Transforming food systems in post-crisis Greece (Conversation with Pavlos Georgiadis, part one)

The Challenge: 

The Question: 

How does a story behind food system change the way we consume it?

The Problem: 

Refugee catering, food waste, lean economics, sustainable agriculture

The Solution: 

Social businesses

Channels: 

It was a long, very interesting talk with Pavlos.

We started with the reason why our meeting was delayed - and that was the first narrative of care I found in this hour-long discussion.

The reason was food, or to be more precise - Maiolica, a new restaurant in Sifnos. Georgiadis has been involved with his company "We Deliver Taste" (http://wedelivertaste.com) in consulting the place, crafting the menu, making it local, affordable, Mediterranean. Their consultancy for food businesses connects small producers from all over Greece, trying to change the hospitality landscape in the country. Part of the idea is to tell people about the ingredients, the element of storytelling, which changes customers' relations to the product, and the gastro-landscape of the country.

Pavlos is an ethnobotanist and for 12 years he devoted his career to science, researching for his Ph.D. in Thailand and China. He left this path four years ago to invest time and energy in agrifood and environment - the brainchild of this transition is We Deliver Taste, a company that investigates the food system, from seed to stomach, in which he was joined by two Italians and a Czech. They are not only interested in the processes that bring the food to our tables, but also in the cultures surrounding it, especially the Mediterranean dining customs and love for good food. In one of the side projects, funded by Horizon 2020, they're also concentrating on reforming the digital aspect of the food business by preparing pilot, open data systems, tools and applications that will make the path from the farmer to the customer/industry (hospitals, hotels) more clear, while at the same time keeping people informed and educated about the content of their plate. 

By this multilayered, multifaceted enterprise Pavlos wants to change the paradigm. He believes that if the way we think about the time and space of food, meaning the time spent on preparation, growth, the human experience of food, it will have an impact on climate resilience, climate justice, biodiversity, water and soil conservation and will boost regenerative economies in rural areas. 

Pavlos targets people in their 50-ties and 60-ties, those who have access to power and money, and believes that educating and informing them is crucial to driving the change. He consciously chose to become part of the market, be open for collaboration with government, and get involved with huge public procurement systems because he thinks demonizing the market is wrong. And because there is a dire need for change there. After years of scaling and working for their position, We Deliver Taste are now in serious talks with important actors. 

On a smaller scale, there is an idea of creating an edible dish which could be used in the refugee camps. It's not that the idea is brand new, there are some Indian startups that have crowdfunded and done it already - but it's that importing such a product would be counterproductive. Instead, Pavlos wants to recreate the whole system necessary for producing such a dish - an industrial designer who'd made the moulds, a baker, ideally struggling to survive in the market, a flour producer, etc. 

He also dreams of a website that would accompany this project. One could see there how much profit it created for the parties involved, work saved on waste management and how many refugees it catered. Besides, he wants to create a crowdfunding campaign to donate money to biodegradable plastic producers in Italy, who'd, later on, provide their product to the refugee camps in Greece. The stake is huge - 60.000 refugees, 2 meals a day, which makes a 100.000 dishes a day, and it will happen for years as maybe even a half of them will stay in Greece for longer. That would fix the existing problem of waste and even produce compost in large communal digestors to feed the organic agriculture and parks. 

"We have to enter this market fast and with confidence right now. There is not much time for discussions - it's somehow already too late". 
 

The second part of the discussion coming briefly. 

Comments

"demonizing the market is wrong" :-)

Noemi's picture

Lovely to meet you @Pavlos, and welcome to Edgeryders!

I look forward to reading more, as Natalia is now paiting us a picture of you doing consultancy in an ambitious way that incorporates incentive systems - targetting those with "access to power and money". That seems different from the other approaches we heard about, for example foodsharing by intentional communities and building grassroots movements - see @Paul_Free's story from Berlin entitled "Gifteconomy". The difference I see (again, look forward to learn more) is that you are looking at this as if you are providing a service for a market, instead of building it bottom up. Does it work for you so far? Can producers and others in the food chain participate at their own initiative or does it depend on someone selecting products for distribution or connection with businesses?

 

Provide a service for an Agora

Pavlos's picture

After researching and working for several years with small scale, artisanal farmers and grassroots communities (ie. Slow FoodARC2020) our team at We Deliver Taste decided to bring a transformative process into the market, because it is the markets that need to change. Our vision is to bring more transparency and education in food supply chains and the market, thus empowering all actors involved to become real game players. New technologies and open data systems are proving to be really strong allies, allowing for more personalised service, more market awareness and more efficiency, without having to sacrifice the taste quality and cultural story of food and its territory, in the name of "competitiveness". 

The producers we work with are the real actors at the bottom. If they provide us with the right tools to work (eg. good quality, nutritiouts ingredients), then we are able to pass them over to talented chefs, who become themselves storytellers of these foods and their territories. We believe that this is a trully bottom-up process, where we as supply chain managers become the facilitators of this process.

Our clients (from small family businesses to large companies) like this approach very much, because they understand that from one side there is more public awareness, on the other there is no much skill in the market to support this transition. Maybe it is true that we "provide a service for a market", but it is also true that we see the "market" as an "Agora" which is not merely a space for economic transaction, but rather a place for participation and dialogue. Connecting conscious consumers with the stories of responsible producers is proving to be very strong. It just happens to sell well, too, so we as researchers don't necessarily have to find a job for a large multi-national agrifood company, but rather try to provide incentives for us, our clients/friends and make the system work for everyone.

In terms of criteria for selecting producers, thay are not really imposed by us, but rather suggested by the principles of agroecology, organic farming, social enterprising, family enterprise, with know benefits to the food market, "from seed to soil".

Agora for market. storytelling for brand development

Noemi's picture

I asked about the work with producers because it's not obvious from your website - which looks more like a pitch to clients.
Very interesting, this bridging. I think I understand it, thinking too at how Edgeryders the organisation interfaces with clients and community as a facilitator. You operate under a novel model that respects market principles, but at the same time innovates in rewiring dynamics between traditionally disconnected stakeholders. And if you guys know how to package the story of localized food and taste, well you surely must be already riding this new market. 

"From seed to stomach"

Tiago's picture

Hi @Natalia, Hi @Pavlos ! Nice to meet you guys!

It's a very interesting example and above all: it feels like the people / farmers / industry / market / government / processes are accepting these kind of changes. Do you believe such initiative could also work in an another contexts? In other words, in which different contexts are you working on? (countries, urban vs rural, etc). 

Also it was mentioned in the post about looking at the system "from seed to stomach". Wouldn't the whole cycle be "from seed to compost"? And in this sense, are you also focusing into human :-)proteins:-)waste management?

 

From Seed to Soil

Pavlos's picture

Most agencies/companies/communities etc, use the rather industrial/reductionist term "from farm to fork", thus missing two important aspects: "from seed to farm" (eg. biodiversity) and from "fork to stomach" (eg. digestion/human health & nutrition"). I totally agree with the exciting proposal "from seed to compost/soil", as this would really close the loop (eg. recycling).

When designing menu concepts at We Deliver Taste, we have an acute focus on human digestion. This doesn't only have to do with the quality and transformation of ingredients (ie. the way a pasta dries influences the survival of certain enzymes that are beneficial to digestion and energy conversion in our body cells), but also taking into account different physiogeographic elements that are related to the kitchen (ie. how does temperature of the type of water in a certain location affects digestion)? When talking about "food waste" we usually focus on poor post-harvesting technologies, market anomalies, food choices, etc. But what if we extended our view at the molecular level of our food consumption, for example, how do our food choices affect our organism's ability to digest and thus convert energy for moving our muscles and brains? Looking at the modern, industrialized food systems, the biggest food wastage happens inside our bodies.

Prototyping in the physical/cultural/digital/logistical aspects of the food supply chain, bringing transparency and education in the food supply chain -both locally and internationally- is, in my opinion, a very, very potent tool in improving wider social/political problems. Maybe because food occupies the largest share of the global economy, so any change has considerable impact. Or maybe because people just connect!

Once this happens, when cities start looking at their supply chains in terms of an "urban metabolism" (ie. energy/food going in and out) then we can start designing supply chains that connect the urban with the rural in equal terms.

So the Edge of #FoodWaste is molecular consumption.

Noemi's picture

Brilliant!

Make or buy

Alberto's picture

Wow, interesting. But here's what I don't understand (and hopefully @Pavlos can help me here): 

Pavlos wants to recreate the whole system necessary for producing such a dish - an industrial designer who'd made the moulds, a baker, ideally struggling to survive in the market, a flour producer, etc.

Why do you think this is better than importing? If this is a value chain that can efficiently deliver the dish, a small (social) advantage can be had by locating it in Greece rather than India, but at the end of the day everybody else (Italians, Germans, Austrians...) would still be importing... from the company at the fountainhead of this value chain. Or is it a sort of  open system, with each camp using open source knowledge to make its own? 

Make!

Pavlos's picture

I have written to the maker from India, who told me that after the huge publicity they got last month (due to a short video going viral in social media) they could not start discussing a possible collaboration until October. One thing it that we cannot really wait, when there is such a huge demand/need already now. The most important, though, is that what we're trying to set up here is a positive example of closing the production/consumption/(non) waste loop by connecting small local actors that represent the links of this chain. Hopefully this will inspire more communities to think likewise, so I would say that the focus is on process design rather than the final product.

Additionally, there is certainly extra (environmental) benefit from making the product locally, instead of transporting it from India. This would also require an import company, possibly also huge bureocracy from outside the EU. The whole idea of monitoring all the metrics involved can also be views as a social experiment, in our effort to better understand the lean economics of regenerative systems. These plate offer a pretty good use case, in my opinion.

Roger that

Alberto's picture

I really sympathize with this approach @Pavlos . Do you plan to open source your method in any way, so that others can, as you say, be inspired by what you do?

that's the key i think

Yannick's picture

'By this multilayered, multifaceted enterprise @Pavlos wants to change the paradigm. He believes that if the way we think about the time and space of food, meaning the time spent on preparation, growth, the human experience of food, it will have an impact on climate resilience, climate justice, biodiversity, water and soil conservation and will boost regenerative economies in rural areas. '

Really love this way of thinking. Getting back in contact with the producers is one of the joys i found myself having the last couple of months. But how do you scale that up? Where do you set the time to deliver the knowledge to a lot of people? how can you coordinate that?

 

How to scale up regenerative food systems?

Pavlos's picture

I think the key lies on addressing the full spectrum of subsystems that effect food supply chains: physical - cultural - digital - logistical. It will certainly help if you get public procurement (ie. in urban areas) into the game, since their supply chains can really have a huge impact. In the EU only, every day there are 10 million public meals are served for free (hospitals, schools, jails, etc.), all paid by taxpayers money. This makes a strong case for asking for more organic, more local, more healthy, more climate-friendly. Our cities are going through a transition, and the hope is that as generational renewal is happening in city councils, this change will becoming more apparent.

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