Philly Tech Week: The Free Library Hosts "A Side of Tech: How Technology Influences Local Food Practices"

Aesha Desai, for GPA -- On the panel for Philly Tech Week's "A Side of Tech: How Technology Influences Local Food Practices," presented at the Free Library's central location (1901 Vine St.) were esteemed guests of Nic Esposito, an author and urban farm advocate from Philadelphia, gathered to discuss how technology complements the efforts to bring about a healthy, socially inclusive and sustainable food future.

The panelists included Mark Headd, the city's chief data officer, Amy Laura Cahn from the Garden Justice Initiative, Paul Steinke, the general manager of Reading Terminal Market and Kelly Kerrenkol from the Vetri Foundation. Each of the guests had a story to share about how technology influences local food practices.

Headd believes that with the use of data technology, fresh food can be accessible to any city resident. One example of this potential is, a center piece of the city's data and a tool that people should take advantage of they find themselves awash in a sea of data, as it can direct users to any information of their interest.

Data can direct people to fresh local produce available at places like Reading Terminal Market. Steinke mentioned that Reading Terminal Market still functions on 19th century technology and some independent, small businesses still only accept cash. However, technology has increased awareness and more people are coming through the doors.

On top of making sales and supporting local farmers, Kerrenkol voiced a concern for making sure food that is purchase is safe to consume. She works with school cafeterias to provide healthier choices for kids and advocates healthy food portions that are fresh and not reheated from pre-made packages. However, technology influences schools to choose the pre-made packaged foods because there is a reassurance that the food they are serving is safe. In order to eliminate any chance of students falling ill from cafeteria food, precooked and reheated meals are the more logical decision. Whereas fresh local food is the healthier option, there are concerns that the meat may be undercooked by school employees or the produce may carry bacteria. 

Local food practices are hard to maintain and sustain, so legal support is pertinent to overcoming the many logistical barriers. Many gardens don’t have land sovereignty, meaning owners may not have access to land for the long term in addition to issues like space availability, land and water access and contamination. Cahn helps people to attain legal support, directs them to available space and works on trying to eliminate the various barriers for them.

The panel emphasized the power that technology has to create effective food production and distribution. Even though there are negatives associated with the integration of technology, like genetically modified food and the use of artificial preservatives, innovations in mobile technology, the internet, big data and other sources of communication have greatly increased the availability of information. People are more informed than ever and willing to try new things when it comes to technology because the world is getting smaller and what was once foreign is no longer a mystery. 

Photo courtesty of The Free Library.