What’s Behind the Cloud?

what's behind the cloud webpage screenshot

The way we understand the internet today is blurred by the idea that the virtual world is indeed only virtual and omnipresent. And this is a problem: when people believe blindly in something, we delegate a lot of power to the structures that make this  network possible. Behind the cloud is the  result of my research on the boundaries of the internet and the infrastructure of natural resources, human labor and data that lies behind it. In sum, this project addresses and personifies this “Myth of the cloud”, aiming to make this information more accessible and interactive in order to help users question the status quo of the technology that shapes the way we behave today.

Click in the gif below to access and interact with the project.

Below I will describe about the process and references that led me to create this experience.

 It all started with a different question…

 

For the past couple of years I have been working in the tech industry in different roles, towards the path that led me to the designer and technologist that I am today. I’ve always been passionate about Human Computer Interaction and amazed by the democratic aspect of it. When creating an UX experience, usually for websites or mobile apps, the first thing I think is: “Who am I designing for?”, and do my research to make the best interaction possible accordingly.

But…what about who I am NOT designing for?— what about the people that don’t want to be or that are not online today? Have I ever really researched about them? Isn’t it important that as a designer, and mainly as an optimist person that believes in the potential of the internet as a democratic tool, to really understand the limitations and boundaries of this technology? I thought so, and this idea was stuck in my head.

Consequently, I decided to take this question as the starting point of my research during this semester.

 

By starting to research through reading a couple of UNICEF and World Economic Forum reports on internet penetration reach and also by talking with fellow students at ITP that are very in depth with the research around data privacy, I started to map the world outside the mainstream web, trying to identify the existing boundaries of user presence in what we understand as the internet today.

This mapping exercise made me realize the two main extremes in these spectrum:

 

The reality of not being online

Basically 50% of the world is not online. Even though this is very well known, this number is very striking for me.

We act as all the information available online represents all the information on the world. And this is not true. We do map most regions and content creation and access is very well spread around this connected half of the planet. But, besides the information we have access to is mainly shaped by the 5 big platforms/companies players in the market (Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft), it is also very biased as the other half of the planet doesn’t take part in this virtual world.

Of course internet access and penetration are a result of other gaps, such as economic, education, health, and so on – which is a reflect of these countries and regions being also excluded in these other spheres of the global society. It is not a novelty that we live in an extreme unequal system. As Eleanor Saitta puts

“All technical problems of sufficient scope or impact are actually political problems first”.

What is interesting for me, is that this fact is not highlighted when we think about the computation ideal of big data studies and when we create this myth that we can replicate a perfect model of our planet when analyzing online behavior — we can indeed, but first we have to acknowledge that this accessibility gap also exists online.

 

The ideal of not being online

On the other extreme of this unequal world, we have the rising awareness in data privacy, and the ideal of changing what the mainstream online is. The idea of a decentralized internet where information is not stored in the main data centers of the companies mentioned above and that also can live free from those platforms. The idea of creating open source decentralized products and networks that go beyond of what we understand of the mainstream World Wide Web, the regulations on data are also extremely important. Those issues and laws are usually raised  in countries where internet access is widespread, mainly in Europe and North America, which again, very much relates to the quote from Eleanor Saitta. As long as we live in this capitalist system, it seems natural that the environment that we create online will also replicate this reality.

Understanding that these extremes, I decided to make some actual maps where I could visualize them. Hoping that they could give me some insight on my research. Therefore, I dived into these reports data, and created the maps below.

 

 

 

The infrastructure of  the internet

Parallel to this research, and as a reflect of understanding that these extremes in the virtual world are a reflect of our real world, I decided to explore why we as creators and users perceive this as separate realities while they are so much of the same. Where does these disconnection between the physical and the virtual begins?

One amazing reference was Kate Crawford’s work, mainly on this article: Anatomy of an AI system.The author tries to map every aspect triggered from the moment an user asks their Amazon Echo to turn on the lights. Everything then, from the mined resources, to the workers, data centers, the data collected from that user too, and the e-waste that the amazon echo material will soon be, are also triggered and unveiled in the text and in the infograph created to illustrate it.

 

 

Also, a great reference at this point was the book the New Dark Age, by James Bridle, where he mentions the connections between submarine internet cables and the colonial routes from the colonial period. Which – by going back to my map-dataviz experiments started to play a bit with.

 

 

From this part of the research on, I understood that maybe “Who is not online?” wasn’t a good question for my project anymore, but something that related me more towards the search of mapping what was the infrastructure of being online meant.

 

 

What’s Behind the cloud?

Why do we relate with this virtual world we created as it is detached from our  physical  reality? Why do we see technology – as James Bindle puts – “…this leveling force, that makes us more equal and allow us to make better, more equitable decisions”? Why do we believe so blindly in the algorithms and see it as something magical?

Internet as a Hyperobject

The idea of computation thinking and the scope that internet took as an Hyperobject, enabled by our systems and by the reinforcement of the way platforms today are designed to be – minimalist, functional and wireless – created this faith in the network that it is this magical far away place where all this stuff we use  just happens and comes back to us. But the reality is that it is super physical, we work creating it, it needs natural resources, energy, data, and it generates chaos, and waste and heat… and so much more.

It is indeed overwhelming to think that in less than two decades we went from the physicality of having to dial to a line…

 

 

…to this Myth of the cloud we created today.

 

The term “cloud computing” was popularized with Amazon when the company released its Elastic Compute Cloud product in 2006.

The main enabling technology for cloud computing is this said ‘virtualization’, when it separates a physical computing device into one or more devices, each of which can be easily used and managed to perform computing tasks. With operating system–level virtualization essentially creating a scalable system of multiple independent computing devices, idle computing resources can be allocated and used more efficiently.

In this sense, the idea of it being virtual is that, instead of stored in a local data base, it would be decentralized in the multiple databases offered by the companies that sell this storage service. It’s still physical, but yes: it works faster and with the technology that enabled bandwidth, 4g and more internet speed, we can rely on it to get and send these files from machine to database, having this seamless virtual feel.

Devices get smaller, more minimalist,  and the processing and storage power can happen elsewhere. In the “cloud”. The companies and systems, are leveraged by reproducing this idea.

Digital Literacy

In the video below, you can check a recording of me interacting with my Google Home.

 

As a designer and technologist, my google Home’s responses to the questions “Who are you?” and “Who made you?”, bothered me a lot. They are simply not true.

The myth of the cloud does a service on behalf of those that want to keep our world unequal, to make people unaware of environmental impacts and global warming, to keep profiting with our data and to keep reinforcing biases and maintaining the same structures in power in our society. It is a weapon against critical thinking and misinformation.

And, as Google didn’t do in this case, we should not build systems intended to trick and surprise people but that they are actually involved in every step in educating them.

There are indeed several articles, books and documentaries that show the reality of the infrastructure that makes what the internet is today, but, on my references and research, I couldn’t find any  interactive projects that had a different tone to break this idea of the internet as an Hyperobject.

 

Developing the Project

With my research as the backbone, and using as a base the content studied from the projects/books/articles of Benjamin Bratton, Kate Crawford and James Brindle, I was aiming to create an interactive webpage that turned this more academical information  educating the user in an interactive way using little chunks of information and visuals.

I made some design decisions such as using Voice/Text to Speech, creating a loop and going for this this visual aesthetics for some specific reasons.

The idea of activating it through voice came mainly from the “Anatomy of an AI System” reference and of course, by the video that I showed above, on my interaction with my Google Home. I believe that by the act of asking something from our machine we humanize it in a different way, mainly when the question has its “philosophical” irony in it. The Speech to Text capability comes from a similar standpoint, to subvert the narrative that we are used to hear from machines – very functional, straightforward answers – and adding this irony of the machine revealing its true self.

The loop (and the idea of a loop that doesn’t show any progress bar or idea of user status) comes from the basic acknowledgement that even though I made my research it is still the very tip of the object: the structures behind the cloud are indeed multiple, and complex, and I don’t want to pretend I will be able to map every single aspect that is part of this system. Besides, the idea is to make the user feel as there is more to be discovered, not to overwhelm or actually map everything, but to arise the interest and believe that after going through 2 or 3 loops people will be more skeptical and rethink about the Myth of the Cloud.

This aesthetics look and feel came from the idea that I wanted to create something “brandless”, but that still made users rely on it somehow. I thought about going with some more gamecky or “hacker”/terminal approach, but I though it would lose some of its seriousness. I used this website as a visual reference.

You can check the code on my Github repo here. And enjoy the project using this link.

 

 

 

Mapping the unfindable: the Archipelago of Disconnection

This research has the aim to map what is unfindable on the internet and identify how online presence is distributed. Is internet a privilege?A resource? A need? A curse? What does the internet represents today both for the 50% of the world population that have direct access to it and mainly to the 50% who doesn’t.

Who is not online?

I explored the idea of identifying who we can’t find online and the systems that surround this situation. I talked to experts and people that had done almost anything possible to erase their names from search engines and social media, I read documents and listened to podcasts on the dark web, the right of prisoners to be online, asked around for people to google dead relatives from past generations, and, of course, read a lot of UN and Global Economic Forum reports. With that, I arrived in some specific groups that either are not online at all or have a reduced online presence when compared to the ‘average secular human’ today. These groups are:

  • Data Privacy Advocates;
  • Criminals that don’t use the mainstream web;
  • Dead people from past generations;
  • People that are in a social situation that does not allow them to be online (incarcerated prisoners, Orthodox Jews, Orthodox Mormons);
  • People that are in a social-economic situation and region where there is no access to the internet whatsoever.

By identifying these groups I aimed to create a less blurry image of what internet represents in the world today.

My classification is not complete and I do not have a quantitative stat of how much each specific group represents in numbers.  A lot of times I reached the question of “what’s the difference between not having access to the internet and not being able to be found on the internet”. As I could not answer it, I decided to understand that the intention of not being online, even if idealized, was already somehow part of a movement that I should include in my research.

I became interested in analyzing the paradoxes I saw by these classifications.  There is the obvious fact in my analysis I created a unique group that includes both religious people and incarcerated people – which is very very questionable, but they do usually live in developed regions where you could have internet access but still do not due to either a social imposed restriction or a shared value. And, most importantly, there is the fact that in the spectrum that comprehends the ideal of not being online (Data Privacy Advocates) and the reality of not being online (people living in regions with no internet access) there is such a huge gap of development, resources and education that somehow illustrates the inequality and the extremes of the world we live in.

And, as I saw the UN and World Economic Forum reports, I was stuck with the idea that more than 50% of the world doesn’t have internet access. I live in such a bubble of tech-savvy people, designers, technologists, developers that we never even stop to think about it. I mean, at least I didn’t. And, as I asked people from my school and work here in New York and even friends in Brazil, we have this generalized idea that internet has been fully democratized — for better or worse. But that’s simply not true. Owning a smartphone, having broadband and actually having simple internet access is still a privilege.

By that, I do not mean that the work and fight for Data privacy rights is not relevant today. On the other hand. We are still on the edge of discovering how much our connected devices keep track our information and can directly influence society in a scenario where companies and governments have total access to our personal data. There is a need to regulate and educate internet users towards it and find ways to regain our data privacy. In truth, these paradoxes are a result of the same dynamics of power that feeds itself and this world of extremes.

Still, for the purposes of focusing my research, I decided to explore more about the non-online world.

The Archipelago of Disconnection

By keeping in my mind that in fact more than half of the world doesn’t have access to the internet, I wanted to see through some visualizations what does that represent. Still, I couldn’t any that would give me a satisfying idea of that, as you check below.

 

 

Using the data from the ICT Indicators Database  I started exploring some ways to visualize that with the Mercator projection, you can access it by clicking in the GIF below.

As you can note I inverted the default structure of how these maps show data: instead of highlighting the amount of online population I showed the amount of people that lacked internet access. Also, I think that the hovering interaction is more playful and easier to compare. Try doing a mouseover in Australia and then make a mouseover in Madagascar. I think it shows a lot of the paradoxes I talked about earlier.

Still, I felt like exploring this idea of map, by highlighting even more the countries with less than 10% of internet penetration, territories that are largely left out of global digital connectivity.

Therefore I created the interactive map below of the “Archipelago of Disconnection” (you can also click in the GIF to interact with it).

 

 

The map highlights an archipelago of land that is mostly disconnected from the internet and thus largely barred from participating in the cultural, educational, political, and economic activities that it affords. This archipelago of disconnection has its centre of gravity in the Sub-Saharan Africa where 18 countries have Internet penetration rates beneath the 10% . Among these Sub-Saharan countries with very low connectivity there are some very large populations – such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo (68 million),  with an overall Internet penetration of a mere 4%.

After these experiments where I looked through the numbers on internet penetrations provided by International Organizations by mapping its data, I realized that I wanted to approach and understand this information both from the data creation perspective (maybe gathering the data flows and understanding the amount of information online generated from these territories) and add a more qualitative and sensitive feel to what I wanted to create as a result of this research.

With that, I remembered of the book Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino and wondered how could I connect this Fantastic realism of the narrative and the Invisible Online Territories from my Archipelago of Disconnection.

 

 

Therefore for the next step of my research I will be exploring the data available online on and from some of the cities inside the 18 countries with less than 10% internet penetration rates,  trying to create a new way to visualize and highlight this “hidden information” using Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities narrative style as a base – maybe  even creating a re-reading of the book.

 

 

Mapping the unfindable: who is not online? – or who doesn’t exist on the internet?

As most things today, it all started with a Google search.

This year it will make 10 years that my Grandpa passed away. And I guess that, as everyone that have lost a close relative and friend does, sometimes I like to imagine what would he be doing now and what would he think about the person I became. We were very very close, and I miss him. And, probably because of that, one day while daydreaming about him during class I randomly realized that I had never searched for his name online.

Would I find his name? Probably, he sent me a few e-mails so he did voluntarily put his name – or at least his username – on the internet. Still, it was 2008, and smartphones weren’t a thing yet and neither was social media. So yes as I laid my hands on the keyboard and typed it, I did find him, along with other 3 people that shared his same name: a businessman from Germany,  a young boy from Italy, and, lastly one other person that I could not really identify the nationality but did have some interesting birds pictures on Flickr. I couldn’t find any pictures of my Grandpa though. As I looked over the only 2 Google pages as now I used the query: ‘ “Roberto+Pecis” porto alegre’, I only identified some documents from legal processes and two newspaper articles that were related to him. And that was it.

Even though the result was probably kind of obvious, it was somehow mind-blowing: his limited digital presence was such a clear representation of how much  information access and  production  has changed in the past 10 years.

And so I started questioning myself: who can’t we find online today on the internet? what does that represent? Is it good or bad not to be online? What is the difference of voluntarily joining a social media website and having stuff online about you? What would be an actual visual representation of how much data collection increased in the past 10-20 years? Could I afford not to be online as a secular ocidental living under a capitalist system? What about people that have very common names? How hard is it to find them? What about next generations and when a lot of people starts having the same name… will we have to create maybe a global ID number to search for people online? I remember looking for friends telephones in phone books when i was a kid… but how did we actually use to find people before the internet? Does internet accessibility relates to internet ‘findability’ of people and representation?

My SuperFoods Field Guide

So a couple of weeks ago I finished and presented my Superfoods Field Guide in the Temporary Expert class.

Check the result here in e-book format.

 

As I hope it was noticed, I went for an ironic approach, imitating the look and feel of a Fashion Magazine. I decided to inform about this purely Marketing superfood term that emerged from the insight of using foods as a trend, spotting a light on how superficial that can be rather than an actual nutritional need.

My goal is to attract people that are the heavy users of those foods, who from my research are also highly interested in fashion and social media, and help them realize how superfoods are labeled and the problems around it, in order to rethink their behavior as consumers.

 

 

The feedback was very positive. Users at first were attracted to it because of the beautiful imagery and editorial design and as they quickly scraped through the copy and saw the headlines, would immediately understand the irony and comment it was a smart and funny approach. Therefore I am happy with the result.

This was the page users liked the most.

 

Besides being happy with the result I am also happy about the way I handled the process. The research part took me a while. It was important to read articles on the subject, but i the most important part was my ‘field trip’ to Whole Foods, where, after reading all articles and papers, I could analyze how the food was marketed to the public, interact with Supermarket employees and informally interview consumers themselves while purchasing the superfood products. What took me a while though was to have the insight of the idea and nail down the voice that I wanted to use.  Once I figured that out,  designing it was pretty fast.

I understand that I moved the idea to work in a comfort zone of mine, which is branding and design, and maybe in next project I should try to avoid that in order to experiment and learn using different languages. Still, considering we were required to develop a field guide for this issue and to have a printed version of that, it made sense to use that skill as a tool to conceive my message.

So what would be the next steps?

One of the feedbacks I had was to work better with the copy to push it to the next level. I totally agree with that, keeping in mind that english is not my first language, if I would look forward to publishing that this would definitely be a requirement.

Also, a lot of classmates suggested to “shop drop” this field guide in the Whole Foods magazine shelf near the cashiers. I would love to see people’s reactions! – It is a bit expensive to print that though, but if there are any interested sponsors out there just shout out and I’ll be happy to print and make the Superfoods Field guide available all around New York!

Superfoods: can we see the world in a supermarket shelf?

In my past post on my Assignment of Temporary Expert I wrote about my research on the Systems around superfood. I was aiming to find a definition and gain understanding on the subject to find a focus that I could translate to my Field Guide – the outcome requested by our teacher as the result of those 4 weeks of work with our random topic.

A Field Guide is a book designed to help the reader identify wildlife or other objects of usually natural occurrence. It is generally designed to be brought into the ‘field’ or local area where such objects exist to help distinguish between similar objects. It will typically include a description of the objects covered, together with paintings or photographs and an index.

After having that

The field research

Therefore, I decided to to my field research on Superfoods to start brainstorming about my Field Guide concept. So, since we are in New York and i don’t really think I could go into the forest to find Açai berries, on my way to ITP I stopped at 2nd ave station to go to the Houston/2nd ave Whole Foods in Manhattan.

I arrived to the supermarket and asked a Whole Foods employee for the “Superfoods” section, not even sure if that existed. But it did. He kindly gave me the directions to this specific aisle, that is a section closer to pills, vitamins and supplements than to actual food, and I took a look at the shelf.

I took some pictures, and noticed the irony of researching about superfoods in the supermarket. The idea of having a section about it, a section full of super processed superfoods powders. The irony of seeing the “exoticism”around those plants and fruits that come from different places on the world, to end up as super marketed made up superfoods. Because as we saw before, superfood is a pure marketing concept. And this was crystal clear when you looked to that shelf – at least to me. I wondered about the impact that the trendy boom of superfoods made to Açaí berry producers, Chia, Moringa plantations.

At the end of my observation, I realized if wouldn’t it be interesting if there was actually a field guide to the supermarket where we could analyze the origin and process of the items.

By process and origin I don’t mean only what was the physical route,  how much energy and work were made to have it there, but, besides that, and in this case I think even more relevant, how the cultural and historical process of our relationship as humans attached to this specific nutrition resource was developed so it would end up in our shelves, with this labels, and what is the social impact of that with this megalomaniac market oriented relationship we have with it today.

Organizing my thoughts

I printed the picture that I took and started to identify the main plants and foods that appeared.

Also, I decided to play with the idea of juxtaposing a map on top of the shelf and therefore also printed a map to start researching and playing with the origins of those superfoods.

Finally, I did a rough mock up of my idea for the field guide and started gathering some references.

I still need to draw a better mock up before I start actually designing it.

 

 

 

 

 

Systems Thinking and Superfoods

#1 Assignment

For this first assignment of Temporary Expert we given a random research topic related to “energy” in order to learn how to analyze it through Systems Thinking. It was a random topic since the idea is not to necessarily get deep and enthusiastic on the topic itself but the methodology of research.

My random topic is Superfoods.

What actually defines a superfood? Nutritional value? Comparing to what? How “exotic it is? Marketing? Culture? Economy? … when did it started to be used? Why?

I hope I’ll be able to understand this term and map the systems behind it in the next paragraphs.

 

But first… What is Systems Thinking?

According to Howard Silverman, “A system is a set of interacting or interdependent component parts forming a complex/intricate whole.” It has three basic features that are (A) parts or elements, (B) interactions or relationships, and (C) a function or purpose or emergent properties or behaviors.

With that, we can think about different systems such as education, democracy, a social network, eastern medicine, and so on. As our teacher, Marina Zurkow,  illustrated when she was presenting this concept, the same exact thing can and probably will be analyzed very differently through the eyes of different systems, as we can check below.

When we think about religions, and branches inside those religions, we can also see totally different ways to see the same concept or value.

In another study case, when following a heated discussion on twitter to organize a protest in which environmentalists plan to destroy a crop of genetically modified wheat, Steve Easterbrook identified a couple of systems that helped him analyze this issue. You can understand the idea behind the system of the scientists doing research, the system behind research ethics and risk management, the economic system in which investment in R&D is expected to boost the economy, a system of intellectual property rights and the corresponding privatization of public goods and so on.

Thus, as we can understand, each system has a specific perspective and point of view.

With that, on the next paragraphs  I’ll make some research around my topic (superfoods) to figure out how to identify and map existing systems (and points of view) around it.

 

Superfoods: a bit of research

Starting with the basics

Let’s see what Oxford dictionaries has to say about Superfoods.

and, of course, Wikipedia.

Initially, once reading the definitions and examples from these sources, we can understand that, generally speaking, superfoods refer to foods — especially fruits and vegetables — whose nutrient content confers a health benefit above that of other foods. However, there is no technical definition of the word and the scientific evidence for the health effects of these foods, once the main interests of creating this concept and making it become popular come from a marketing perspective of economical interests.

But let’s dig deeper.

How academy sees Superfoods

According to this book Diet Cults: The Surprising Fallacy at the Core of Nutrition Fads and a Guide  by Matt Fitzgerald (a nutritionist, athlete, coach who writes for a bunch of nutrition and sports magazines), and this very interesting paper on the Parallel Food Classifications in Developing and Industrialized Countries  , the idea of the superpower of foods is old, very old.

I mean, it does make sense, food is what makes us alive and that’s already a crazy power. So now imagine that you don’t live in an industrialized, globalized world. Therefore, in your life, agriculture takes a way bigger role and tangible importance than today. If there is a dry season, you are directly impacted by it. If there is a plague, same. So having the ability to receive energy from food and having it in abundance, is, by itself, a super power.

Derrick B Jellife explains more about this relationship in some societies with specific foods, classifying those sources of energy as cultural superfoods.

“The characteristics of cultural superfoods are that they are usually, but not always, the dominant staple and main source of calories, while their production and preparation occupy a major part of the community’s work time, both agriculturally and domestically. Because of their importance for the survival of the particular community, they often have a semidivine status, being interwoven into local religion, mythology and history”.

Below you can check some examples of how he classified cultural superfoods.

Still, even though having a god/superpower like relationship with that specific food, the label superfood was not a term that the Aztecs used to describe cacao and chocolate for example.

So when did it start to be used and why?

Nutrition Academics don’t use the term Superfood as described in the dictionary

So from our definition of superfoods, I wanted to have a broad definition and general idea of what nutrients our body actually needs and what are the essential nutrients  – because even though I am a human that eats, I haven’t touched this subject since Biology class in High School.

According to this giaenourmous book of Oxford Press on human nutrition (Essentials of Human Nutrition, by Jim Mann, Stewart Truswell)  there are essential nutrients that a human body needs to function in a healthy basis. Those are defined as “chemical substances that cannot be synthesized at all or in sufficient amounts in the body, and are necessary for life, growth and tissue repair.” As a result, essential nutrients are carbohydrates, fats, fiber, minerals, proteins, vitamins, and water.

I would love to enter in more detail on that, but, for the matter of time and focus for this first week assignment, I feel this is not really necessary – I need to understand the systems surrounding the superfood term, rather than try to define or test the term myself. So i decided it was better to stop there.

The most curious thing regarding systems mapping on superfoods that I took from this book?

It mentioned superfoods only twice. Both related to the word popularity in a market/economical sense. It became popular since it was labeled (the authors do not specify by who, but I think we could imply that as companies, enterprises) as a superfood. This book was edited recently, in 2012, seems to be one of the nutritionist “bibles”on the subject.

In this paper from the British Nutrition Foundation by J.Lunn entitled Superfoods, he starts with the sentence “These days, competition in the supermarket is fierce…”. He does highlight that it is a term that was used in scientific press, but usually to describe more energy dense ones rather than foods that are richer in a nutrient that would have a specific benefit.

With those sources in mind, I believe we can assume that this is not a word that comes from a nutritional experts background but from a Marketing/Economical one.

The trending market of  Superfoods

According to this article from The Harvard School of public Health, “the earliest recorded example may have taken place in the early 20th century around World War I, used as part of a food marketing strategy. The United Fruit Company initiated an enthusiastic advertising campaign to promote its major import of bananas. It published informational pamphlets including Points About Bananas and the Food Value of the Banana. [1] Initially the company had advertised the practicality of bananas in a daily diet, being cheap, nutritious, easily digested, available everywhere, good when cooked and not cooked, and sealed by nature in a germ-proof package. To get people to eat more, they suggested adding bananas in cereal for breakfast, in salads for lunch, and fried with meat for dinner.”

In other sources, it  appears to have been first used in a Canadian newspaper in 1949 when referring to the supposed nutritional qualities of a muffin.

Since the beginning of the 90’s the term “superfood” has been frequently used as a marketing tool for selling specific foods, dietary supplements, foods with selected food additives, and self-help books about diets, promising an enhancement to health. The essentials are in place: scientific research on a particular food, catchy headlines from the fast-paced popular press, as well as infomercials and marketing campaigns of involved food industries.

Coinciding with the natural foods movement and greater public awareness around healthy eating, in 2012, 61% of people in the UK have purchased a food because it had been labelled a superfood, accordingto YouGovresearch commissioned by Bupa.

According to Mintel Global New Products Database (GNPD), superfoods, including superfruits or supergrains, saw an increase of over 200 percent in new product launches between 2011 and 2015.

The Superfood Evangelists

According to this article from Refinery 29, “Superfood” is was first coined by Michael Van Straten in 1990 in his Superfoods cookbook. Like Michael, we can find a lot of evangelists and  ‘specialists’ in Superfoods with a considerable number of books, articles and youtube videos on the subject.

They are advocates of healthy eating and very passionate about teaching the powers of specific fruits and vegetables. They believe that our nutrition potential is finally catching up with technology, that now with globalization and the ability to have quality products and knowledge from nutrition around the globe “a new day is dawning in the world of nutrition”.  David Wolfe and Debora Klein are some examples.

In his book, entitled Superfoods, David Wolfe splits what he calls special foods into three ancient food groups: the Living, raw plant foods; Superfoods; and Superherbs. This is the first description of Superfood used in his book:

He describes superfoods as both a medicine and a food. His book revolves around the benefits of specific foods and how to include it in your diet, focusing mainly on the top ten superfoods described as:

Public Departments and Labeling food

While the term may seem official, the U.S. Department of Agriculture — which has regulated the word “organic” since the ‘90s and the term “gluten-free” since 2013 — has yet to create any guidelines for “superfood,” explains Sharon Akabas, PhD, the associate director at the Institute of Human Nutrition at Columbia University. “The word ‘superfood’ has no actual meaning,” she says.

In fact, in 2007 the EU legislation banned the use of the term superfood unless it is accompanied by a specific authorised health claim that explains to consumers why the product is good for their health.

Systems Thinking: Mapping Superfood

From this brief research and understanding of superfood and its Systems, this is where I arrived.

This was just a first quick glance at the Systems surrounding Superfood. I will deepen this research in the next weeks.

I believe there is further research needed in order to understand  the  Systems that create legal regulations towards labeling Superfoods and mainly about the “trend of healthy eating” and Exoticism, that associates Superfoods with Western Medicine.