A Plan for ‘Meal Centers’ Where Goods and Services are Exchanged for Food

Lima | 05/15/2013 9:17am
Manuel Vigo | Informal City Dialogues

A curaca, an official from the Inca empire, stands before participants of the Informal City Dialogues’ Innovation Workshop in Lima, his ancient clothing a startling contrast with the sleek office buildings visible outside the room’s window.

Played by an actor, the curaca is helping participants imagine settlements rising in the middle of one of the most arid deserts in the world through the use of innovations and revolutionary technology. The exercise is but one small part of the two-day workshop that took place on May 3 and 4, hosted by The Rockefeller Foundation, Forum for the Future and the project’s local partner, FORO Internacional Nacional.

Most of the participants had been involved in the Futures Scenarios Workshop in late February; they were also joined by a new group of people from diverse backgrounds. The attendees were divided into four separate groups, each with a unique scenario that represented what Lima could be like in 27 years. The four frameworks, which were developed in the first workshop, were based on two key factors: Citizen participation and sustainable resources in Lima in the year 2040.

The first scenario, “Solidarity to Progress,” depicted a city in which resources like water and energy are scarce, informality is a way of life and citizen participation is high. The second scenario, “Community and Wealth,” showed a Lima where public spaces are plentiful, access to communication technologies has improved and citizen participation is high. The third, “Chip In for Order and Security,” imagined a city in which omnipresent government regulation makes informality the enemy, and leads young residents to migrate to other cities, despite Lima’s abundance of resources. The final scenario, “My Way to Emerge,” painted a picture of a city that lacks natural resources and citizen participation, and is home to a highly individualized society where informality is common and critical to daily subsistence.

Given these scenarios, participants were asked to discuss what characterized the citizens of their imagined communities.

Rodrigo Bautista, a senior sustainability advisor from Forum for the Future, was in charge of leading the groups as they discussed how to generate innovations to make Lima a more inclusive and resilient city.

After a series of exercises aimed at analyzing the futures, the four groups brainstormed. After they presented their innovations to all those in attendance, participants were asked to vote for their favorite proposal (one that wasn’t their own). The proposal with the most votes would then be further developed in collaboration with FORO, and could be eligible to receive a maximum of $100,000 in seed funding from The Rockefeller Foundation later this year.

One proposed innovation was a project called “Put Yourself in my Shoes,” an initiative developed by the group that had the “Chip in For Order and Security” scenario. The proposed project was aimed at increasing awareness about low standards of living and poor urban planning by getting city officials to spend a couple nights living among historically neglected communities and people with disabilities. The proposal would link communities to their city officials, and residents would volunteer to house government employees for a couple nights.

During a sketch one participant, who requires the use of a wheelchair, spoke of having to depend on neighbors to carry her down a flight of stairs so she could get to her job. “We need to do something so that authorities listen to us,” another participant said.

The “Solidarity to Progress” group presented their idea, “Eat it on Time,” an initiative aimed at reducing the amount of food wasted in the city.

“One study says that globally we throw away 50 percent of the food produced,” said Renzo, the group’s presenter. “When we throw away an apple we are not just wasting the money spent on that apple, we are wasting the drops of fuel used to transport it, the water used to irrigate it, the space used to grow it and all the inputs needed to get that apple into your hands.” In the group’s vision of Lima in 2040, nano-chips would be implanted in every food, and include the item’s production history and expiration date, and would be able to wirelessly connect to your refrigerator and home network.

“What if there were a network of refrigerators that knew what foods each house had, and when each product expires?” Renzo asked. The system could scan a refrigerator’s content and suggest recipes with high nutritional values. If an ingredient was missing, it could search for neighboring refrigerators and tell you which nearby home might lend or sell you the item. “It is a network of connected food baskets,” said Renzo.

Ultimately, the majority of participants backed a proposal called “Mi Kuydad,” which was presented by the “Community and Wealth” group. The program involved the creation of meal centers aimed at promoting healthy, affordable and sustainable sources of food. Food would be produced through organic gardens spread out among urban communities, and people would be able to barter goods or services in exchange for meals. By growing produce locally, the center would avoid extra costs by buying directly from producers. It would offer food at different price tiers in an effort to reach all sectors of the economy, and would include agricultural experts, cooks and nutritionists, among others. “We will all earn equally, from the person who manages to the person who cleans,” one of the group’s participants said.

The group expected that by 2023 the center would be operational, and that by 2040 it would be self-sustaining and expanded into franchises.

Although it was obvious that some participants were a little disappointed that their own idea had not been picked, Lourdes, one of the winning group’s members, encouraged others to join the initiative.

“This group hasn’t won — everyone has won. Join us to make this bigger and better.”

But Luz, one of the participants I spoke to during the first workshop, said she wasn’t at all disappointed her idea did not win.

“[The workshop] has been beautiful. People with new ideas have come, ideas that we don’t know about because there isn’t much technology in our areas,” she said, smiling earnestly. “This allows me have the information to allow me to help my community, in one way or another, and for the community to understand what we are living here.”