Pandemic Revolutions — The Time is Ripe for Impact-Driven Category Creation
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair. — Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities bk. 1, ch. 1 (1859)
Charles Dickens. He wrote numerous books. One that he will be remembered for — A Tale of Two Cities. Paris and London. Set in the backdrop of the French Revolution. It’s a story of revolt and resurrection. It’s a tale of duality. A tale of redemption.
The duality of human nature. It’s been a central theme in politics, philosophy, and even foreign policy. Idealism in international relations is based on the premise that foreign policy should be based on domestic policy. In other words, don’t do outside what you won’t do inside. For example — if you don’t want war in your own country then don’t covert it outside. It assumes that humans are inherently altruistic and just. It’s a strong proponent of the balance of power and universal moral values.
Realism in international relations is based on the premise that puts national interest above ethical and moral obligations. It assumes humans are inherently self-centered and power-driven. It justifies war for the interest of the nation-state. Rationalizes self-interest.
The duality paradox. Ying and Yang. Newton’s third law of motion. Night and Day. Good and Evil. Black and White. Idealism and Realism.
What I find fascinating is the connection between idealism, realism, pandemics, and revolutions. Pandemics (Black Death, Spanish Flu, COVID-19) have a way of making us face the harsh reality of death. When faced with our own mortality, our idealism seems to kick in. Humanity rises up to change the world. To make the world a better place.
What if I told you pretty much every pandemic has lead to a revolution of sorts. Pandemics seem to lead to socio-economic change. A new world order.
Let’s look back at three major pandemics.
- Plague of Justinian -541–549 AD. Estimated to have killed between 25 million to 100 million. It was a time when Justinian the Great had a singular purpose. To restore the Roman Empire to its former glory. With the conquest of Italy, it seemed possible. However, the plague hit. This caused a financial crisis and in turn, caused the fall of the western empire. Islam rose to prominence in the Mediterranean region.
- Black Death — 1350–1450 AD. Estimated to have killed 25 million people. In the aftermath, people started losing faith in the Church and its teachings. It changed the social, economic, religious, and political order of Europe. The depression caused by the plague. A new middle-class emerged. All this contributed to the Renaissance. Art, music, philosophy, literature flourished. Science and politics were forever changed. A new world order emerged.
- Spanish Flu — 1918–1921 AD. About 50 million lives were lost. The world was also in the grips of the First World War. Caused a great economic depression and lead to the Industrial Revolution. Automobiles, electricity, scientific and medical advancement, and probably the birth of consumerism.
Similarly, the COVID-19 pandemic has definitively changed food technology. The recent pandemic seems to have leapfrogged the food-tech revolution. The very nature of how the virus was transmitted has created a mindset that is ripe for impact-driven category creation.
Plant-based and cell-based categories have not only seen remarkable growth, but they are also seeing a boom in investment. The alternative protein space is leading a food revolution. It's questioning, challenging, and changing our eating habits.
Consumer demand too has skyrocketed. As more and more people understand how their food choices affect their health and the planet. Informed and conscious consumers are making sustainable food choices. Look at the data below. This is just in the US.
This is excellent news. The UN has warned us that we are on the precipice of a food crisis. The current food system as starting to collapse.
Cell-based or cultivated meat and plant based seem to be stepping up to fill the void.
Given these new and emerging ecosystem that is being created, this is our chance to get it right from the outset. To think about impact design when designing these new categories.
Instead of merely competing as an alternative to dairy, or meat or eggs, these companies should focus on creating social movements.
Food by nature is both functional and impact-driven. Functional because it nourishes us. Impact-driven because food memories are personal to each of us.
We, humans, are driven by our senses. Taste is an integral part of who we are. According to Dr Linda Bartoshuk taste is biology and experience. We can also learn to like certain tastes.
And taste is connected to food. And food is connected to memories. According to the BBC, Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Professor Emerita of Psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst had this to say:
Food memories involve very basic, nonverbal, areas of the brain that can bypass your conscious awareness. This is why you can have strong emotional reactions when you eat a food that arouses those deep unconscious memories. — Source- http://www.bbc.com/travel/story/20190826-why-food-memories-are-so-powerful
Food and Memories. Emotion and Impact. Food is universal. There is not a species on the planet that it doesn’t impact. We found the singularity. There is no duality or standard deviation for food.
This is the revolution that can save the planet. The one thing that connects everything. The tipping point.
Isn’t this ongoing food revolution the perfect foundation to build impact-driven categories and movements? To create a new impact-driven world order?
It seems like that moonshot we were looking for to save the planet is already here. We just need to make the most of it. We just need to make it purposeful. We need to make it impact-driven. This is it. That moment in time.