Hacking Hunger

On May 5th and 6th the Future Food Institute and the Food Innovation Program hosted a food hackathon dedicated to food security – “Zero Hunger Games: hack for good, hack for change”.

“What the heck is a hackathon?” you ask…

Well, typically a hackathon or “hackday” is an event where computer programmers and tech developers get together to collaborate on fashioning new software projects. But, a FOOD hackathon is a little different.

A food hackathon assembles leading food innovators, chefs, developers, designers and entrepreneurs to collaborate on finding innovative solutions to the challenges in our food system.



At the Food Innovation Program headquarters, 100 students from different fields of specialization such as agricultural studies, nutritional sciences, political sciences, engineering and economics, as well as professors, international mentors, and entrepreneurs came together to formulate and prototype ideas that will change traditional paradigms related to food access.

A series of speakers were brought in to help guide thought leadership in this food space including Sara Roversi, Nicola Difino, Marc Buisson, Jean-Philippe Poulnot (Up Groupe), Action Contre La Faim, Katarzyna Dembska from BCFN, Victoria Spadaro Grant (CTO of the Barilla Group), Ugo Gallina from Barilla, the Founding Chairman of G20 YEA (G20 Young Entrepreneurs’ Alliance) Michael Lee, Venture Capitalist Rob Trice (Better Food Ventures/Mixing Bowl), Alessandro Pirani from the Milan Centre for Food Policy and Law and Steve Gedeon.

<img src="hackathon-speakers.jpg" alt="marc-bissuoin-jean-philippe -poulnot">



The incredibly charismatic Difino, aka Foodj and founder of Fooding Social Club is of the belief that “eating is a political act and we participate in the resistance with every single bite.” He is a globetrotter-cum-food hacker-cum-DJ and has created a “gastro-phonic” formula of mixing food with music. Watching Difino rattle the pans for the defense of good and healthy food is always an enjoyable site. He proves that both taste and sound are two primal human needs and pleasures that go hand in hand. Difino is a locavore through and through. He preaches the KM Zero philosophy in order to promote native culture and stimulate the local economy and suggests that we must learn to “reinvent the food at the table”, which means we must learn to recover expired foods and reuse them – an interesting way to reduce waste and hunger.

<img src="hackathon-nick-diffino.jpg" alt="nick diffino foodj">

Marc Buisson is the general director of Day Ristoservice Spa, a society for action leaders who are involved in the Italian market of ‘buoni pasto’ – food vouchers. Founded in 1987 by Camst group, one of the most important Italian restaurant associations, and the French company Groupe Chèque Déjeuner, a global distributor of social and cultural welfare vouchers, Day Ristoservice has used its dynamism and entrepreneurial mentality to become a leader in the Italian food voucher and loyalty card market. The service is widely used across company canteens, cafeterias and a variety of other sectors.

Action Contre La Faim (Action Against Hunger) was founded in 1979 by a group of French intellectuals in response to the emergency in Afghanistan. The founders include: Françoise Giroud, Bernard Henri Lévy, Marek Halter, Alfred Kastler, Guy Sorman, Jacques Attali, and several other doctors, journalists and writers. This group is exclusively dedicated to ending hunger and runs food operations related to nutrition, health and hygiene in countries stricken by food crises. They work at an institutional and community level helping to re-develop policy, gather funds, and educate community volunteers to actively identify malnutrition and also raise awareness on good practices about food among the populations.

<img src="hackathon-zero-hunger-games.jpg" alt="sara roversi, marc, charlotte and poulnot">

Hailing from Poland, the elegant Katarzyna Dembska graced the hackathon as an ambassador for Barilla’s Centre of Food and Nutrition. The BCFN Foundation is an international idea center that aims to study the global issues related to food and nutrition. BCFN hosts forums, seminars and runs a series of competitions related to food and sustainability. Dembska holds an honours degree in Dietetics, from the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery at the University of Florence. She is passionate about nutrition education and public health, and was the nutrition workshop manager for the Tuscany Region, within the European project “School Fruit Scheme“, designed to promote fruit consumption among young children.

Alessandro Pirani is an innovation expert with a PhD in Urban Policies. He designs services and innovative policies for local government, new technologies and food. He is a partner in the organisational consultancy firm C.O. Gruppo and a policy analyst for the Milan Centre for Food Law and Policy, a frontline initiative between EXPO2015, the Milan Chamber of Commerce and the Lombardy Region. He is also a member of the board of the Future Food Institute, a non-profit organisation active in the promotion and development of innovative projects between entrepreneurship and the food sector.


Steven Gedeon is a highly regarded entrepreneurship educator and public speaker. He is a serial entrepreneur, angel and venture capitalist who has founded or led over a dozen private, public, venture capital and non-profit organisations. Steve is an expert in the fields of management, investment and bringing new products and services to market in high tech, manufacturing, advanced materials, artificial intelligence, web-based applications, IT solutions, and software applications. He is also an Associate Professor at the largest entrepreneurship program in Canada – the Ted Rogers School of Management, Ryerson University and Director of the Ryerson Entrepreneur Institute in Toronto.



Participants were put into teams and asked to work together to create an innovative concept to address world hunger. During the two-day hackathon many projects were presented and later refined with the help of our guest speakers until conceptual prototypes had been developed.

After a collaborative judging activity, three main prizes were awarded.

In third place – 1-CENT, composed of Hildreth England, Alice Bennetts, Kelly Angela Lee, Marco Argentieri and Simone Giacomelli.

<img src="third-place-hackathon-one-cent.jpg" alt="third place winners one cent project">

The goal of the project says Hildreth England “is to use the leftover spare change from purchases made at supermarkets to create a micro donation service to aid local anti-hunger charities”. The service will be augmented with an online platform that manages micro donations and funnels them to organisations working in the local hunger relief area.

The project could be tied to a loyalty card system, such as Day Ristoservice Spa or Up Groupe, so the shopper can be auto-enrolled into the scheme and make donations as they shop. A product of 99c would be rounded up to the next whole dollar amount. That extra one cent would be automatically donated to the enterprise via a digital service connecting the loyalty card to the online platform. The team found that most people were comfortable with donating up to 10 cents. Getting the auto-enrollment system working would be the the first phase of the project, followed by potential integration “with companies like Mint.com, CharityNavigator.com, as well as conversion to Bitcoin as a potential future funding model,” says England.

<img src="second-place-fooding-around-hackathon.jpg" alt="second place winners foodingaround">

The second place title was awarded to two teams, who will both get to participate in a special start-up event happening in Sicily later this year. One of the teams – FoodingAround, composed of Mercy Chatyoka, Leticia Janicsek, Benedict Mundele Kuvuna and Yitiring Fan share their idea below.

Mercy Chatyoka hopes that FoodingAround will help developing countries by empowering native populations to seek higher value on the market for their local produce, and thus allow them to take control of their homegrown resources. “Our idea is to make people in certain areas realise the potential of what they have…and help them with technical know-how and physical support for value addition activities,” says Chatyoka. FoodingAround will focus on three continents – Latin America,  Southern and Central Africa and Asia, the three continents represented by each member of the group. “We discovered there was a lot of products that could be made from Custard Apple in Zimbabwe; Safou from the Democratic Republic of Congo; Baru from Brazil and Litchi [Lychee] from China. We will start with these and grow into many others,” she says. The group also hopes to augment an online platform for technical support and the sharing of information from the four parts of the world the group represents.  Exporting and importing these different products between country hubs is also an idea.


Finally, the hackathon champions were Insect-Inside, composed of Antonio Gagliardi, Donatello Maccario, Karla Gonzales, Chiara Cecchini, Elisa Bedin, Francesco Attanasio and Riccardo Fantozzi.

Chiara Cecchini explains “Insect-Inside is an edu-business in a modular box, which helps fight hunger, by growing insect-based foods to self-consume and sell”. The idea is that the enterprise finds alternative solutions to animal based proteins, which in the future will no longer be able to support increased population growth. The group also aims to collaborate with low-income artisans in underprivileged areas, so that they can receive a new sustainable source of protein and an extra source of income.


The winners of the hackathon get to compete in London’s first Food Hack on October 23rd to 25th – a collaborative event between tech talent and brands to create innovative food-tech solutions to sustainability challenges. Victoria Christine Albrecht, who also directs the Food StartUp School, founded and will run the event later this year.

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