Mar 15

How Smart Phones Could Help us Become a Slow Food Nation

There is been a lot said, and written, about how the American highway has dictated how we eat and interact. Public policy decisions on where highways would be placed have had a profoundly negative impact on our food culture, and I would argue, on our culture as a whole. As a New Yorker, I know the potential of a populace that is committed to spending their dollars in small businesses, and because of this shared commitment, I can get quality, fresh food. When given the opportunity, people will opt for tastier, and fresher food choices. Unfortunately, many Americans do not have access to fresh food and when you are on the road(like many of us are) choices can be even more limited.
Last Friday, I took a long road trip but it was entirely different. My little sister is a film student at SUNY Oswego and needed a ride home for spring break, (and because I am working to stop a proposed cattle finishing facility in Oswego County) I jumped at the chance to pick her up so that I could take some pictures of the port, city and surrounding farmland. Road trips are quintessentially American, but there is something that can ruin them: chain restaurants. They take away from discovery, they obliterate a sense of place, and rob us of local flavors, food and people. Enter the smart phone. Your personal local guide, which makes the ‘convenience’ of a fast food stop a lot less enticing and can connect the highway traveler with local ,independently owned restaurants and farms.

This is HUGE. It can change how we travel, engage and eat. Granted, everyone does not have a smart phone, but many do, and it means that the highway ramp does not hold the power it once did. We can go downtown with the knowledge and confidence and support main street. Not only that, it is more experiential. My sister and I were ready for lunch when we were driving past Syracuse, NY, a large but rundown upstate city ,that is bisected by huge highways. With my Motorola Droid and the useful Yelp app I was able find a small Greek diner downtown. I clicked to get directions which brought up google maps and I put it in navigation mode and had voice directions to the diner.

Very simple. We drove past the whole city, gorgeous, but neglected stately homes and empty Gothic cathedrals greeted us as we drove through. When we finally made it to downtown Syracuse we had a feeling of place, we felt like we were visiting, not just driving through. Granted the drive took us 15 minutes, but it was well worth it and there was no chance of getting lost because of Google map technology.

This brings me back to the point of sustainability and how instrumental new technologies will be in connecting farms and small business to consumers. Will we see more farmsteads offering grass-fed burgers from their farms? Or simply prepared dishes from their produce? Hopefully, and smart phone technology and applications that connect travelers, tourists and community members could be key. There is a unique opportunity to create sustainable communities online and off that can benefit us all. It is just up to us to connect the farm to the car.

I was on Cathy Erway’s radio program last week where she and Austin food blogger Addie Broyles were talking about South by Southwest. They spoke about how important food was becoming to the festival, and how technology and the food movement are developing together. I am curious to hear what ideas come out of the festival this year. Hopefully smart phones will be part of our slow food and slow money strategies because it would make my father dream ‘s of a grass-fed burger stand viable.

My conclusions

1. We are at a crossroads. A paradigm shift is happening, people are seeking a greater connection to community and food.

2. There is a unique window for us to poke holes through corporate messaging with blogs, yelp and other user generated platforms.

3. Many farmers, like my father, would love to find sustainable economic vehicles that can get our products to you.

4. Smart phones and application technologies could be a powerful tool of connection and empowerment.

« Back

6 Comments on “How Smart Phones Could Help us Become a Slow Food Nation”

  1. JJ Gonson / Cuisine en Locale

    16 March 2010 | # 1

    Absolutely! I just had this experience myself, driving from Boston to NY and we could stop at a small, locally owned restaurant without the fear of leaving the highway and getting lost! Hooray for technology at its best!

  2. Anonymous

    16 March 2010 | # 2

    so true,

    I believe that little bit of extra connection is all it takes to get us "risk" a local meal, local coffee shop, etc. instead of playing it safe with a repeat experience at a chain.

  3. Ulla

    16 March 2010 | # 3

    Yes, I agree. It is so powerful. Wonderful actually! Thanks for stopping by to comment!

  4. Ulla

    17 March 2010 | # 4

    Yes, I agree! For me, it has always been not knowing when I am ready to stop and then also afraid that I will get lost. And then you might get a horrible meal anyways that is more expensive. Smart phones make it fun, and so much more enjoyable!

  5. Buttercup

    17 March 2010 | # 5

    This is very true. As someone whose made a recent commitment to change the way they eat, I've found driving and eating to be a frustrating exercise. Things like yelp and google maps have helped to find places that I wouldn't normally know about.

    I also think smartphones allow us to have information at our fingertips at all times, a crucial ingredient to making informed decisions about our food. My podmate at work just told me a story about how he googled the brand of chicken that he was buying at a grocery store to confirm that it was in fact in organic. Access to that sort of information at all times, helps us to make better consumer decisions, our ultimate vote.

  6. When I'm Mobile

    05 November 2010 | # 6

    Apps are a useful resource, but the mobile web is imho where things are really going in terms of the mobile user experience for rich media and content delivery. That way any smartphone with a browser can participate in the process, not just iPhone users and "we'll get to the others when we can" app strategies.

    Jonathan Thaler
    Founder, When I'm Mobile