Food apps for change

16 December 2014

A trip to the supermarket can quickly become a moral quagmire. We’ve taken a look at a range of smartphone apps to help you make better food choices.

Navigating your way through labels and packets, choosing the best seasonal produce with the lowest pesticide levels, or purchasing the most sustainable seafood can all be a challenge when shopping for food.

Smartphone apps are increasingly playing a role in educating consumers about what they are eating. An important part of creating a restorative food system involves ensuring that consumers are educated about their food choices: whether this is influenced by nutrition, environmental factors, ethics or traceability.

Overseas, the role of ICT (information and communication technology) is allowing shoppers to be better informed.  Here in New Zealand, a few apps are making it easier for consumers to make good food choices.

  1. Conscious Consumers:free. This home-grown app allows consumers to find hospitality businesses, learn about the positive impacts they are making, get rewarded with ethical specials and loyalty points, and show businesses that there is a demand for environmentally responsible and ethically produced food and beverages.
  2. Food Switch: free. This app allows shoppers to scan the barcodes of packaged food in the supermarket or at home, and presents easy to understand information about that product’s nutritional makeup using a colour coded system. The app also provides a list of similar foods that are healthier choices.
  3. Forest and Bird Best Fish Guide: this app makes it easy to make smart, eco-friendly seafood choices in the supermarket and when dining out. The guide is based on a traffic light system, with each species ranked by its ecological sustainability.

Feeling inspired? Here are eleven apps identified by Food Tank, US based food think tank and NGO, which help to increase awareness for buyers and sellers at supermarkets/farmers markets. Although they have been created for the US market, they also have relevance for New Zealand and are examples of ICT business opportunities.

  1. Dirty Dozen:free. Published by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non-profit environmental research organisation. This app focuses on which types of conventionally raised produce are the lowest in pesticides and which types are the highest. Lists include the Dirty Dozen, like apples, spinach, and grapes, and the Clean Fifteen, like sweet corn, asparagus, and cantaloupe. The app helps decide when finding an organic alternative is especially important. The Dirty Dozen Plus, an expanded app, includes a list of hot peppers and leafy greens.
  2. Farmstand: free. The app lists more than 8700 farmers markets around the world and connects shoppers with markets for locally grown food. It supports local communities andlinks users by allowing them to take and post pictures of markets and vendors, alert others to great finds, and browse information posted by fellow market-goers. Markets can be sorted by location and opening time.
  3. Good Guide: free. A wide-ranging shopping app that includes everything from produce to pet food, the Good Guide rates products and producers according to their health, environmental, and social benefits. In the case of fresh produce, dairy and meats, items can be sorted using filters such as organic, vegan, and specific nutrition aspects (low sodium, etc.). The app can be tailored to highlight shoppers’ personal requirements.
  4. Harvest: paid. The app provides a list of pesticide levels on fruit and vegetables while instructing shoppers on methods for picking the best and ripest  in-season produce – from shaking blueberries to knocking on watermelons. It also provides information on the best means of storage for different kinds of produce
  5. HarvestMark Food Traceability: free. Participating fruit, vegetable, and dairy brands label their products with a 16-digit HarvestMark code or QR code; shoppers use the app to scan the code, retrieve the product’s harvest information, and give feedback. The app connects food producers with their customers and offers food production transparency.
  6. Locavore:free. Locavore has a large database of local farmers markets, farms, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), and vendors selling organic produce and in-season foods. It showcases recipes using in-season ingredients and also allows users to tag local sellers, share reviews, and post new finds.
  7. Love Food Hate Waste:free. Produced by the United Kingdom-based organisation WRAP, the app helps shoppers reduce food waste by better organising their kitchen, cooking, and shopping habits. It helps eaters keep track of what’s in their cupboards, posts alerts where there are duplicate items, highlights recipes for how to best use the food that’s already there, and cuts down on unnecessary purchases.
  8. Seafood Watch (US) / Good Fish Guide (UK):free. Optimised for use in the United States or in the United Kingdom respectively, these two apps help shoppers identify the most sustainable seafood options at the market. Seafood Watch highlights best choices and indicates the options to avoid. The Good Fish Guide uses a traffic light rating system.
  9. Seasons:paid. The app lists natural growing season data and local availability of hundreds of kinds of produce, from herbs to mushrooms to fruits. It also includes the import seasons of produce, photos, and the location of farmers markets around the world.
  10. True Food:free. Some countries, including the United States, do not require mandatory labelling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). This app, created by the non-profit environmental advocacy organisation Centre for Food Safety, helps shoppers identify which foods contain GMOs, including dairy products, meat, and meat alternative.
  11. What’s on my food? free. Created by the Pesticide Action Network (PAN), this app accesses an extensive and up-to-date database of all pesticides used on various kinds of produce. Pesticide residues remain on some fruits and vegetables even after washing. Watermelon in the United States, for example, can have up to 26 different pesticide residues by the time it reaches market, according to PAN. The app illuminates the health effects of each pesticide, from the relatively benign to the downright dangerous. 

Restorative Food project leader Emily Dowding Smith believes there is great potential for New Zealand to use tech-savvy solutions to tackle issues in our food system, in particular apps for farmers markets which could be used to further strengthen relationships between growers and buyers.

SBN’s Restorative Food project aims to find solutions and opportunities to the challenges in our food system. Click here to find out more, or click here to contact Emily.