Skip to content

On Wednesday night (23 November, 2018) I attended a great event organised by the University of Southampton at Southampton General Hospital, 'Fake Food!' Question Time. The idea was to bring together a collection of experts on various aspects of food and health and invite groups of local Sixth Formers to grill them in the style of the familiar Question Time format. The event is part of a large ongoing project in Southampton to look at the effects of food on all stages of our lives. The concept was great, and very well executed.

Overall, this was a fascinating discussions on the back of some great questions from the young people. I liked the comment on a separate thread: what are universities for, what do young people want? (There is a separate question to be asked about how universities adapt and change to needs and opportunities.)

Monitoring Twitter hashtag #barf enables FSA to spot outbreaks of Norovirus and other illness incidents. This can lead to insights significantly earlier than formal disease monitoring channels.

There was a discussion about how communicating food health matters to young people was effective as they then talk to their parents and grandparents as they genuinely care about their health.

We heard how various projects related to growing food cause young people to engage with food, eat new things (tomatoes) and reappraise their food choices.

We heard from Nathan who, as a head teacher, had set up a market stall at his school gate - not so much to distribute food, but rather to use food as a medium of communication.

There was a really good question on whether hospitals should judge people who are not taking advice on healthy eating? Not really possible, there are all sorts of reasons such as psychological trauma or antidepressants that can affect weight for example. There is also a difference of context between elective surgery where patients who have not prepared would not see any significant benefit from the procedure, and emergency operations which are undertaken non-judgementally.

Are meat eaters destroying the earth? Complex question…
We need to harness our collective intellect to address this challenge. So encouraging more people to eat less meat is more impactful than persuading a few to become vegans. Although such a political response doesn't necessarily answer the question.

Another pragmatic response to this question was that "you can look through a lens to find an answer that you want." Eg. it depends whether the animals are on land that could otherwise be used to grow crops that we could eat or on otherwise un-farmable land.

However, “we don’t need to eat as much meat as we do.”

Lean red meat often coupled, wrongly, with processed meat which has serious effects
Often girls who weren’t eating a lot of red meat in the first place- and end up becoming anaemic.

A vegan student commented - "people are trying to get money out me." There was a discussion around the idea that people have to learn that the system does not exist to help or look after people, people have to learn to make decisions to look after themselves. Although this could include fighting back against the system.

We were reminded that two portions of fish a week are recommended, and that one of these should be oily fish. A quick show of hands indicated that a reasonable percentage of attendees claimed to follow this advice.

It was agreed that there is much focus on body image - especially when talking about food.

Orthorexia (the term for a condition that includes symptoms of obsessive behaviour in pursuit of a healthy diet) was discussed. Clean eating, fortunately, is now debunked. Orthorexia refers to an unhealthy obsession with eating “pure” food.

At a population level we need to loose weight, but we are all different.
Everyone has a different ability to carry weight.

We do have lots of data now: (
Older people are loosing weight, but also nutrition.

Size has different connotations in different parts of the world.

GP are obsessed with measuring things - but athlete Lynford Christie was technically obese in terms of his body weight. The panel were asked where to look for information: (GPs for GPs),, public health England were suggested. Popular tabloid newspapers are best avoided.

The final question was great, to each of the panel members - what was the last thing you ate?

  • Sarah - I eat once a day - today, fruit and a punnet tomatoes
  • Nathan - a sandwich - a small fraction of the price went to a charity
  • Mark - cake (there was a lot of cake on offer before the event)
  • Giles - a falafel bowl, purple rice
  • Sian - some cheese
  • Guy - a wrap - sun-dried tomatoes,  with chicken (bought in a hurry in the station)

To be fair to the panellists, most of them had done some heavy travelling to be with us, and many had a long journey home to follow.

Overall, some fascinating and relevant insight for the Internet of Food Things Network Plus. There are huge issues surrounding food consumption and health, and the ways of addressing these issues are also complex. Data has the potential to play a part in this, especially when combined with behavioural insight and other approaches to understanding and communicating with data.

The panel comprised:

  • Nathan Atkinson, Creator of Fuel for Schools; Headteacher
  • Dr Sarah Jarvis MBE, GP, Clin Dir @patient, Resident doctor BBC R2 @theJeremyVine
  • Prof Mark Hanson, Scientist & developmental health advocate, IDS director
  • Prof Guy Poppy, Chief Sci Adviser to Food Standards Agency, Ecologist
  • Prof Sian Robinson, Nutritional Epidemiologist; Registered nutritionist
  • Dr Giles Yeo, Appetite and obesity scientist, author & broadcaster

Steve Brewer, IoFT Network Coordinator

Introducing the Internet of Food Things Network Plus - launch event 21st September 2018

Is the British food industry experiencing a gastronomic youthquake? Food and (non-alcoholic) drink is the new rock n roll for the millennial generation who prefer to stay in than go out and, when they do venture outdoors, it’s to eat. Of 18 to 34 year-olds, 57% eat out regularly compared to 21% who go out clubbing. Food is the number one way millennials socialise with their friends, says Josephine Hansom from insights company Youthsite.

What also marks out this generation – other than veganism, Instagramming and unicorn-themed food – is innovation. Whether it’s meat-substitute burgers that bleed, broccoli coffee or food delivery startups that will bring in-vogue Korean food to your picnic in the park, millennials are at home with technology.

Josephine Hansom was speaking at the Internet of Food Things Network Plus (IoFT) launch event in London, which gathered experts from industry, government and academia to kick off a three-year investigation into how artificial intelligence, data analytics and emerging technologies can improve the safety, security and efficiency of the UK food supply chain. From fridges that trigger online grocery orders when the milk runs low to using the blockchain to ensure the traceability of beef, digital technology offers unprecedented opportunities to address today’s food challenges.

It could not be more timely. From Brexit to cyber security, the modern food manufacturing supply chain has never been more vulnerable in terms of the complexity, demand and uncertainty surrounding processes, sources and dependencies.

Nor has the industry ever been more critical to the wealth of the nation. As IoFT’s network lead Professor Simon Pearson outlined at the event, food manufacturing is the UK’s biggest manufacturing sector. With a value of £108bn it is bigger than the aerospace and motor industries combined, providing 3.9 million jobs and £20bn of exports. What’s more, it is a stable business – the simple human need to eat cannot be disrupted – and one of the main drivers of the economy. It also has a massive societal impact. There’s the issue of food waste, with 10 million tonnes of food thrown in the bin every week, and the environmental impact of 17% of UK CO2 being produced by the food chain. On an individual level there are more than a million cases of food poisoning a year in the UK while obesity costs the NHS £47bn a year.

How can digital technology help? There is exciting work taking place with emerging technologies – industry 4.0, the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, blockchain, cyber and machine learning. What is currently missing is how all that work joins together through trust, standards, governance, digital business models and shared data (and whether that’s open or closed data). The more connectivity there is of all these systems, the more value will be added.

The event’s speakers brought a range of perspectives to bear on the topic. Professor Guy Poppy, chief scientific adviser at the Food Standards Agency (FSA)  invited the community to help the FSA address the challenge of modernising regulation during these transformational times of huge horizontal and vertical changes to the food supply chain.

The FSA has been ‘open by default’ since January 2016 and maintains around 70% of all its data assets as open data, with its food hygiene rating scheme the most accessed dataset. With food, the availability of data can have a life or death impact but data has no value until it is accessed and used in some way. For example, with more people admitted to hospital because of allergies and intolerance than food poisoning, the FSA now offers an allergy alerts data service, powered by application programming interfaces (APIs), to get information about food recalls really quickly to businesses and consumers, such as via the charity Anaphylaxis UK, potentially saving lives. The FSA has also successfully completed a pilot using blockchain technology in a cattle slaughterhouse. It's the first time blockchain has been used as a regulatory tool to ensure compliance in the food sector.

Blockchain was a topic picked up by Kirsten Coppoolse of Amsterdam’s The Fork, which offers blockchain training and monthly meetups for a community of 1400 people to discuss use cases, such as ‘blockchain coffee’ and how Albert Heijn, the Netherlands’ largest  supermarket chain, is using blockchain to track orange juice. Patrick Curry of the British Business Federation Authority also highlighted the potential of blockchain and pointed to the government’s food-related blockchain working groups – red meat, fruit and veg, food data policy management authority – involving numerous organisations exploring the issues from a starting point of collaboration, coordination and commitment. Collaboration was also a byword for Keith Thornhill, Sieman’s head of food and beverage for UK and Ireland. He was keen to highlight the role of technology in increasing productivity, whether by using IoT to improve operational equipment efficiency or by increasing automation of labour – such as in picking and packing – to deal with the dwindling labour force for this kind of work post-Brexit.

For the new IoFT and its coordinators, the task now is to distil the many potential ideas, set priorities ready for a call for projects in January… and meet the challenge of turning the  gastronomic youthquake into a gastronomic techquake.

  • The Internet of Food Things project is funded by a £1.14 million grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to nurture and grow the UK’s food manufacturing digital economy.