots from stores, farms, and farmers markets all around the country in 2018.
So let’s compare potassium values (something carrots are known for) across that data and our data:
Potassium levels in carrots:
USDA’s ‘average’ carrot: 3,196ppm (195mg/61g carrot)
2018 Real Food Campaign survey low: 5,252ppm
2018 Real Food Campaign survey high: 91,230ppm
That’s 30x variation from best to worst. That means you’d need to eat 30 of the worst carrots to get the potassium of just 1 of the best carrots. Even with noisy and imperfect data (we can geek out on that later), that’s a big deal! We found similar levels of variation in antioxidants, calcium, and other minerals. We’re pretty sure-- based on a lot of time calibrating, error checking, noise estimating, and general purpose head scratching-- that this isn’t a fluke.
So you might be trying to eat nutrient dense foods... but the actual nutrient density of any given piece of produce is a toss up.
PATREON LETS YOU GET INVOLVED
We really want to learn more about nutrition in our food supply, or better yet, build a device that would make it available in real time in stores and on farms.
We’re totally on it (more below about the Bionutrient Meter)… but this is R&D. It’s hard, time consuming, and prone to failure.
This Patreon is about keeping our work moving forward and driven by you, the makers and eaters of food. Right now, the Real Food Campaign (RFC) is directly supported by the Bionutrient Food Association with a wide range of partners including farmer groups, companies, and universities. They are all amazing, but they are not you. They get distracted, “shift strategic directions,” lose their funding, or just plain old run out of money.
You, dear makers and eaters of food, don’t get distracted - you have to eat and make food every day. The benefits to you of our work won’t disappear tomorrow: more nutrient dense food in the grocery store is better for you, your kids, your friends, and your neighbors -- today and forever.
Some people even think focusing on nutrient density could drive farm practices that result in healthier soils, improved agro-ecosystems, and increased carbon sequestration in soil. Through the RFC, we could actually figure it out.
You are the reason we’re doing this, and we want to make sure we are aligned with you. The best way to do that is to give you a space to help support us, and give us the space to report and talk to you. No middle man, no organizational filter.
MORE ABOUT WHAT WE’RE UP TO
We (the RFC Lab):
- develop and manufacture a prototype tool to estimate food nutrition,
- run a nation-wide survey to measure nutritional information in crops, and
- work with partners to deep dive into data and questions they have about food, soil, and human health (more info on all of that).
All that work is us trying to figure out three basic things:
- How much variation in nutrition is there in a given crop? Turns out, based on our 2018 Final Report, it’s really high!
- Why does nutrition vary? Is it due to management practices (organic, conventional, regenerative, etc.)... variety... weather... soil... development of the plant... something else?
- Can we help consumers and farmers 'see' nutrition? And thus be able to make better production and purchasing decisions based on that data.
And we’re doing it T R A N S P A R E N T L Y (see what we did there :)), ie open data, open source tech, and transparent processes.
Why? Because we believe it’s really important that information about our food system is public and accessible. This way the public won’t be fooled by hucksters or self-interested companies or just bad/old information and everyone can make the best purchasing decisions for themselves and their family. We’d like to avoid Cambridge Analytica and Theranos-type failures in our food system data.
WHAT YOU CAN EXPECT TO GET
We are new to this so things may change as we learn what we’re good at (or not), but we plan to produce three outputs:
- Fun and informative videos about what/why/how we work plus discussions with interesting partners... partner labs, international collaborators, soil experts, and farmer-scientists.
- Blog posts from us and our partners... nerdy details, useful fails, and techy goodness as we iterate on our current and future bionutrient meters.
- Reports of major findings... thorough enough to be defensible and a bit boring, but well summarized enough to be readable and useful to anyone (like the one we published in 2018…we’ll try harder on the readability part in 2019).
All of our content will always be public... so no special videos or behind the scenes for being a patron...but besides the satisfaction of making a better world for the next generation, there are more perks to the higher commitments levels, so go check them out (see sidebar!).
WHAT WE DO WITH YOUR MONEY
Most of our income goes directly towards the food/soil survey, which is the most expensive part of the what/why/how do we more easily measure nutritional variation in the food supply. These expenses are:
- About 75 dollars to measure 2 soil samples and a food sample (full test set), and it’s about half consumables (chemicals, the occasional dropped piece of glassware, etc.) and half labor, and a little bit of postage. In 2019, we are targeting 4000 samples, so that’s $300,000!
- We also organize 50+ volunteers all around the country to collect and send us samples, which takes quite a bit of time and effort.
- Finally, it takes us a few months to analyze the data, manage partnerships with universities and others who want to collaborate.
We also make other tools (like the Bionutrient Meter and other things in the future)... but this Patreon campaign is not about getting a tool. It’s about finding people who share our passion regarding food quality and who get that the answers won’t show up overnight wrapped in a bow. Shiny object chasers should go elsewhere (try flying cars, fusion reactors, and my personal favorite - next gen algae biofuels).
While sometimes the survey feels like a money pit… in reality, the lab is the engine which is required to drive big ideas like understanding variation and creating a tool to predict it. We could try to get investors to fund it all, but then we’d have to keep the data secret and make a patented widget to measure nutrition, and that’s just not good for anybody.
NOW COMES THE EASY PART
Well, we’ve exhausted the arguments, explanations, caveats, and justifications and yet you’re still reading. So if this all sounds pretty reasonable it’s time to go do your part (give a few bucks a month) so we can do our part (making our food more nutrient dense).
Together, we can make the world better one carrot at a time :)
PS - THANKS TO THE BIONUTRIENT FOOD ASSOCIATION
The BFA not only organizes the funding for the RFC but also identifies key partners, provides expertise and feedback, and initiated and drove the discussion which produced the RFC itself. We couldn’t do what we do without the BFA’s support and community building. So thanks!