Name: Chiara Cecchini
What is your background? How did you end up focusing on food?
I studied international management at ICN Business School in France and than Management at MGIMO University in Moscow. I was really fascinated by the process of taking an idea to a prototype and then a profitable business, as well as the consequent adaptations needed to make it scale internationally. When I was 19 I started focusing on fashion as it was an industry representing my culture around the world, where you have physical products fitting global preferences and touching people lives daily. After all, I was born and raised in Florence, one of the homes of high-end clothing manufacturing. After a couple of experiences, I was interviewing for a position in a well-known Italian brand, when the HR manager turned me down telling me that I was looking for something else, “I was meant to impact a different field”. Surprisingly enough, she knew before I did. Yes, I was looking for an industry representing my culture around the world, fitting global preferences and touching people lives daily, but I was also looking to solve something really big, to impact the base of Maslow Pyramid, to work on deep human needs. I was 22 and I then understood that tackling food and wellness industry might actually be my answer. In the following year I created a company tracking vital physical metrics and rewarding people for healthy behaviors with healthy foods: the platform has been used by thousands of people from Russia to Italy to the US, having employees adopting it from companies like Barilla and Airbnb. BCFN Fundation supported me there, selecting the project among thousands and giving me a stage and resources. All this led me to the Food Innovation Program, a second level master in food and innovation, which opened me the doors of design thinking methodology and food and tech for-sighting. My life radically changed from there: my path crossed with 3 major organizations, as well as with some crucial people, and my journey into the food world became everyday stronger.
The first one is Future Food Institute, a NGO fostering knowledge and innovation in the food industry. The Institute was the co-founder of the Master. From being an Alumna, I became Research Fellow and then I co-founded the American branch, leading educational activities on food innovation. There we just published a 4-book collection called “Food Shapers” featuring food innovators around the world.
The second is UC Davis: one of the partner of the Master program. From UC Davis I met an inspiring professor who become, one year later, my Principal Investigator in California, Matthew Lange. Thanks to him I became a Researcher at UC Davis, within the IC-FOODS initiative. Over there, we have been working on building the first comprehensive Internet of Food, leveraging the intersection between food systems and Artificial Intelligence to digitalize and create a semantic enabler to food care. We have now an impressive ontology and a scientific paper under review.
Finally, the World Economic Forum. An unbelievable organization which whom I had the chance to meet .I become first a Global Shaper for the Sunyani Hub in Ghana, and then a Network Expert for Food, writing on the official website with the goal to share my knowledge and spark positive conversations on the topic.
So, many doors have been opened since that interview and it has been quite a journey. I lived in 6 different cities in the last 6 years (mostly couch surfing!), I took an average of 80 flights a year, I met people I never even imagined and I made my backpack being my office. I consider myself a maker, a food maker, and I aim to never stop researching, learning, building, testing!
Writing about food all the time probably introduced you to many things. Have you changed how you eat or what food you cook?
The short answer is yes! Few years ago I had the pleasure of starting sharing food innovations through different platforms (Make and Maker Faire being one of them): I always loved writing and it has been very interesting merging this passion with my researches. This led me to reach a broader crowd and get to know more and more interesting new foods and cooking techniques.
I started buying ugly produces which otherwise would go to waste and I got really passioned of fermentation as a food preservation and upcycling technique. I now eat far less meat, I try to buy unpacked products and I never buy water, mainly for environmental reasons. Food and Ag are among the biggest contributors to climate change and I think everyone needs to start changing from the simple daily actions.
What food innovations are you particularly excited about?
Many! For sure new forms of plant-based proteins, as well as farming techniques for urban settings and food care (initiatives looking at food as medicine). I am also very interested in seeing where CRISPR’d food is going. Eventually I am fascinated by exponential technologies applications to the food industry, like AI for Food, Blockchain for Food or VR for Food (I’ll speak about that here!).
Where can people follow your work/learn more?
I’d say on my Linkedin and Facebook profile, as well as following my publications on Make:, World Economic Forum, Food Tank, Mold, Barilla Center Food Nutrition, Green Bronx Machine. Ah, you could also follow my TEDx speech next June in Austria!