Jakob Vicari is co-founder and managing director of tactile.news, an innovation lab for new formats in Lüneburg. He is a pioneer of sensor journalism. Currently, tactile.news is working on an industry project in which sensors make the dairy industry more transparent.
Consumers want to eat well-informed. I know that the coffee beans come from the Worka cooperative in Ethiopia and can ask my barista what the coffee farmers there got for the green coffee. And of course, she knows which farmers from the Elbe Valley meadows are responsible for the milk in Flat White. I can enter the tracking code of my organic peas into my smartphone and show my kids the fields in the Elbe Valley where they were harvested. I think that's great. I can write to Inma from Cartaya in Spain, who sent me her blueberries via crowdfarming, and tell her how good they taste. But I can also watch Björn Friedrichsen on Instagram planting my fennel in the Eichdorf variety garden, which I will soon buy from him at the Lüneburg weekly market (https://www.instagram.com/eichdorfervielfaltsgarten). I appreciate it. I like to invest time in these stories. And I consider myself a typical consumer. But food has also become complicated. At the same time, like many people, I sometimes feel overwhelmed when I stand in front of the shelf with 30 types of milk in the supermarket. How am I supposed to decide when I just want to buy good milk from happy cows? Showing me this requires not only elaborate research by journalists, but also new formats. It is a challenge for producers that should not be underestimated. Not only do they have to work openly and transparently, sharing data and images, but they also have to turn the screws on what consumers want. I believe in an economy that does not destroy, but works responsibly, that consciously looks at the climate and ensures prosperity throughout the supply chain. The way more and more farmers work.
I'm a science journalist, but I get emotional about food. I don't eat just any pasta, I don't eat just any chocolate, I don't drink just any milk. My reporter heart likes emotional reporting: whether that's a TV chef, a food influencer, or a cow telling it from her point of view, as we did in our Super Cows project. I love the diversity of journalism: besides that, there's also an unprecedented depth of information. There's in-depth, informed science journalism about the future of food, as with Reef Reporters (www.riffreporter.de), and constructive-investigative journalism, like Flip (https://letsflip.de/) does. For most, food is more than instant liquid food from a plastic bottle. It moves us! How many industries can say that about themselves? And I find it exciting how technology can contribute to better information.
Above all, there are more pictures. I grew up with Die Sendung mit der Maus and the Süddeutsche Zeitung at the kitchen table. That has shaped my image. My children watch influencers on Instagram and documentaries on YouTube; they have the vastness of the web at their fingertips. They exchange information with friends in Messenger. They are sometimes better informed, but they have completely different images of nutrition in their heads than I do. As a journalist, I'm always on the lookout for new perspectives on the world. Many of my colleagues feel the same way. They are grateful for openness and transparency on the part of manufacturers, which enables them to paint a complete picture. There are many positive changes to be discovered. It is also the task of journalism to take a critical look. These are images that have to be endured. The precarious conditions of workers in the meat industry, the harvest workers in Spain - they have also changed because colleagues have reported.
I am convinced that consumers are grateful for transparent information. They appreciate the effort and courage it takes to assess, for example, how much work goes into the cheese in front of them. This is how I perceive the reactions to our projects. Consumers want to locate the cheese in front of them, know the ingredients of fruit yogurt and how their vegetables are produced. Digitization helps with this. Just as we do videoconferencing, in the networked world I can also encounter my food in digital ways. Then it almost doesn't matter whether I cycle past the regional producer of my cheese in Sammatz or use a tracking code to meet the cheese maker in the video. Consumers don't expect a perfect advertising world, they expect honest and authentic conversations. From my point of view, every farmer, but also every apple tree and every dairy cow should give me a Whatsapp or Signal account so that I can ask my questions. There are so many stories worth telling.