I just read about a project I find intriguing on a number of levels. It’s called Food: An Atlas, and it is an attempt by a loose and shaggy collection of cartographers, researchers, and I am guessing more than a few activists in both groups to literally map out food production and distribution around the world.
It is interesting that with all the statistics, data and technological potential we have at our fingertips, collating information to get a true-ish picture of production, distribution and consumption in the real world remains a challenge. This isn’t just true of food, it’s true of carbon footprints, oil, water, and almost anything else beyond a single specific product such as coffee or bananas.
A project of this kind isn’t just interesting for the maps it will produce, or the information we can glean from any given illustration. It provides a way forward for the kind of cooperation and interdisciplinary thinking we need on a global level. The map on the left, for example, was put together by a Berkeley high school student for a class project. Assuming a certain level of oversight, this kind of collaboration allows people at all different levels of expertise to make a genuine contribution.
It also brings out the best in what social media has to offer. In June 2012, Darin Jensen – a UC Berkeley professor of cartography – put out the call for maps that examined food production and distribution. And maps on everything from local markets and snack trucks to the international trade agricultural products and regional meat production started coming in. I expect the upcoming book will be as shaggy as the coalition of people who put it together, and will only be the beginning of the project, but what an inspiration. What a start.
And, as always, I love innovative ways of presenting information. The next step will be to see just how this kind of information, once gathered, can be implemented on the newly charted ground.