All photos by Mike Lee

The meat industry in this country has room for major improvement. As we’ve pointed out before, very few companies control the vast majority of the market. Big producers rely on CAFOs, where they feed the animals huge quantities of antibiotics to produce lots of cheap meat. Meanwhile, small ranchers and producers are often working with no support, and very little technology, while most consumers tend to see sustainably produced meat as a boutique option (and with prices hovering around five times that of conventional meat, how can we blame them?).

Enter Hack//Meat. Last week’s hackathon was much like events that allow tech industry experts to put their heads together in a concerted way to, say, develop a piece of software collaboratively. Only this one was focused on improving the meat industry. For 48 hours, a group of food movement leaders, entrepreneurs, and software developers met to tackle some of the most pressing issues faced by the sustainable meat industry. This is the third such event convened by Food+Tech Connect (it was also sponsored by the GRACE Communication Foundation and the Applegate company).

As Food+Tech Connect founder Danielle Gould sees it, hacking is a necessary approach to today’s food landscape. As she writes on her site, “Like the first few generations of computer software and hardware industries, food and agriculture are highly proprietary, consolidated industries. And just as the hacking community seeks to understand how a technology works, people are increasingly looking to know [by whom] and how their food is produced.”

The hackathon also included some literal hacking -- a pig-butchering demo with Tom Mylan.
The hackathon also included some literal hacking — a pig-butchering demo with Tom Mylan.

Food+Tech Connect worked with nonprofit groups like Food and Water Watch and the Consumers Union to devise a series of challenges related to issues such as local meat distribution, slaughter, food labels, and antibiotic use. Food system experts then teamed up with software developers and other tech experts to generate ideas for solutions.

The winning idea was something called Carv, “an internet-enabled scale and label printer that captures and manages data about individual cuts of meat, which can be converted into reports and invoices for anyone in the value chain, including USDA and FSIS [Food Safety Inspection Service].”