TFTC: We met the cohort of Food Innovation Program in Mumbai (July 2018) while they were on FIGM’18 (Food Innovation Global Program) tour. Anusha and Elizabeth are research fellows at the Food Innovation Program and they also run a weekly newsletter called Edible Issues. TFTC and Edible Issues share a similar goal of communicating content about food system and innovation with the world, which got us connected. Here we talk discuss about the food innovation master’s program, and how innovation could help us shape our future.
Let’s start by introducing Anusha and Elizabeth-
Anusha: My background is completely not food related! I studied Electronics Engineering in Chennai and worked in a tech startup before joining the Food Innovation Program. In Chennai, I was part of the startup circle, organizing events and book clubs for founders, enabling them to meet and share ideas.
Why did you switch from engineering to food, is a question I get asked a lot. I don’t see them as disparate things, it’s all interconnected. Engineering taught me how to think in systems and how to see structure when nothing is apparent. I started looking into food out of personal interest and was stumped by how something as simple as food could be as broken as a system. I wanted to look into it closely and study food systems and understand the problem/opportunity areas, which lead me here.
Elizabeth: I Studied culinary arts from Manipal University and worked in hotel and restaurant kitchens. My three years at culinary school enabled me to think and study about food in various aspects, not just presenting food fancily arranged on a plate. For my final year undergraduate research project, I decided to study a food that is considered by many as unimportant and very basic, but for me it is the most powerful valuable food in South India—the Idli. My knowledge and exposure to food systems received a fillip at the fourth MAD Symposium in August 2014 at Copenhagen The following year in June, I was presented the Young Chef’s Grant to attend the Oxford Symposium on Food & Cookery. These events fuelled my enthusiasm to understand food even more, and exposed me to a whole new world. The speakers at both events were from all from varied professions — chefs, designers, students, historians, scientists, farmers — were all rooted in one focus. However different their ideologies and thinking were, they all spoke of their passions revolving around the centre-point of our daily existence–Food.
Motivation to join Food Innovation Program
Anusha: I was curious about food as a system and was trying to wrap my head around all the different issues in the food system. I was looking for a food systems course which was practical, grounded in innovation and global in nature. I came across the Food Innovation Program.
Elizabeth: My travels that I did every year encouraged me to pursue a full year program that would allow me to understand the food system and innovation on a global level that might give me insights on doing things back home in India. I met an alumni of the program in Bangalore (serendipitously) and decided that this program might be the right opportunity.
What is Food Innovation Program?
The Food Innovation Program is a second level master’s run by a partnership with UNIMORE (University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, Future Food Institute (bologna) and Institute For The Future (IFTF), Palo Alto, CA. They also accept students like myself (Elizabeth) as “auditors” whose bachelors degree doesn’t meet university requirements but are keen on pursuing the course as a certificate program.
How is the coursework designed?
The program is divided into three phases:
Inspiration: Coursework in this phase touches upon all the five parts of the food value chain namely – Production, Distribution, Manufacturing, Shopping and Eating. Highly distinguished professors from universities in Italy and worldwide, present their work in related topics. We have professors like Mark Post, Claude Fischler, Daniela Barile etc. to name a few.
Aspiration: These two months are spent on a research trip called the “Food Innovation Global Mission”. This year, we visited 12 cities across the world observing and identifying best practices across four topics – Circular Economy and Sustainability, Future of Proteins, Future of Food Service and Food Care, and Agri Innovations & Smart Cities. Apart from interviewing people and visiting companies, we also participated in hackathons and hosted events, presenting our research along the way.
This gave us a unique opportunity to meet interesting people in their respective fields and understand the contextual and cultural aspects of food.
Perspiration: The program is based on design thinking, a crucial part of Innovation. In this phase we work within a company to solve a innovation related challenge. We start with ethnographic research to understand the users, ideate and prototype solutions to solve the problem, in an embedded fashion.
The cost of living in Italy, life in Italy, tuition fee for the program.
The cost of the program is 10000 Euro. The institute offers full and partial scholarships. The auditors fee is 2000 euro. A minimum of 600 euro a month to live. Reggio Emilia, where the program is based is a small town in the Emilia Romagna region. Bigger cities closer to it are Bologna and Modena. Every town has a unique identity and its fun to explore these cultures and cuisines across the regions.
Could you tell us about the events – Food Innovation Global Mission and other events which are a part of your course.
Food Innovation Global Mission: 2 Month trip around the world
Food is a Conversation: Conversations every week with a food shaper
Maker Faire Rome: https://2018.makerfairerome.eu/en/
Your experience in the FIGM (Food Innovation Global Mission) ?
Nothing prepares you for the learning trip that is the Global Mission. 60 days of living from bags, with each minute an exciting experience. We were pushed out of our comfort zones multiple times, having to present ourselves and our research at various stops throughout the trip. It has definitely helped us shape and evolve ourselves.
This was an entirely new perspective to travel and to get acquainted with the local food culture of a city. Meeting food related companies and entrepreneurs there gave us a feel of the city and its dynamics.
The research itself is different from scientific research in the sense that this is more qualitative and human-centered, which is the essence of innovation and design thinking.
Why Edible Issues?
In the first week of our classes, we were asked where we get food system news from in India. We couldn’t think of a single source and to keep ourselves updated we started browsing the internet and collection information from various sources. We decided to put this information together in form of a newsletter, which is Edible Issues.
Fueled by completely selfish reasons, it is a weekly newsletter of updates in food system & culture — from agriculture to technology, cloud kitchens, investments, cooking, eating and everything in between.
We hope to get readers to think about what’s happening around us in the intersection of food systems and culture, which might create pathways to think about important issues.
Any advice to students aspiring to join the program?
The program is very exploratory in nature and is one of a kind. You will never have the same career path as your classmate here and that’s the beauty of it. Through this, there are great opportunities to meet people and broaden your horizon about the food system in the world, and it’s completely onto us to make use of them.
Ending note- A favorite mantra we have here is, “Dance with ambiguity”. So be prepared for that and just embrace it 🙂
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