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Innovate for a fast food lifestyle or beyond it?

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At every Community Table this Examiner has the privilege to attend, the conversation is electric. As Nicole Ledoux of 88 acres reflected, “I leave every week with something I might not have thought of or didn’t know existed… It’s an hour and a half of learning.”

After last Friday’s Table at NYU Food Studies, I’ve been gnawing on the principal topic ever since: For those seeking to create new market options for our food system, should the goal be to innovate into our crazed, overcommitted lives or outside them, thus nudging us into calmer states of being?

Obviously the second task is much harder since it requires significant and sustainable behavior change against the tide of incentives we live with – namely to hug our iPhones like security blankets and tear around the world making money, making status, doing it all and being it all.

In New York City, this dynamic is typified. Forget the "New York minute." That's so '87. Now our time is measured in seconds. Vine gives you 6. At curtain, you better hope your audience is still there.

From the mount, food leadership cries: Cook! Cook! Cook! Sound advice for those seeking to get closer to their food, know what’s in it, and lead healthier lives. But it may fail to appreciate how much our world is stacked against cooking.

While farmers markets spring up everywhere and the demand for transparent raw ingredients grows, these markets presume that the eater has the time or the discipline to make the time required to use them.

We demand “fresh” while growing impatient with how fast “fresh” goes bad in the fridge.

And besides, we are cooking. We’re cooking our jobs – because eighty percent of jobs aren’t posted and so many others haven’t even been created. (Increasingly, job seekers are tasked with pitching employers on roles that don’t exist and then sell themselves into them.) We’re cooking our educations because the real-time knowledge required to understand shifting market trends and opportunity spaces outpace what (most) classrooms can keep up with.

We are cooking. In every other aspect of our lives. And we’re tired.

While one half of career thought leadership prescribes that we slow down and take our time, the other half urges that we hurry up, check Twitter and stay relevant – i.e. be plugged in all the time.

If we are yanked in two directions, we can bet that food entrepreneurs’ customers (eaters) are too.

Designing for a customer so conflicted – who can’t decide if she wants a meal in a bottle or a cooking kit or a restaurant or takeout – is pretty tricky. Solutions to this pickle will require some pretty sophisticated designs, designs that provide a whole lot more than just food. To get there, we’re going to need everyone at the Table.

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