supply chains

coffe from the worldThe rise of Fair Trade food and other products has been amazing over the past 4 years. Indeed, it’s great to see how certification for the origins (and production processes) of products  is becoming both prevalent and expected. For me, it’s nice to know where my morning coffee was grown and indeed knowing that lets me figure out the quality of the coffee (is it single origin or a blend?).

I now think it’s time that we do the same for data. As we work in environments where our data is aggregated from multiple sources and processed along complex digital supply chains, we need the same sort of “fair trade” style certificate for our data. I want to know that my data was grown and nurtured and treated with care and it would be great to have a stamp that lets me understand that with a glance without having to a lot of complex digging.

In a just published commentary in IEEE Internet Computing, I go into a bit more detail about how provenance and linked data technologies are laying the ground work for fair trade data. Take a look and let me know what you think.



While exploring the London Science Museum, I saw this great exhibit for the Toaster Project. The idea was to try to build a modern day toaster from scratch. There’s a video describing the project below and more info about the project from the site linked above.  What was interesting was that to get some information about how things were produced, Thomas Thwaites had to go look in some pretty old books to see how things get produced. I think it would be cool to make it easy to link  every product in my house to how to produce it (or how it was created) without going through a 9 month process to figure it out.

Should you be responsible for the safety of your food? The article, Food Companies Are Placing the Onus for Safety on Consumers, in the New York Times is scary. The fundamental point is that it’s extremely difficult for companies that make ready-made frozen meals to verify the safety of their food  because the supply chains have gotten so complex and they cannot track the provenance of the ingredients. Furthermore, the manufactures have resisted putting in place tracking systems. From the article:

But government efforts to impose tougher trace-back requirements for ingredients have met with resistance from food industry groups including the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which complained to the Food and Drug Administration: “This information is not reasonably needed and it is often not practical or possible to provide it.

Instead of instituting a track back mechanism, the manufactures are trying to get consumers to ensure they cook their meals safe, reaching a “kill-step” where bacteria is destroyed. However, as discussed in the article this is actually very hard to do for some meals. 

Personally, I’m going to lay off ready made meals, which is unfortunate because they do come in handy. Generally, I want to know about provenance even if I can destroy all the bacteria with a smoking microwave. Additionally, I wonder how we can get the computer science research products we have been doing in the CS Provenance Community into the hands of these manufacturers. I really believe the collecting and managing the kind of the documentation they need can be significantly cheaper and more effective than they expect using our technology.

Check out further discussion at the New York Times’ Room For Debate blog.


After my post on Saturday about chinese food, merpel pointed out to me that the new issue of Wired has an entire issue devoted to the future of food. Of particular interest is the infographic shown above The Global Menu: Food from Afar that displays the distance that food has to travel to get to Iowa, which is some how apropos because I have roots there. It’s just amazing to me that in a place with such great soil where anything can grow apples are shipped in from 1726 miles away! I mean my grandmother who lives in Iowa has an orchard out back so its definitely possible….

Food is obviously a great example of provenance and it’s something I’ll be coming back to frequently, particularly, because it’s probably the example that gets people thinking the most… “how was the frozen meal I just purchased made?”

Here in California, I think it’s one of the reasons that Proposition 2 (a ballot initiative to regulate the confinement of animals) has a good chance of passing (72% in favor: Survey USA poll Sept.). People are beginning to care about how their food is produced and in this case how animals are treated before they make it to the dinner plate. There was a great piece in this past Sunday’s New York Times Sunday Magazine (The Barnyard Strategist) about Proposition 2 and the man behind the initiative, Wayne Pacelle, the director of the Humane Society.

Steven Shaw has an op-ed in the NY Times about the extremely poor working conditions and pay for chinese food delivery in New York. I haven’t had takeout chinese delivered since I’ve moved to LA but I’m pretty sure its the same here. It’s interesting to note that it’s difficult for consumers to be aware of what the true price of convenience is.

I just saw an interesting post in the New York Times’ Green Inc. blog about how an Indian state controlled firm (with a consortium of other investors) is trying to acquire coal mines in appalachia. It’s a powerful example of how the software delivered from Bangalore may be powered by coal from West Virginia. It brings up the interesting question of how can individuals lock in the sources of their stuff without the purchasing power of a corporation.

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