Technology is often blamed for the destruction of our food and food systems, by way of food innovation in the form of large-scale farming, industrial breeding, refrigerated shipping, food processing, food packaging and artificial flavoring. These ‘advances’ were made primarily for the benefit of large-scale manufacturing companies and came with the side effect of destroying our food’s natural form, stripping nutrients, and rendering many foods either bland and flavorless or overpowered by artificial colors and flavors. Far worse, industrial food (Big Food) was, and is, literally killing many of us with the heavy doses of salt, sugar and unhealthy fats found in processed foods where there are few vegetables to be seen. Ironically, it’s technology that’s helping us bounce back, as many of us are demanding real, fresh food and moving towards smaller, more local, sustainable models that suit our individual health and dietary needs.
Tech industry veterans Eswar Priyadarshan, Ravi Chittari and Jon Altschuler from Tasteful recently partnered with Lawrence Williams from REAL Certified to tackle issues around access to healthy food and food transparency — both critical pieces of their shared vision to make healthy dining more available and an easier choice. This thinking developed out of the understanding that technology can be a force-multiplier for positive change – connecting us to the real food movement, which grew out of frustration with the confusing and complicated food landscape created by centralized, industrialized food. Instead of using technology to alter our food, why not use technology to help people find exactly what they need to live healthy lives while incentivizing food providers to make healthier choices as well? It’s a true win-win.
In 2014, Eswar Priyadarshan and Ravi Chittari from Quattro Wireless and Apple were feeling mentally invigorated by their work in the tech space, but physically, not so much. Lost in the noise of competing research studies and thousands upon thousands of clickbait articles, they went to Jon Altschuler, a friend and coworker from Quattro and Apple. Jon had recently transformed his health by overhauling his diet, which led the three to a realization: addressing health requires a holistic solution and a healthy lifestyle with real, healthy food as the foundation.
With experience in the mobile world, Eswar, Ravi and Jon knew exactly what to do: put access to healthy food directly in people’s hands in the form of a dynamic mobile app. Thus, Tasteful was born and, soon after, backed by some of the most experienced venture capitalists in the world — CRV and Matrix Partners.
The Tasteful App connects people with quality local food, while supporting the dining needs of people with unique dietary preferences; it functions as a holistic and healthy solution for restaurant dining for the community, by the community.
Unfortunately, when it comes to restaurants and commercial foodservice, transparency is virtually nonexistent. Enter the United States Healthful Food Council’s REAL Certified® program, which is focused on increasing the production and consumption of healthful and sustainable food for all communities through smart incentives and consumer education.
The USHFC audits and certifies restaurants, cafeterias etc. as being worthy of being called purveyors of “REAL” or Responsible Epicurean and Agricultural Leadership (REAL). At a very simplistic level, a restaurant going through the certification, handled by an authorized registered dietitian (RD), must show that it maximizes the consumption of local, organic food cooked on site and that it minimizes the availability of sugar, deep-fried, high-sodium food and that it promotes moderate portion size consumption.
The Tasteful back-end engine runs constantly, indexing restaurant web sites, review sites, restaurant menu feeds and third-party data providers to provide a simple quality rating for any one of 450,000 restaurants around the country. Tasteful has a team within the company exclusively dedicated to auditing the machine’s results as well as dealing with any escalations, generated by the machine, that require human contact with the restaurant. The Tasteful app provides a direct feedback mechanism and also allows consumers to flag any manner of issue, with either the restaurant and or dish data information. The mix of constant machine and human (both employee and consumer) activity provides a near real-time view of the current state of real food and diet-friendly availability across the US.
Individually, our organizations are tackling building the awareness of real food, and together, we are amplifying that mission through the use of technology. eatREAL.org and Tasteful are creating a REAL 25 list of the top 25 real-food friendly restaurants by city, nationwide. Tasteful will highlight these restaurants within the Tasteful app (available on both iOS and Android). The first REAL 25 list was launched for SXSW in Austin last week – you can see the full list here.
Co-authored by Eswar Priyadarshan.
Eswar Priyadarshan co-founded Tasteful, Inc. (formerly Almond Systems, Inc.) in 2010 and serves as its Chief Executive Officer. Mr. Priyadarshan served as the Chief Technology Officer of Quattro Wireless, Inc. Prior to Quattro, he co-founded m-Qube, Inc. and served as its Chief Technology Officer and Senior Vice President. While at m-Qube, he led technology research and development. He served as Vice President of Engineering at Open Market, Inc., Technical Lead at Adobe Systems, and various engineering positions with Sun Microsystems. He also serves as the Co-Chair of the m-Commerce Committee for the Mobile Marketing Association. Mr. Priyadarshan holds Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Computer Science from Boston University.