Edible Innovations: This Cartoon Character Teaches Kids Where Milk Comes From

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Edible Innovations: This Cartoon Character Teaches Kids Where Milk Comes From

From Singapore to the USA and all around Europe, Edible Innovations profiles food makers that engage in improving the global food system at every stage, from production to distribution to eating and shopping. Join us as we explore the main trends in the industry from a maker perspective. Chiara Cecchini of Future Food Institute — an ecosystem with a strong educational core that promotes food innovation as a key tool to tackle the great challenges of the future — introduces you to the faces, stories, and experiences of food makers around the globe. Check back on Tuesdays and Thursdays for new installments.

Vivian T. Lee is a graduate student in Parson’s Design and Technology program and creator of milk’Em. milk’Em is a physical play experience that is inspired by the Olive You comic. This is a commentary on the mistreatment of factory farm animals and the current state of food production.

milk’Em Penelope, which is a cow, comes from a story that Vivian started developing when she was working in an ice-cream shop. She started thinking about where food comes from and how animals are mistreated on factory farms. For this reason, she decided to create a game where the player wears conductive gloves and milks Penelope. As the player milks her, they get more and more ice-cream. She can produce strawberry, chocolate, and vanilla ice-cream. The project targets kids. So far it is just a comic book and a cow, but Vivian is working on developing a software as well.

How did it everything get started?

I’ve always been fascinated by cartoons. I’ve been growing up hoping to be a cartoon character (ahaha, seriously!). This was what inspired me in the first place to design a story about a cow. I wanted to use cartoon characters to allow kids to learn more about their food system.

I took the occasion to bring this vision into reality when I was in school. I’m a graduate student in Parson’s Design and Technology program. There you can explore anything that you want to do, so both the comic book story and the cow came out of Parson.

How is the cow made?

The cow is made out of soft circuits, so conductive fabric and conductive thread. There are no wires. They are connected with an Arduino, which is connected to a computer, and they interact with each other. That’s how you get the interactive draw on the computer.

We currently use Arduino, and each textile itself will also hopefully become open source. That way, it will be very easy for kids and families to access the info and explore the different components.

How are kids interacting with milk’Em?

They interact physically with the cow, and that shows them where the milk comes from. I want to encourage them to engage with the story and get a full experience out of it. When it is developed, the software interface will also help with this a lot.

Vivian, what is the purpose behind all of this?

I’m trying to explore alternative forms of storytelling, outside of a 2D page. I want to merge different experiences together to see where I can go within all these possibilities. I am exploring different paths of combining several elements that can foster the power of storytelling.

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Chiara is fascinated by food as a means to impact bodies, minds, and environment. She has studied international business in three different countries, and is an alumni of the Food Innovation Program and US Director at the Future Food Institute.

Based in California, she is also a Research Scholar at Food Science and Technology at UC Davis, working on building the first comprehensive Internet of Food to enable food care through food systems semantics. She is a selected member of Barilla Center Food Nutrition Foundation, a Research Affiliate at Institute For The Future, Board Member at Maker Faire and selected member of the Global Shapers, a young global network of innovators promoted by the World Economic Forum.

She is passionate about social entrepreneurship and impact investing, and aims to leave her mark on society.

View more articles by Chiara Cecchini