How Algorithms Can Drive Equity in Food Distribution

Algorithms are woven through the expanding world of smart phones and smart devices that permeate our lives. They bring us our news and curate information. They’re even starting to drive our cars and deliver our food.

But an algorithm is nothing more (or less) than a process for making a decision, and the Refresh Working Group wants to rethink how we make our decisions. We want better algorithmic decision-making and better human decision-making in order to create a healthier, more equitable and more efficient food system.

Feeding Children Everywhere is using an algorithm to to run a service called Full Cart (formerly Fed40) that helps to distribute food to those in need. The platform delivers nutritious, easy-to-prepare meal kits to the people who need them most: people who work hard and yet still can’t afford to feed their families without the support of a food pantry. Full Cart is part of a new generation of apps using the power of algorithmic decision-making to multiply opportunities for the food system to serve all its stakeholders.

Another tool improving how food is (re)distributed, Feeding America’s MealConnect employs algorithms to prevent food waste by streamlining the process of donating and allocating food that might otherwise end up in a landfill. This is a classic problem that technology can help solve, tracking and processing data in real time so donations can go where they will have the greatest impact. And algorithms that address food waste can operate at multiple scales; the EatBy App helps people avoid food waste by using AI to suggest how long their food will stay fresh.

These are just a few of the tools that give us hope for a refreshed food system. We can all develop better algorithms by making healthier, more equitable decisions throughout our food system. With a thoughtful, collaborative approach, the Refresh Working Group is truly thankful for the opportunity to create a space for that discussion.

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