Making Healthy Choices with the Help of the Crowd

As someone who recently watched the documentary film Forks Over Knives, I’m more interested in knowing where my food comes from and how it found its way to my plate.  That’s how I found my way to Real Time Farms. It’s a great site for foodies and hippies who want a narrative behind the meal that’s in front of them. Anyone can post food information to RTF (shoppers, farmers, and restaurateurs) so that site visitors can chart the course of their food starting at the farm where it came from to the market where it was purchased, to the restaurant that it’s now being served in. It’s a great idea.  And I was totally sold. Until I started touring the site and noticed that there’s not a single farm, market, or restaurant listed in my area. And even the areas that are covered still only have limited listings.

That’s one of the risks of crowdsourcing information. The success of those sites is entirely dependent on the regular participation of users and therefore it sometimes takes awhile for them to be useful to the casual visitor. It might take awhile for Real Time Farms to prove itself, but I hope that with time site founders Karl and Cara Rosaen will be able to steward RTF to a more comprehensive site that I visit on a regular basis.

Crowdsourcing is also helping organic gelato shop Giapo in New Zealand to source their latest concoctions by reaching out to the crowd to find their freshest organic fruits to create sorbets through their website. Giapo is seriously creative… their latest blog post highlights a sorbet that will include mushrooms. But instead of simply looking to the crowd for the recipes, Giapo is getting their actual ingredients from their fans.

Finally, for those of you looking to better regulate nutrition, a recent blog talks about the development of PlateMate, a program that allows users to snap a pic of their food and upload it for analysis: calories, portions, and which behaviors you might need to modify to be healthier. Who provides that information? The crowd on Mechanical Turk.

How else can crowdsourcing help regulate behavior? In what other ways can crowdsourcing help us make healthy decisions?

One response to “Making Healthy Choices with the Help of the Crowd

  1. Lindsay Partridge

    Thanks for mentioning Real Time Farms! We’re still a relatively new start-up, based in Ann Arbor, MI and working on expanding across the country and documenting the entire food system. It’s a slow process and we’re well aware that there is still a ton to be done. Out of curiosity, where are you located? We have an internship program through which we enlist “Food Warriors” to visit and document farmers markets, farms, and food artisans in various target areas. We then have core team members making calls to restaurants every day to get them signed up for the site and link their menu ingredients back to their sources so that consumers can really follow their food from “farm to fork,” or in many cases from fork to farm. So Far, Ann Arbor, Portland, and NYC (and their surrounding areas) have gotten the most coverage, but we will have new target areas covered by Food Warrior interns each season. We hope that in the long run we can rely more on crowd-sourcing to fill in the food web. Until then, we are making strong efforts to get the ball rolling and garner more momentum so that we can become a reliable source of information for people who care about where their food is coming from.