The Good Food Encyclopedia

The Good Meals Encyclopedia


The group behind the Consupedia app are on a mission to create a extra clear and sustainable meals trade, armed with a database of 250,000 merchandise. With solely a barcode scan, it tells customers how sustainable and moral their meals decisions are.

GOTLAND, Sweden—

It’s early July on the holiday island of Gotland, within the Baltic sea between the coasts of Sweden and Latvia. The solar shines on rugged cliffs, white sailboats are packed tight within the marina, and a gradual stream of individuals flock in the direction of the middle of its largest metropolis, Visby. However its medieval squares and cobblestoned streets are full of individuals in fits, not summer time attire. 

It’s Almedalsveckan—or Politician’s Week—and Gotland has been remodeled right into a camp for Sweden’s political elite. Each July, Sweden’s most influential politicians, journalists, businesspeople, and NGOs descend on the island. Formally, they’re right here to debate social points. Informally, they arrive to community, to occasion, and to have lunch conferences which can be lots much less informal than they appear.

At a restaurant on Stora Torget, the city’s most important sq., Roberto Rufo Gonzalez’s eyes scan the menu, trying to find one thing candy. His lunch companions watch him, exhibiting an uncommon quantity of curiosity in what he may be having for dessert. They’ve spent the previous hour discussing the connection between the meals trade and the local weather disaster.

Gonzalez lastly locations his order. “Can I please have the liquorice pipe,” he says—a standard Swedish sweet. 

“Are you certain the pipe is vegan?” asks Göran Blomberg, the CEO of ICA-handlernes Forbund, the commerce affiliation of Sweden’s greatest grocery retailer. It’s a good query: earlier, Gonzalez needed to ask for the kitchen to arrange a particular vegan dish, as a result of there have been no vegan choices on the menu.

“After all,” says Gonzalez. He pulls a battered cellphone out of his white denims, opens an app, and scans the barcode on the wrapper of the liquorice pipe.

In contrast to loads of liquorice pipes, this one is vegan. Though the textual content on the wrapper is in Swedish, the pipe was produced within the Czech Republic. The diet and ingredient data, in textual content so small it’s barely readable on the wrapper, is offered on the app, too. 

Distilling all this data into an app locations the world’s largest database of environmental affect, well being, and justice associated to meals at customers’ fingertips inside seconds of scanning a barcode.

The liquorice pipe is rated in 4 totally different classes: Local weather, Well being, Justice, and Water. This pipe scores 38/100 within the local weather class—based mostly on standards comparable to carbon dioxide emissions and transport concerned within the manufacturing chain. That’s a under common rating in comparison with different comparable merchandise and merchandise normally, the app informs us. For well being (drawing on info comparable to substances, components, or the presence of antibiotics within the meals chain) the liquorice pipe—maybe unsurprisingly—scores 33/100, considerably under common for meals merchandise in Sweden. The pipe does higher on its social justice rating—based mostly on markers comparable to equality, animal welfare, and baby labor points—with 70/100.

Customers of the app—named Consupedia—can even examine how the rating is set, which info the data relies on, and get background details about matters comparable to greenhouse gasoline emissions, using antibiotics within the meals trade, and use of kid labor world wide. The app’s data is drawn from many sources (and acronyms), such because the RISE Meals Local weather Database, the WHO, FAOStat (the FAO’s information trove), the Gapminder Basis (a Sweden-based non-profit preventing international misconceptions), the World Wildlife Fund, the European Meals Security Authority, the Proceedings of the Nationwide Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the Water Footprint Community, Nutri-score, and the Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Social Justice index. 

Distilling all this data into an app locations the world’s largest database of environmental affect, well being, and justice associated to meals at customers’ fingertips inside seconds of scanning a barcode. The database, which presently holds sustainability details about 250,000 meals merchandise on the Swedish market, is accessible through the app. Consupedia is linked to the principle databases in international locations the place merchandise are being registered by producers or distributors. As quickly as new merchandise or adjustments are made in these databases, the identical change happens in Consupedia’s database. As a complement to those databases, Consupedia makes use of information-gathering bots.

Shoppers can stroll into nearly any grocery retailer within the nation, scan the barcode of just about any product, and see how the product scores—in addition to examine them to comparable merchandise or different manufacturers.  

“That’s loads of data,” says Blomberg.

However Gonzalez didn’t simply pull up the app to show some extent about veganism. The app, and the database on which it’s constructed, is his life’s work. He’s spent the previous six years creating it, with the assistance of professors from Stockholm’s KTH Royal Institute of Expertise and Dalarna College. Now the app is able to launch, however remains to be in BETA stage. A take a look at model has been accessible since 2017, and Gonzalez and his rising group are able to put the wealth of data behind the app to make use of. 

The objective is to create extra transparency within the meals trade. He doesn’t simply need residents to be higher knowledgeable concerning the merchandise they’re consuming, making it simpler for them to decide on merchandise based mostly on their values moderately than simply worth and packaging—thus far the strongest influences on shopper decision-making. He additionally desires to make use of the database to nudge stakeholders, comparable to grocery retailers, eating places, hospitals, and policymakers, to make extra sustainable decisions. 

Blomberg leaves the lunch desk, seemingly impressed with the app, however with out making any guarantees. 

“That went properly, I believed,” says Johannes Thomhave, Consupedia’s newly employed COO.

“I do know,” Gonzalez says, getting as much as go to his subsequent assembly. “I’m simply uninterested in issues shifting so slowly.”

Gonzalez returned to his native Sweden in 2014, after a few years in the US. He  grew up in a tiny timber city in northern Sweden, meters from the pine-covered Bothnian shoreline and the Söderhamn archipelago. His father, a Spaniard who’d grown up in an orphanage in Grenada and adopted Gonzalez’s mom to her homeland, labored as a plumber, his mom as a faculty instructor. After highschool, he adopted his brothers to Stockholm and to KTH, Stockholm’s Royal Institute of Expertise. After just a few years of learning, and a niche yr spent repairing roads and ingesting vermouth in Grenada, he was awarded a grant to maneuver to Los Angeles to review structure at UCLA. For the subsequent ten years, Roberto lived on and off within the US, working as a mannequin and founding corporations with an American buddy.

When his father fell severely in poor health in 2014, he returned to Sweden and his father moved in with him. Gonzalez wasn’t certain what he wished to do subsequent. He thought-about creating comparable corporations to these he’d constructed within the US—promoting floating properties, designing garments, or maybe even launching an AutoGyro firm. However the world didn’t actually need extra garments, helicopters, or houseboats. What it wanted, he thought, was a extra acutely aware method of consuming. That’s how he got here up with the thought of making a shopper database guiding folks and firms in the direction of extra sustainable consumption patterns.

“No matter I got here up with, nothing in comparison with Consupedia. It was the one mission that was an answer to an existential downside,” says Gonzalez.

Roberto Rufo Gonzalez and his parrot, Åke, in his hometown, Skärså.

He began on the lookout for extra information concerning the gadgets he was consuming, whether or not it was meals, garments or electronics, nevertheless it was nearly inconceivable to search out. After which he began questioning if folks would change their life-style and their consumption patterns in the event that they have been offered with the data he was on the lookout for, and in the event that they knew the way it impacted themselves, the animals and the planet.

“I went again to my college, as a result of my professors there are the neatest folks I do know, and I requested them whether or not it might make a distinction. They usually mentioned sure, that analysis did level in that course. I mentioned, nice, we all know that data would make a distinction, however how will we collect all this data? They didn’t know the reply to that, so I used to be left with that downside to resolve,” says Gonzalez.

He registered the area on the flip of the yr between 2014 and 2015, understanding he wished to create some form of database about what we eat, however not understanding how. And he acquired caught. 

It was April, 2016, two years since Gonzalez had left the US, and one since he’d registered the area. He’d develop into higher at discovering the data he wished earlier than he made his choices about what to purchase and eat, however he nonetheless hadn’t discovered learn how to retailer the info or make it accessible to different customers and firms. 

Then one night, whereas he was watching tv along with his father, a program about unknown folks doing outstanding issues aired. Certainly one of them was Sverker Johansson. He wasn’t interviewed due to his place—he’s a part of the management of Dalarna College—however as a result of in 2014 it had been revealed that he’d written 8.5% of the whole lot ever revealed on Wikipedia.

“He’d discovered learn how to train this bot learn how to collect big quantities of data, bundle it, and routinely write an article that’s revealed on Wikipedia. On a very good day, he mentioned, he publishes 10,000 articles. I acquired up from the sofa. Right away I noticed that we might use this method to assemble and bundle the data for Consupedia,” says Gonzalez.

They’d no thought it might take them six years to construct the database.

He determined to persuade Sverker Johansson to assist out with Consupedia. He drove south in his 1971 Buick Riviera Boattail—powered by  ethanol—bringing his beloved parrot Åke. When he arrived in Dalarna, he came upon that Sverker Johansson was as enthusiastic about parrots as he was about Wikipedia. Gonzalez requested him what he was presently writing about on Wikipedia, and Sverker replied that he was constructing a database that will collect data and write articles about each single beetle on the planet. 

“He additionally advised me that the rationale he’s doing this totally free is that he believes in democracy and each individual’s equal proper to free data. That’s why Wikipedia is the one platform he makes use of, and why he spends loads of time translating tales initially written in Swedish or English to minority languages,” Gonzalez explains.  

“Don’t you assume we might use this to assemble details about one thing that will have extra affect on society than beetles—for instance on how our consumption impacts the world?,” Gonzalez requested him. Sverker Johansson was quiet for a second. Then he nodded. “Sure, I feel so. Let’s do it.”

Gonzalez had the consortium he’d wished. Sverker Johansson and his group at Dalarna College would assist with the database, and professors on the KTH Royal Institute of Expertise would assist out with their information of fact-gathering and behavioral science. Gonzalez drove again to Stockholm, typed out a analysis proposal, and was awarded $400,000 from Vinnova, the Swedish authorities’s innovation division. With Gonzalez as  head of analysis, he and his group set to work. 

They’d no thought it might take them six years to construct the database.

Roberto Rufo Gonzalez photographed in his hometown, Skärså.

Early on, Gonzalez realized he’d must work with the grocery retailers moderately than towards them. His objective isn’t solely to tell folks about their habits, however to assist them change it. For that to occur, customers have to be knowledgeable about their previous habits, and that requires the cooperation of the grocery retailers who retailer the data Consupedia desires to make use of. 

Lately Consupedia does work with grocery retailers, however the grocery retail enterprise hasn’t all the time been very pleasant to Consupedia. 

In 2020, Consupedia was offered with a possible lawsuit. Consupedia had agreed with the Swedish grocery retailers affiliation that the database might entry their data in a signed contract. However instantly the grocery retailers wished to alter the contract and make it unlawful for Consupedia to publish the data, arguing that it might discredit some merchandise in the event that they acquired a low ranking within the database. Gonzalez feared for Consupedia’s future. If he signed the brand new contract, it’d be the top of Consupedia; he’d nonetheless have the database, however he wouldn’t be capable of use the data it held. 

A journalist from Dagens Nyheter, a number one Swedish newspaper, interviewed Consupedia concerning the battle, however the story was by no means revealed. However in December 2020, Greta Thunberg was requested to function the newspaper’s editor-in-chief for at some point. Gonzalez purchased the paper out of curiosity. To his shock, there was an enormous photograph of his face on one of many first few pages. 

“The meals trade desires to cease warnings about climate-hazardous merchandise,” the headline learn, and the article described the local weather startup Consupedia’s battle towards the highly effective Swedish grocery retailers. The battle died down, the specter of a lawsuit disappeared. Consupedia might proceed their work, for now.

As a longtime vegan, Gonzalez might need been a frontrunner with regards to aligning values with consumption, however he isn’t alone. Throughout the years he labored on constructing the database, the demand for the information it gives grew. In line with a report by the consultancy firm Accenture and offered at Almedalsveckan, 57% of individuals worldwide need to make their procuring habits extra sustainable. Eighty-five % of Nordic grocery customers need to be extra supported of their procuring to make extra sustainable decisions, and 70% of customers would swap to a extra sustainable retailer in the event that they have been offered with the best data. 

Regardless of the rising consciousness and the curiosity in residing in a extra climate-friendly method, most individuals wrestle to make adjustments. In line with analysis from Kantar, an information analytics firm, 92% of individuals say they need to stay a sustainable life, however the overwhelming majority aren’t truly doing something to alter their life-style—solely 16% do. 

The failure to stay in keeping with one’s values has been labeled the intention-action or the ambition-action hole, and internationally folks at the moment are attempting to grasp how the hole could be closed or diminished. Many professors learning the hole flip to behavioral scientists, comparable to Daniel Kahnemann and Richard Thaler, who received the Nobel Memorial Prize in Financial Sciences in 2002 and 2017 respectively for his or her work on behavioral economics. One of many most important takeaways from their work is that it must be simple for folks to alter their habits, and they should imagine it is going to make a distinction. 

“Folks must really feel company, and so they need to perceive what their private function and affect is. We wish folks to really feel like they’ve sufficient data that they’ll make a sensible choice. They should know that in the event that they do make a distinct selection, that it does make a distinction. When folks really feel disengaged, they really feel disempowered, and we need to keep away from that,” says Edwina Hughes, who works with meals on the World Sources Institute, a worldwide, non-profit analysis group. 

However analysis reveals that folks want greater than information. Selecting in another way just isn’t solely a query of data, but additionally of bills, habits, and social questions.

“Data does play a key function, however it will possibly’t stand alone. Until they’re hardcore engaged political customers, the largest think about what folks eat is habits. Folks do and purchase what they’ve all the time carried out and acquired, and it takes lots to alter these patterns,” Bente Halkier, who researches political consumerism on the College of Copenhagen, says.

It’s potential for folks to alter their methods, although, however typically the change is brought on by social relations moderately than by values alone, she provides. 

“Maybe your daughter comes dwelling and informs you she’s a vegetarian now, your greatest buddy tells you they’re solely shopping for natural meals, or the canteen at your workplace begins providing extra plant-based meals. For folks to alter their habits, and particularly for these to stay to these adjustments, it typically takes a social push,” says Bente Halkier.

At Almedalen, Gonzalez is wrapping up his day. Every time he’s had a gathering with somebody, whether or not it’s the suit-clad males on the high of the grocery retail trade or the PR folks of NGOs, they’ve made excuses for his or her life-style: for consuming meat, flying again to Stockholm moderately than taking the ferry, or driving to their trip home in Spain. 

Every time they do, each Thomhave, Consupedia’s new COO, and Gonzalez attempt to reassure them: “Consupedia just isn’t about making folks stay in keeping with Roberto’s values, to develop into vegan or solely drink oat milk,” says Thomhave, who joined Consupedia earlier this yr to assist with the commercialization of the database.

“The objective of Consupedia is to offer folks the data they should begin residing extra consistent with their very own values, no matter they’re. Possibly they care principally concerning the local weather, possibly they need to boycott merchandise from Israel, possibly they solely care about well being. How folks need to use the data is as much as them. We simply need them to have the data,” provides Thomhave.

Gonzalez has been at Almedalsveckan yearly since he launched Consupedia. He spent the morning debating learn how to make grocery retail extra sustainable. He argued that there needs to be extra laws, however to begin with extra data, so that customers can begin making extra sustainable decisions for themselves till the grocery retailers are able to do it for them.

“We will go away the accountability to sustainably remodel the meals system within the palms of the retailers, the day the Dalai Lama is the CEO of ICA,” says Gonzalez, the ICA being Sweden’s greatest grocery retailer. It’s the third time in a day he’s made the identical joke, and the sixth yr he’s traveled to Gotland with the identical message. 

“My message has remained the identical, however the group of individuals I get to speak to has modified. It was onerous for me to get a gathering with anybody, however now I’m invited to debates with essentially the most highly effective lobbying group and having lunch with the largest grocery retailer within the nation,” says Gonzalez.

Nonetheless, it’s onerous for him to cover his impatience and exhaustion after they repeat their message, arguing that issues take time, and that it’ll take them some time to begin taking steps Roberto—and lots of customers—are asking them to.

“We don’t want extra time, we want extra motion. We’ve got the data we want. It’s time to begin appearing on it.”


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