Not all food is created equal: An RFC update

A note from Dan Kittredge, Founder of BFA/RFC

Late summer is upon us, that time of year when the nights are cool, the air begins to smell of fall, and the abundant variety of the harvest is in its full splendor.

Here at the BFA, the season feels similar. After the deep preparation of winter and seeding in the spring, the fullness of our work is yielding rich fruit.

I’m excited to share the progress we’ve made this year with our research and the Real Food Campaign. For those of you recently joining us, let me first provide a brief recap of the work we’ve been fostering to achieve our mission of increasing quality in the food supply.

Building the tools

It was back in 2007 when I realized that by working with and within the systems of Nature, we could not only be better Earth stewards, but also achieve more nutrient dense food for improved human health.

Ten years later, in 2017, we built the first generation of a spectrometer to measure nutrients in food and crops. This is the first hand-held, consumer-level tool designed to allow anyone to assess relative food quality in real time. 

We have opened our lab to test relative food quality and build the calibrations for what is now called the Bionutrient SpectroMeter.  A couple highlights of those results are featured in graphs below, with more detailed results available here. We then built a robust application for smart phones to serve as an interface with the lab and, as we calibrate, be the app for consumers to choose quality food.

2019: Proof of concept – variation in food exists

So far this year (drum roll, please), we released our first annual report on nutrient variation in the food supply. As far as we are aware, this is the first of its kind in scope and depth. And despite the enthusiasm for this project, the findings were more astounding than even I had anticipated.

We discovered a range of variation in mineral nutrient levels between 400-1800%, depending on the mineral assayed. Depending on how a given carrot or leaf of spinach (the two crops we assessed last year) was produced, this means it could have 4-18 times more nutrients in it than one produced poorly.

To be conservative, if we were only consider the low end of the data, it means that one high quality carrot would have the same nutritional value as four low quality carrots.

When we looked at the more complex health-giving compounds like antioxidants and polyphenols, the variation was even higher: Between 75:1 and 200:1.  In the real world, this would mean that the best carrot we sampled had in it the same total amount of polyphenols as 200 of the worst carrots we sampled. (Wow!)

The fact that some crops could offer that much more nutrition than others of a similar type, should cause many of us to pay close attention. What we have found is much more significant than that!

View the full report and analysis here.

This year we've expanded the sampling of crops from carrots and spinach to also include lettuce, kale, cherry tomatoes, and grapes. This is well underway, but we need more samples!

Building the vision

We have improved our data collection process to include a survey of a full spectrum of environmental conditions like fertility, management practices, soil type, climate data, cultivars, pest and disease pressure and more, to overlay with the nutritional variation on the actual crops. This will allow growers and farmers to correlate environmental conditions with nutritional results so that plots and farms of all sizes globally can be specifically supported in improving their practices. (Very exciting!)

We are on target this year to be able to turn the spectrometer from a “Developer Kit” that can currently collect data into a calibrated consumer tool that can be used to make decisions about food based upon nutrition, discovered through empirical methodology.

With sufficient resources and the data we collect, this winter we will have the world’s first consumer tool for testing nutrient density in real time!

Building the Movement

Now, here's where we need You.  To accomplish this phase we are still in need of two primary things:

1. Sufficient funding to perform all of the lab and statistical work.  Approximately $100,000 to complete this step. If you are inspired by our work, and have the capacity, your support is needed now.

2. Enough samples to hit our target of 5,000 crops sent in from around the country. The data we glean from these samples will populate our database and build the algorithms to define quality (and give consumers the ability to make choices based on quality with the 1st Generation tool!).

To be a citizen scientist and participate in the data collection process can be as simple as going to grocery stores, farmers markets, farms and even your own gardens for samples of carrots, cherry tomatoes, grapes, lettuce, kale and spinach, and then sending these to the Real Food Campaign lab. Get involved today!

Thank you all again for your support and work!

As in Nature, this is a collective community effort. I couldn’t be more proud of how far we’ve come together than I am at this moment. The best is still to come for us all.

In harmony with Nature, all things are possible,