Sheau Hui Ching
Dan Jacobs

Protopalooza: Solving America’s food waste crisis

While we are passionate about designing for our clients, there are countless other design problems we believe also deserve our attention. At its core, design is about creating solutions to better the world. With ever-improving technologies at our fingertips and consumers’ rapidly evolving expectations, we have a keen sense of urgency to tackle today’s problems.

To quench that thirst, we introduced Protopalooza! as a way to regularly unite Fjordians to bring ideas to life.

The first Protopalooza was held on a warm, spring evening at Fjord Chicago. Fifteen designers gathered, ready to compete for the Protopalooza championship. The winning team would bring home a smart looking trophy, prizes, and—most importantly—bragging rights. The challenge at hand? Taking a hard look at food waste in the U.S. and designing potential solutions.

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In the U.S., we waste approximately 20 pounds of food per person per month—which means a single square mile of Chicago wastes 2,850,480 pounds of food a year. This staggering amount of waste has a substantial impact on our environment, and on the 48 million Americans currently living with food insecurity issues.

With these twin set of food waste problems affecting all of us, we need solutions to make a substantial impact on the 1 in 7 Americans who struggle to get enough to eat.

So Chicago’s designers were given 90 minutes to start working on some solutions.

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Intensity levels in the room began to heat up as the countdown clock ticked away. Conversations grew more passionate; ideas started to fly off the walls. At one point, a designer frantically yelled out, “It can’t be… I just grabbed the materials!”

As the last 30 minutes melted away, time itself seemed to accelerate with designers feverishly putting in their final touches.

When the clock stopped, the teams were simultaneously anxious and relieved. A look around the room showed an impressive array of results in a remarkably short amount of time. They ranged from a smart cart that helps you to make more informed food purchases, to a neighborhood truck with a network of solar-powered coolers moving unwanted food to places that need it, to a platform working to anticipate and utilize excess food.  Each team gave a quick demonstration of their concepts and prototypes in preparation for the share out with the rest of the studio.

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To involve other designers in the studio, each team presented the next morning during our monthly all-hands meeting. We conducted an open vote with everyone in attendance. In the end, Stu Barnett, Natalie Kuhn and Tiffany Yang won the hearts of the Chicago Fjordians with their Forever Fresh prototype, involving a service for flash-freezing food in danger of expiration.

With these concepts in hand, we look forward to finding opportunities as a studio to advance these ideas forward within our local community.

Congratulations to the Forever Fresh team and everyone who participated! It was a fun-filled, productive evening for all!

If you want to get involved in future Protopaloozas, reach out to us. We’d love to help get you started!

Sheau Hui Ching
Dan Jacobs

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