Nerds Tackle Meat Problems at Hack//Meat
This past weekend, meat became the star darling of the Silicon Valley nerd world. Food + Tech Connect, an organization devoted to innovations in food systems, herded together over 250 people from a smattering of fields at Stanford for Hack//Meat -- a 48-hour hackathon intended to develop solutions to the challenges facing sustainable meat production and consumption. Meat gets a bad rap as one of the least sustainable modes of food production in the world, and so we were especially keen to hear what came out out of the event.
24 teams tackled a bevy of problems from food labeling to cheap farmland access to the marketability of grassfed beef's flavor. Prototypes were pitched, and judges including the folks from Niman Ranch, Incanto's Chris Cosentino, and Anya Fernald of Belcampo Meat Co. chose winners to take home $125,000 in prizes. Cash is included in the pot, but the ultimate hope is to bring these ideas into full, functional fruition, so winners were awarded consulting services to help develop their ideas.
Competitors were able to interview farmers and people from the meat industry about problems they experienced, and the results were products that seem to fill some critical holes in a sustainable future in meat. The grand prize went to FarmStacker, a platform compared to AirBnb or eHarmony that helps connect farmers to the land and capital they need. A project called Cow Share With Us won in the Best Business category, offering consumers a way to band together in order to buy whole animals at a time. Buyotic, an app that helps shoppers locate antibiotic-free chicken, took home the Best Social Good award.
And, being Silicon Valley, someone had to make something for Google Glass, Google's new wearable product that basically turns humans into robots (although it lets us keep our feelings). The invention that came out of the hackathon is an application, called Agent Yum, that allows producers to scan food products in the grocery to deliver GMO and antibiotic ratings. It's what you might see if food activists refilmed Minority Report.
Lastly, in the Best Design category, Beefopedia -- a web-based portal that provides encyclopedic education on the qualities of heritage beef -- took home the prize.
While the event originated in New York, everything about it screams San Francisco. Hackathons are what San Francisco does while other cities are trying to figure out how to turn on their Dell computers. Or, at least, that's how we like to feel sometimes. But still, being on such fertile land for innovation where social consciousness around food systems runs so thick, we're surprised there aren't more things like this happening. Let's have more!