Where do Silicon Valley venture capitalists go when new tech ideas wane? Food and kitchen gadgets.
Right now consumer products, many of them food, are sucking up billions in venture capital. The five biggest dinner-in-a-box outfits are hemorrhaging millions upon millions. But they stay afloat with venture capital funding.
The quintessential Silicon Valley mindset was voiced years ago by Facebook bad boy founder Mark Zuckerberg: "move fast and break things."
This is now infiltrating the food sector and it causes me concern. Tomatoes and cows are not cyberspace. When you have disparate paradigms in a space, something goes awry. Think about the Europeans from temperate western regions where gentle rains fell year-round and created peat and bogs and fog. They came to Virginia in 1607 and gradually moved inland, arriving here in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley by 1730.
The Valley, where I live, was a tall grass silvopasture--that's widely spaced trees with grass underneath. In fact, the grass was tall enough to tie above a horse's saddle according to the first settlers. Rather than asking the indigenous Native American communities how to honor the soil-building herbivore biomass ecosystem, the Europeans brought the plow, annual grains, and an export mindset.
Folklore says that as the Native American stood with a European settler on a hill watching the plow invert those grasslands, the settler asked him what he thought about the procedure: "Hmmm, me thinks wrong side up." And over the next two centuries, the Shenandoah Valley's wealth, some 3-5 feet of soil, eroded down the rivers into the Chesapeake Bay. You see, the ecosystem here is not peat, bogs, and fogs. It's freezing, searing heat, torrential downpours--quite different than London. "This is not London, Toto."
The Conquistador mentality is very much alive and well in America today; in fact, it's part of our DNA. And it's dominating Silicon Valley thoughts on food. But food is not a computer. It's not terabytes. It's biological, living, responding, communicating, morphing beings of bacteria, protozoa and nematodes breeding, eating, dying, trading. This is not a video game. It's dynamic and thoughtful.
Which means we'd better approach it thoughtfully lest our own health erode like the soil in the Shenandoah Valley. I'm quite fearful of what shortcuts and a temperament of "move fast and break things" might do to the plants and animals that feed our internal microbiome.
Do you want to eat food built on the theme "move fast and break things?"