Food insecurity is one of the world’s most strange and alarming paradoxes. Almost a third of the total food produced every year is wasted, which amounts to close to a whopping 1.3 billion tonnes. This is when one in nine people don’t have sufficient food to eat and are undernourished. However, a silver lining is, the ponderosity of the problem has not gone unnoticed. The Big Tech have realized the colossal problem of food wastage and food insecurity, and have started working on solutions to alleviate the situation. And here’s a glimpse of what might be the panacea for the food insecurity problem.
As always, the best way to find a solution to a problem is to be fully cognizant of the factors leading to it. The first challenge is concerning logistics. And the logistics with respect to perishable products like food is a different ball game altogether. We need to factor in the shelf life of the food, feasibility of transport, and where what is required when. The first stop here is at food banks and grocery stores.
Research and surveys have revealed that the problem arises due to food suppliers having no means of connecting with food banks that have stock of the food that the suppliers need, and vice versa. Most companies track their food requirements through spreadsheets and there is no system in place that can access, process, get answers from this data and respond quickly. Thus, there’s no simple way for food suppliers to share data about their available food, or for food banks to register their needs. Requirements are circulated by word of mouth and this isn’t exactly the most efficient method. For example, this means that a food bank in your locality might be working with a pantry from another state, while there is one in the next town donating exactly what the bank needs.
To overcome this hurdle, the team at Google – The Google Food Team, is working on a smart food distribution system on the Google Cloud Platform that helps in matching requirements of food banks with what pantries have in excess. Each party can input data about what they require or what they want to donate and through this system, they can get the most optimal match in terms of logistics, effort, and cost.
Not just food banks, this system is being built to work with grocery stores as well. If there’s a product that is close to the end of its shelf life, grocery stores can choose to donate the product and eliminate wastage. So now, if a grocery store sees that it has a 100 cans of yogurt set to expire in 2 days, it can choose to donate a few cans to food banks that are short of food.
But this is not it all. The team is ambitious at getting to the root of food wastage from every aspect, including the wastage closer to home, at the kitchens. The team is in the midst of developing a prototype food identification and categorization system that uses a mix of computer vision and machine learning tools to automatically capture imagery of what is being thrown out. This system is being modelled to suggest smart, safe ways to donate or reuse food surplus. For instance, if the system sees that there is a lot of yogurt being thrown out, it could recommend turning it into a yogurt salad or a pudding based on other ingredients the system knows are in the kitchen or about to be thrown out.
Also, very recently, in the last week of June 2021, Google’s Food for Good team launched a new tool to combat food insecurity and ensure nobody goes hungry. The “Find Food Support” site is a food locator tool powered by Google Maps which people can use to search for their nearest food bank, food pantry, or school lunch program pickup site in their community in the United States. Google is working with several non-profit groups and the US Department of Agriculture, to aggregate 90,000 locations with free food support across all 50 states in the US — with more locations to come.
So yes, we can safely say that a lot is being done to fight against this quandary that’s plaguing the world. Let’s wait it out and see how they work out!