Our panel of international experts explains why our food system needs a universal visual language.
Our panel of international experts explains why our food system needs a universal visual language.
I regularly have conversations with people from so many different perspectives (academic, corporate, government, lobbyists, etc.) and I’ve learned that before we try to fix something, so complex, we all need to talk about it in similar ways. The biggest distance in understanding is between players of different sizes: a coffee grower in Costa Rica and a multinational like Starbucks, for example. Their fates are intertwined but there is a complete imbalance in the relationship. Both need to exist and both need to speak with a common understanding of the larger context they work within.
Language is a marketing tool and lots of ingredients have completely different naming paths. Shared definitions and visual language are opportunities for governments to reset the ground rules to communicate more effectively. Because of such large investments in capital needed for new solutions and because Asia has such large populations—and less affluent ones—they are taking the lead.
People have forgotten where their food comes from and this isn’t just inner-city children that may have never been to a farm. Consumers need to own-up to the fact that they play a big part in what is being served and their focused actions can help create a more healthy supply chain, etc. At the same time, we’ve lost a degree of respect for farmers and those that work the land. I didn’t have much understanding of farmers, myself, until I set-up a natural snack company many years ago. The current food system has put them into a situation where they have to compete with factory farms or move increasingly into small niches. Most people aren’t willing to pay premiums for better, healthier food but they will pay much higher prices for specialty items, like fine chocolate, or when they understand the differences in origin, quality, health, flavor, etc. So, anything that helps them to better understand the food systems, will help them make better choices as well as support better food outcomes throughout the supply chain.
When a written language can’t unite us a visual language can. It’s how we navigate a foreign city, interpret explainer videos, and assemble furniture. And now it can actually help us understand our food — how it’s grown and harvested, what considerations went into its production, and how it impacts the planet and our health. Through the globally-sourced FoodIcons project designers from across the globe have contributed to a lexicon of visual identifiers — simple and direct icons — that help to tell the story of food and agriculture.
The task of a graphic designer is to clearly communicate ideas through visuals. Like solving a big puzzle with a tiny drawing, FoodIcons designers break down the most complex ideas into very simple terms, and then illustrate them, confining their drawing to a 23 pixel hexagon. Each icon delivers a snapshot for someone to quickly understand a food or agriculture concept. In a single gesture an icon can teach consumers more about their food, helping them become informed and staying mindful of their own personal values and goals before buying their food.
A vitally important aspect of FoodIcons is that it maintains visual integrity throughout the entire body of work. This in effect ensures its brand integrity, signaling to viewers an icon’s authenticity and provenance from a vetted panel of domain experts. As the collection grows and becomes more readily used around the world — through education, community outreach, in the marketplace and on packaging — its recognition grows exponentially. FoodIcons becomes a gold standard for consumers to seek out before making purchasing decisions.
By aligning to the established visual style, designers can grow the recognition and significance of this wide-reaching project. Think of FoodIcons as a living organism that grows out one icon at a time; while each icon is unique in its concept and meaning, the style, or “hand”, is consistent. Designers can contribute to this work by following the guidelines set forth in the FoodIcons Project overview. We’ve made it simple on purpose. Our guides and templates offer base elements which can be used as starting points. Colors, line weights, even layered Adobe Illustrator files offer all that a designer needs to get creating. A peer review system, judged by both designers and domain experts, ensures the final outcome is the best solution to iconify a complex idea.
A growing list of terms
How big does the Food icon system need to be and how many terms need to be represented?
There is no easy answer to this question. The Food Clarity activator team assembled a list of over 1000 terms pertaining to food systems, and this list is hardly complete, given that some researchers have identified nearly 10,000. In exercises used to prioritize these terms, it became clear than many are more useful than others and 500-600 terms is a sweet spot for communicating the most important processes, elements, and even ingredients to global, commercial supply cycles.
Our aim is to launch the food icon challenge in rounds of 200-300 terms. Within just a few challenge rounds, we should have a cohesive visual inventory allowing the vast majority of food professionals to communicate the bulk of their needs.
There are many people doing incredible work globally to improve various food systems but too much of it is siloed within specialized frameworks, vocabularies, and languages, This work is disconnected from others and, therefore, not supportive of wider, systemic solutions. A group of food experts and designers have been devising a visual language to unite various food system stakeholders across the world in order to improve this communication and collaboration. The first phase of this process is complete, outlining how to complete a vastly larger system that transcends languages. In order to complete this system, the Foodicons Challenge will a crowdsourced competition to collaboratively design a large system of open-source icons of key food terms and concepts and frameworks that can be used globally by professionals and consumers, alike.
When we started this project, our hunch was that various popular food frameworks were not so different, despite their vocabularies. At their heart, most food frameworks and initiatives work with the same elements and have compatible goals. In addition, work around the world in every community relies on clear communication that often needs to transcend language. The global food supply cycle touches so many regions, people, and stakeholders, that any one language isn’t enough to communicate throughout. We don’t expect a visual language system to solve every communication challenge but we expect that it can ease communication and comprehension and help people understand how disparate efforts and approaches support similar goals and outcomes.
The goals of this project include:
While the first audiences for this system are those in the industrial and commercial parts of food systems, we do expect these icons to be used by many other groups—right down to eaters and other food consumers. From farmers, marine farmers, and those throughout the agriculture and aquaculture industries, to food businesses, restaurants, certifiers, and consumers, consistent communication is an obvious ideal. Constructing a viable system, however, is not without its challenges.
First, our food systems are vast and spread all over the planet. Supple cycles are long, encompassing all kinds of growing, raising, processing, transportation, packaging, and markets. In addition, some stakeholders use different terms to differentiate their offerings, whether this confuses users or makes things more clear—or both, simultaneously. It’s no surprise that terms are misunderstood at all levels.
However, our initial investigations and prototypes have proven to us that visual languages can help, even if not exhaustively. The discussions that these symbols provoke, alone, have been valuable in illuminating expertise from different people and sectors.
Our next step is to use the learnings from our prototype and launch the first round of the challenge to designers worldwide. It will likely take two, three, or more rounds of challenges to fill-out the iconographic system to meet the needs of so many stakeholders but the process for each challenge can be the same.
We are asking more of agriculture. The value of a food system and the relationship to climate, biodiversity and how we relate to each other is a far larger economy than the food fiber and energy that is exchanged as agricultural commodities. The smallest patterns of land stewardship start from an individual’s observations, at eye level, and form the unique fingerprints they leave on the landscape. The ground-level patterns start microscopically but express themselves and change with our management of water, fire, plants, animals, harvests, and fertilization. It is at this level where land stewards’ decisions are made that directly affect the billions of organisms in each handful of soil. It’s where improvements to soil health are planned, practiced, measured, and adjusted. It is where businesses are built. It is the place where individuals implement practices informed by data, their own observations. We can observe in our own backyards how these ground-level patterns of regeneration build on the infinitely intricate details of nature. It is a process that we may all experience and which leaves, not a footprint, but a unique fingerprint on every product that comes from the land.
To share the stories of our unique fingerprints on the land requires a universal language that can communicate across cultural boundaries and be a meaningful record of our interaction with nature, which is why Foodicons have such an important role to play. Foodicons assembled meaningfully together can form the foundation for a Visual Language to make visible the unique “Fingerprint” of people on all land. An agricultural fingerprint, when represented in a visual language, enables a shareable data-driven story about people and our influence on the land over time.
Foodicons are an effective tool for communicating the local nuance of agriculture because they are simple, easy to understand, and visually appealing. They are human readable but can also be digitally exchanged and data driven. They can help bridge the gap between technical information and public understanding and help build a broader and more accessible public dialog around agriculture. Foodicons are useful for explaining regenerative agriculture in particular because they are visual representations of complex concepts and ideas which are combined and adapted to local conditions. Foodicons preview a pathway to de-commodify the food system, while still enabling efficient exchange and vibrant food economies.
By coupling Foodicons with scoring systems and data driven representations, individuals and organizations are more easily able to consistently communicate challenges and opportunities involved within an individual farm and also communicate the unique nature of regional foodsheds.
For example, Foodicons can communicate in a rapid and accessible way the use of renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power, in agriculture, or the conservation of natural resources, such as water and soil. Foodicons can also be used to highlight labor practices, local food systems, and the reduction of food waste. The use of Foodicons when coupled with data, scoring and benchmark systems can help engage audiences, especially those who may not have a background in agriculture, in discussions about regenerative agriculture and the role of agriculture in achieving development goals.
An example of how I might use Foodicons to represent a “fingerprint” follows:
We’re seeing major challenges in the design of global food systems. The concept of optimization through specialization will be reconsidered in the future. We now question our dependence upon global sourcing as pandemics shut down entire regions and international trade in favor of feeding local populations. Increased automation in the industrial food system could improve worker safety, public health, and access. The ideal is a fully resilient and redundant food sourcing system that can rapidly respond to changes and threats to the food system.
Currently, specialized food systems, such as the plant-based supply chain or the meat protein supply chain, do not have a language for communicating with each other. Those designing a new, integrated and resilient food system, need a neutral, yet precise tool for conveying the activities within their own separate supply chains.
New communication tools can bridge different supply chains for the purpose of creating more resilience, adaptability, and traceability in a world of rapid change. Consumers need to know how to make their own food choices while having a complete understanding of the practices and impacts of the food they are consuming.
Food is an essential part of our lives, so people must clearly understand what they choose to consume. The Foodicons project aims to help clarify complex food-related concepts and principles, creating simple and familiar visual elements for all.
As a designer living abroad with food allergies, I know firsthand how difficult it can be to interpret lengthy ingredient lists in an unfamiliar language. Foodicons can enable us to make more informed decisions about the products we consume and how we communicate our complex food system, making information more accessible, understandable, and accurate for everyone.
With the Foodicons design guidelines, we can empower creators to communicate complex concepts, such as food allergens, into a set of icons that are easy to understand and create. These icons have a unique hexagon-outlined shape, highlighting the icon’s identity.
Iconography is a powerful tool for visual communication. One of the main advantages of using standardized icons is that they can help overcome language and cultural barriers. Icons can be understood by people from different parts of the world, regardless of their linguistic background or educational level. Icons can also be easily integrated into various media, such as digital screens, packages and other print materials, making them highly adaptable communication tools.
It was a privilege to participate in such a significant project and witness the involvement of creators from around the world.
Food is universal. Every human needs it not only to survive but to thrive. Likewise, the food systems that encompass the journey of food from farm to plate span boarders and traverse continents. Today we are living in a world where we depend on one another for our global food supply, and collaboration across cultures is essential to ensure its safety, transparency and sustainably.
Foodicons are an open-source visual language that enable key players in our food systems — such as farmers, ranchers, restaurateurs, supply chain managers and consumers — to seamlessly communicate across cultures, regions and languages. At their core, Foodicons are a key set of standardized terms and definitions that describe various aspects and principles of our food systems translated into intuitively recognizable icons. These icons can then be used on food packaging, restaurant menus, educational tools, research papers, mobile apps, or almost anywhere we want to communicate about food.
For example, [insert icon] is the foodicon for Women’s Economic Empowerment. It could be used on a label for a food item from a company that actively supports giving women equal access to employment and market opportunities. Another example is [insert icon], which is the Foodicon for compostable. This could be used on a food container made out of organic matter that can go into your home or community compost.
In short, Foodicons are a visual language that enable an alignment of food systems concepts in a readily available and easily shareable way. Anyone, anywhere can use them to communicate and understand a full range of concepts describing our food systems. In turn, this can lead to increased food systems transparency and greater food literacy, while empowering people in all areas of our food system to create market and system changes that improve our global food supply.
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Providing best water quality conditions to ensure optimal living condition for growth, breeding and other physiological needs
Water quality is sourced from natural seawater with dependency on the tidal system. Water is treated to adjust pH and alkalinity before stocking.
Producers that own and manages the farm operating under small-scale farming model with limited input, investment which leads to low to medium production yield
All 1,149 of our farmers in both regencies are smallholder farmers who operate with low stocking density, traditional ponds, and no use of any other intensification technology.
Safe working conditions — cleanliness, lighting, equipment, paid overtime, hazard safety, etc. — happen when businesses conduct workplace safety audits and invest in the wellbeing of their employees
Company ensure implementation of safe working conditions by applying representative of workers to health and safety and conduct regular health and safety training. The practices are proven by ASIC standards’ implementation
Implementation of farming operations, management and trading that impact positively to community wellbeing and sustainable better way of living
The company works with local stakeholders and local governments to create support for farmers and the farming community in increasing resilience. Our farming community is empowered by local stakeholders continuously to maintain a long generation of farmers.
Freezing seafood rapidly when it is at peak freshness to ensure a higher quality and longer lasting product
Our harvests are immediately frozen with ice flakes in layers in cool boxes. Boxes are equipped with paper records and coding for traceability. We ensure that our harvests are processed with the utmost care at <-18 degrees Celsius.
Sourcing plant based ingredients, like soy, from producers that do not destroy forests to increase their growing area and produce fish feed ingredients
With adjacent locations to mangroves and coastal areas, our farmers and company are committed to no deforestation at any scale. Mangrove rehabilitation and replantation are conducted every year in collaboration with local authorities. Our farms are not established in protected habitats and have not resulted from deforestation activity since the beginning of our establishment.
Implement only natural feeds grown in water for aquatic animal’s feed without use of commercial feed
Our black tiger shrimps are not fed using commercial feed. The system is zero input and depends fully on natural feed grown in the pond. Our farmers use organic fertilizer and probiotics to enhance the water quality.
Enhance biodiversity through integration of nature conservation and food production without negative impact to surrounding ecosysytem
As our practices are natural, organic, and zero input, farms coexist with surrounding biodiversity which increases the volume of polyculture and mangrove coverage area. Farmers’ groups, along with the company, conduct regular benthic assessments, river cleaning, and mangrove planting.
THE TERM “MOONSHOT” IS OFTEN USED TO DESCRIBE an initiative that goes beyond the confines of the present by transforming our greatest aspirations into reality, but the story of a moonshot isn’t that of a single rocket. In fact, the Apollo program that put Neil Armstrong on the moon was actually preceded by the Gemini program, which in a two-year span rapidly put ten rockets into space. This “accelerated” process — with a new mission nearly every 2-3 months — allowed NASA to rapidly iterate, validate their findings and learn from their mistakes. Telemetry. Propulsion. Re-entry. Each mission helped NASA build and test a new piece of the puzzle.
The program also had its fair share of creative challenges, especially at the outset, as the urgency of the task at hand required that the roadmap for getting to the moon be written in parallel with the rapid pace of Gemini missions. Through it all, the NASA teams never lost sight of their ultimate goal, and the teams finally aligned on their shared responsibilities. Within three years of Gemini’s conclusion, a man did walk on the moon.
FACT is a food systems solutions activator that assesses the current food landscape, engages with key influencers, identifies trends, surveys innovative work and creates greater visibility for ideas and practices with the potential to shift key food and agricultural paradigms.
Each activator focuses on a single moonshot; instead of producing white papers, policy briefs or peer-reviewed articles, these teams design and implement blueprints for action. At the end of each activator, their work is released to the public and open-sourced.
As with any rapid iteration process, many of our activators re-assess their initial plans and pivot to address new challenges along the way. Still, one thing has remained constant: their conviction that by working together and pooling their knowledge and resources, they can create a multiplier effect to more rapidly activate change.
Who can enter and how selections are made.
A Greener Blue is a global call to action that is open to individuals and teams from all over the world. Below is a non-exhaustive list of subjects the initiative targets.
To apply, prospective participants will need to fill out the form on the website, by filling out each part of it. Applications left incomplete or containing information that is not complete enough will receive a low score and have less chance of being admitted to the storytelling lab.
Nonprofit organizations, communities of fishers and fish farmers and companies that are seeking a closer partnership or special support can also apply by contacting email@example.com and interacting with the members of our team.
Special attention will be given to the section of the form regarding the stories that the applicants want to tell and the reasons for participating. All proposals for stories regarding small-scale or artisanal fishers or aquaculturists, communities of artisanal fishers or aquaculturists, and workers in different steps of the seafood value chain will be considered.
Stories should show the important role that these figures play in building a more sustainable seafood system. To help with this narrative, the initiative has identified 10 principles that define a more sustainable seafood system. These can be viewed on the initiative’s website and they state:
Seafood is sustainable when:
Proposed stories should show one or more of these principles in practice.
Applications are open from the 28th of June to the 15th of August 2022. There will be 50 selected applicants who will be granted access to The Lexicon’s Total Storytelling Lab. These 50 applicants will be asked to accept and sign a learning agreement and acceptance of participation document with which they agree to respect The Lexicon’s code of conduct.
The first part of the lab will take place online between August the 22nd and August the 26th and focus on training participants on the foundation of storytelling, supporting them to create a production plan, and aligning all of them around a shared vision.
Based on their motivation, quality of the story, geography, and participation in the online Lab, a selected group of participants will be gifted a GoPro camera offered to the program by GoPro For A Change. Participants who are selected to receive the GoPro camera will need to sign an acceptance and usage agreement.
The second part of the Storytelling Lab will consist of a production period in which each participant will be supported in the production of their own story. This period goes from August 26th to October 13th. Each participant will have the opportunity to access special mentorship from an international network of storytellers and seafood experts who will help them build their story. The Lexicon also provides editors, animators, and graphic designers to support participants with more technical skills.
The final deadline to submit the stories is the 14th of October. Participants will be able to both submit complete edited stories, or footage accompanied by a storyboard to be assembled by The Lexicon’s team.
All applicants who will exhibit conduct and behavior that is contrary to The Lexicon’s code of conduct will be automatically disqualified. This includes applicants proposing stories that openly discriminate against a social or ethnic group, advocate for a political group, incite violence against any group, or incite to commit crimes of any kind.
All submissions must be the entrant’s original work. Submissions must not infringe upon the trademark, copyright, moral rights, intellectual rights, or rights of privacy of any entity or person.
Participants will retain the copyrights to their work while also granting access to The Lexicon and the other partners of the initiative to share their contributions as part of A Greener Blue Global Storytelling Initiative.
If a potential selected applicant cannot be reached by the team of the Initiative within three (3) working days, using the contact information provided at the time of entry, or if the communication is returned as undeliverable, that potential participant shall forfeit.
Selected applicants will be granted access to an advanced Storytelling Lab taught and facilitated by Douglas Gayeton, award-winning storyteller and information architect, co-founder of The Lexicon. In this course, participants will learn new techniques that will improve their storytelling skills and be able to better communicate their work with a global audience. This skill includes (but is not limited to) how to build a production plan for a documentary, how to find and interact with subjects, and how to shoot a short documentary.
The Lexicon provides video editors, graphic designers, and animators to support the participants to complete their stories.
The submitted stories will be showcased during international and local events, starting from the closing event of the International Year of Fisheries and Aquaculture 2022 in Rome, in January 2023. The authors of the stories will be credited and may be invited to join.
Storytelling lab participation:
Applicants that will be granted access to the storytelling Lab will be evaluated based on the entries they provided in the online form, and in particular:
Applications will be evaluated by a team of 4 judges from The Lexicon, GSSI and the team of IYAFA (Selection committee).
When selecting applications, the call promoters may request additional documentation or interviews both for the purpose of verifying compliance with eligibility requirements and to facilitate proposal evaluation.
Participants to the Storytelling Lab who will be given a GoPro camera will be selected based on:
The evaluation will be carried out by a team of 4 judges from The Lexicon, GSSI and the team of IYAFA (Selection committee).
Incidental expenses and all other costs and expenses which are not specifically listed in these Official Rules but which may be associated with the acceptance, receipt and use of the Storytelling Lab and the camera are solely the responsibility of the respective participants and are not covered by The Lexicon or any of the A Greener Blue partners.
All participants who receive a Camera are required to sign an agreement allowing GoPro for a Cause, The Lexicon and GSSI to utilize the films for A Greener Blue and their promotional purposes. All participants will be required to an agreement to upload their footage into the shared drive of The Lexicon and make the stories, films and images available for The Lexicon and the promoting partners of A Greener Blue.