Thursday, March 12, 2015

Food for thought at Thought For Food

I wrote this post a few weeks ago on the plane returning from Lisbon where I attended the Thought For Food Global Summit. Unfortunately with my various shenanigans, I haven't had a chance to post it, so here it is now (only one month late, because who needs punctuality anyway):

When we got an email last October from the organisers of a conference in Lisbon offering to fly us and our parents to Portugal, I'll admit, I was puzzled: it was an awful lot of expense to go to for three girls from Ireland. It wasn't until I arrived at the Thought for Food challenge that I realised, this was exactly where we needed to be.

The Thought for Food Challenge is a competition open to all those interested in doing something about the increasing problem of the food crisis. Business teams are invited to develop and launch an innovation which might contribute to making the world more food secure. This year, the final of the challenge took place in Lisbon along with a two day conference where intellectuals and experts in the area of food security debated the problems we are facing their solutions, with one big question hanging over us all: 'how do we feed 9 billion people by 2050?'

I got the unique opportunity to really broaden my view of the possible solutions to the food crisis by attending workshops including a focus group on the marketing and ethics implications of synthetically produced food. Synthetically produced food is kinda like food that has been 3D printed- remember a few years ago when they '3D printed' the first burger, so it hadn't really come from a cow? The man who ran the workshop was the mastermind behind that operation: an example of the calibre of people at TFF. He explained how he went about creating his innovation, from the collection of the protein sample, to it's replication, to historically serving it up on television to a panel of renowned culinary experts. The group at the workshop then discussed the ethical, political, social and environmental difficulties of commercialisation of the process. Hearing perspectives from many different demographics during this debate made me realise something very important: with every great new discovery comes multiple 'wrinkles' as we progress into this fast moving age of innovation. This doesn't mean we shouldn't move forward - simply that these must be carefully considered and thought through.

But of course, this trip to Lisbon wasn't completely free - we had a job to do too! We were invited on stage (which, on a side note, was made of cardboard, and that was cool) to share our journey with the attendees and give our own opinions of the food crisis, a truly unique and unforgettable experience, especially when I accidentally called the audience old!

 To finish, the finalist teams pitched their ideas to a panel of judges in a bid to win the grand prize of $10,000 seed money to help their concepts become a reality. It truly was a close call, and the judges had some tough decisions to make. At the end of the day, InnoVision was announced as the victors (like the hunger games- double pun), for their approach to food storage which gives farmers an alternative to the use of toxic chemicals in preserving their produce. The night ended on with some great celebration as we danced the rest of the night away with the TFF competitors!

We also were lucky enough to get the chance to see a bit of Lisbon, a beautifully historic city, and we had a great time on the tram!

I write this quite contentedly on the plane home from Portugal before catching another flight out to Manchester immediately afterwards on a 'personal holiday' to see some friends I made last year at the London International Youth Science Forum! One thing I do need: a frequent flier membership.

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