Atlas Meats Mobile Processing Service
For this project, students were asked to drive their own research and design process for a topic of their choice related to COVID-19.
While traditionally, this project has been conducted individually, my teammate Aaron Cochran and I decided to team up midway through the semester when we saw similar trajectories within our research.
Both of us started looking at food systems. I started my research by looking at the dichotomy between food waste and food insecurity in light of the pandemic and Aaron began his research looking at concentration and consolidation within the United States' food system.
The realities of food insecurity, wasteful consumption, and unsustainable industrial farming practices are symptoms of a deeper problem: lack of resiliency and redundancy within the food system.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, parts of the United States experienced meat shortages due to outbreaks among workers within meatpacking plants. The concentration and consolidation of the meatpacking industry into large corporations caused this system to fail quickly. It was not able to gracefully extend and adapt resulting in the euthanization of thousands of animals.
Atlas Meats’ mobile processing unit and rental service promote empowerment of smallholder farmers, humane treatment of animals, education of meat consumers, and sustainable practices. This is accomplished through a standardized unit centered around the user’s contextual needs for safe, clean processing and a rental service that encourages upward mobility through comprehensive training and adaptable scalability.
Within this project, both team members shared responsibility for research, analysis, and concept development. Work was divided in the product development portion with my focus centered on the service design and Aaron's centered on the MPU unit design.
This picture was taken Pre-COVID. Our team work for Senior Thesis was all conducted virtually or from a distance of 6 ft with masks.
COVID-19 and the Dichotomy Between
Food Waste and Food Insecurity
My research began by looking at the issues that arose in our food system at the height of the coronavirus pandemic. It was evident that COVID-19 had exacerbated issues in food access and revealed the fragility of existing food systems. Consumers living in food-insecure areas struggled to access healthy food while an abundance of food was wasted due to ineffective supply chain methods.
I wanted to understand why this dichotomy of food waste and food insecurity was happening and how design could make a meaningful contribution. I began by exploring the question:
How might we reduce food waste and connect communities to the locally produced food supply in Columbus?
In total, we talked to thirteen participants: academics in food system design, food waste, and rural sociology, representatives from Buckeye Food Alliance and Charles Nabritt Memorial Garden, and interviews with various farmers focused on livestock and dairy as well as engineers and supply chain experts at General Mills.
Understand food systems
Understand waste patterns
Understand food security and consumption patterns
Understand the implications of locally produced food
Secondary research was conducted to gain a holistic perspective on the problem of food waste and food insecurity as well as explore existing interventions. This research was broken down into four main subjects: Focus, Business, Science and Tech, and the Arts. A later category, Society, was added to illuminate the political and social implications that affect food access. While conducting this research, design conjectures were created as a method of rapid ideation.
Semi-Structured Interviews were held with a variety of experts to get perspectives on the various pain points in our current food system. A wide scope of pain-points was gathered; however, specific attention was paid to those that may be contributors to food waste and food insecurity.
An online survey via Google Forms was conducted to better discern changing consumption patterns among consumers because of the pandemic. The aim of this information was to solidify an understanding of consumer trends that would affect utilization of the final design proposal.
This survey was conducted to assess better understand consumer trends in food consumption patterns during the pandemic. Below are the select results of the survey coupled with supplementary statistics.
These design conjectures were informed by the primary and secondary research I conducted. They were used to explore initial concepts and ideas to understand what and where I was missing information. Some conjectures were then reviewed by experts as a form of rapid ideation.
Avoid too many dependent variables
Need to account for lack of WIFI and transportation when considering food access
Cost of special technology could be exclusionary.
Tracking waste is a plus to connect users more to their food
Interventions that require a large upfront cost may deter growth.
A short supply chain is desired
What I Learned:
Would need to consider space limitations for growing (Ex: tomatos need a lot of soil)
Acts as a band-aid because users are still dependent on an external source
Interview and Secondary Research Results
Information collected from interviews, secondary research, and survey were sorted on Miro.
Information was then sorted and grouped to identify patterns and overarching insights about the underlying shortcomings of our current food system that could be causing the dichotomy between food waste and food insecurity.
Areas, where we could feasibly intervene, were outlined in red to narrow down paths forward.
Overall, it is evident that the centralization of our food system, lack of self-sufficiency, and narrow distribution channels has led to a lack of self-sufficiency and brittleness. This brittleness then created a lack of resiliency which resulted in major breakdowns and bottleneck effects during the pandemic. This was especially visible in our meat industry pictured to the right.
Moreover, with this current state, both citizens and our current farming communities are suffering. A solution moving forward needs to feature a decentralized product, service, or system, that empowers farmers and increases access to food.
Lack of Resiliency Caused by Centralization
Product & Service Development
Our current food system features a lack of resiliency that inhibits agency and growth for both consumers and farmers. Centralization and narrow distribution channels have led to brittleness and inflexibility that are exacerbated during times of crisis. This was especially apparent in the meat industry during the COVID-19 pandemic.
How might we offer a decentralized method of processing meat to aid in resiliency and autonomy?
A rough 3D model of the unit was developed and used as the basis for a series of iterative perspective drawings to explore the positioning and design of the items within the unit. After meeting with Dr. Lynn Knipe and Dr. Michael Cressman, direction for the chill tanks and the need for cleanliness became clear. Due to the scale of the object, many features were expressed in notation and iterated on within the CAD program.
Final MPU and Service Design
Increasing Food System Resiliency
Through Mobile Meat Processing
Atlas Meats aims to address food system resiliency through a mobile chicken processing unit and service that offers targeted training and assistance to empower chicken farmers and enable upwards mobility and growth into the poultry industry.
Our service featured four main components: standardization in offerings to promote initial engagement, access and mobility within the poultry industry, agency through on-farm processing, and opportunities for community expansion.
These materialize through dignified, intentional, and consistent user experiences within the unit, targeted training modules and customizable assistance based on skill level, on-farm processing options, and online communities and mentors.
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