Weak signals and interesting things – link roundup

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  • FreeRice.com provides education to everyone for free, and helps end world hunger by providing rice to hungry people. They ask questions and every correct answer equals 10 grains of rice for a hungry person. This is either brilliant or distasteful, depending on how you look at it. Of course the World Food Programme (who are behind the project) aren’t going to make people starve if too few people get the answers right, so we can move on from the distasteful objection. So why’s it brilliant? Because it places a real and tangible value on the benefits of people learning. It takes a desirable future benefit (education), assigns it a value (10 grains), and turns it into a contemporary tradable commodity (rice). Apply the same thinking to the future costs of medical treatment for obesity and heart disease and spend a fraction of that on better food systems and we’ll do well.
  • Mobile phones already shape our lives. Analysing the data from them can help shape our futures, too. Here’s a map of how New Yorkers move around, garnered from their tweets. And here’s an astonishingly powerful new service called ‘SmartSteps’ launched by O2 Telefonica which maps and reports what type of people are in what places at what times of day.
  • Big Food companies spent $45m against the Californian proposal to label foods containing GMOs (aka Prop37). To be completely clear, that’s £28 million to be permitted to NOT tell you what’s in your food. That’s not really a great way to get people to trust you, is it? Soylent green, here we come.
  • The Financial Times’ report on the Future of the Food Industry (PDF) contains lots of inspiring and reassuring gems and imagines some suitably bold solutions. On the downside it reminds us that 200,000 people in the UK are going to have used food banks this year.
  • Fungi Futures make the UK’s first Gourmet Mushroom Grow Kit from waste coffee grounds – enabling you to easily grow your own fresh and delicious mushrooms at home, whilst helping to recycle waste too. Simple ideas are the best.
  • The Politics of Global Food Security (video, 25 mins) looks at how new crops can provide resilience against climate change.
  • A new film, “Forks over Knives” is out which highlights the effect of diet on our health.
  • We must accept that Britain cannot rely on world food supplies” say Green Party MPs Caroline Lucas and Natalie Bennett.

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