Skip to main content
  1. Life
  2. Green
  3. Organic Lifestyle

Social labs for the food system

See also

Monday, this Examiner got to learn about social labs. Social innovator Zaid Hassan has worked inside some pretty daunting social and environmental challenges and his new book The Social Labs Revolution (released this week, which this Examiner gobbled up on Wednesday’s snow day) details that journey.

In contrast to technical laboratories where clearly defined problems render straightforward planning sufficient, social laboratories are Hassan’s prescription for addressing uncertain and complex challenges.

As a system, food does not call for a technical lab. Be they global or local, food systems are adaptive, which Hassan defines with three characteristics:

  1. activity is emergent (i.e. unpredictable)
  2. information load is monumental and growing
  3. responsive behavior is adaptive

In short, eater behavior changes in response to new information, which is driven by emergent activity.

In the thorny thicket of diet-related disease, soil and water degradation, extreme weather, food access and distribution breakdowns, more widely recognized human rights violations, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, unsustainable government subsidies, fragile ecosystems, trans-global supply chains, unsustainable energy demands, and fragmented but rapidly growing consumer awareness – our food troubles are not universally understood. Nor is there agreement around the path forward.

Everyone eats. So everyone is in the food system. When has Planet Earth ever managed to reach consensus? Let alone when it comes to something requiring the coordination of us all.

Hassan worked with The Sustainable Food Lab for years and reflects: “The modern global food system can, without being hyperbolic, be called the mother of all systemic problems.”

If this Examiner is honest, most days the food-system landscape looks pretty bleak. The scale and severity of our challenges are daunting. Climate change is a very real threat to our capacity to feed and water ourselves. It’s scary stuff that keeps me up at night.

What gets me out of bed in the morning is the energy, ambition and commitment of food entrepreneurs of all kinds who are willing to try, to risk, to fail, to rethink and to try again. These scrappy food warriors recognize, in the words of Malcolm Gladwell in his new book David and Goliath, “that effort can trump ability and that conventions are made to be challenged.”

What gets me out of bed in the morning is the chance to go to the places where these warriors meet, places like Community Table, Food Sol’s prototype of a social lab, that twice a week hosts food entrepreneurs of all kinds to share coffee and possibility among individuals who are rewiring our food system whatever ways they can, every single day.



  • Dead babies found
    Seven dead babies were found in Utah resident Megan Huntsman's old home
    Shocking Discovery
  • Kendall Jenner
    Get the Coachella looks: Kendall Jenner’s nose ring, green hair and edgy nails
    Coachella Look
  • Dog's Easter basket
    How to fill your dog’s Easter basket with the perfect toys
    Easter Basket
  • Rabbit owners
    Bringing home the bunny: Important information for rabbit owners
    7 Photos
  • Haunted island
    The world’s most haunted island may soon be the most haunted luxury resort
    Haunted Resort
  • Sunken ferry
    Search continues for missing passengers after a ferry sinks off the South Korean coast
    Sunken Ferry

User login

Log in
Sign in with your email and password. Or reset your password.
Write for us
Interested in becoming an Examiner and sharing your experience and passion? We're always looking for quality writers. Find out more about and apply today!