Join the FIRST LEGO League’s Food Factor Challenge!

What kind of ingredients would it take to make a good recipe from wholesome foods—and LEGOs?

Plastic? LEGOs are made of plastic! Plastic often makes tools to help process food… —No…

Bricks? LEGOs first started out in a classic “brick” shape! And brick is a shape that some foods comes in, isn’t it?… Like… tea bricks?… —No…

How about this recipe? Start with some innovation in molecular gastronomy. Add in bits of this and that from cuisines all over the world along with dollops of local farming and food processing practices. Stir ingredients with the current movement adopted by Michelle Obama, Jamie Oliver, and every other self-respecting chef who cares about making sure children eat healthy, sustainable diets. —Oh, and don’t forget to add the LEGOs!

What do you get?

The FIRST LEGO League‘s Food Factor Challenge, of course!

If you are not yet familiar with FIRST LEGO League or its challenges, you’re in for a treat. FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is a nonprofit that organizes technology and engineering activities for students. The FIRST LEGO League (FLL) runs annual, international competitions for school kids (9–14 in the US, 9–16 in Canada and Australia).

Each year, FLL chooses on a new, real-world challenge. This year’s challenge is food. More specifically, this year focuses on improving food safety—for the world.

Now, don’t go tripping off into the weeds, wondering how a bunch of geeky kids are going to come up with innovative solutions in global food safety with a sackful of red, white, and blue LEGO bricks.

First of all, in case you don’t know, LEGOs comes in some pretty spanky shapes and sizes these days. In fact, LEGOs come as robots these days—LEGO Mindstorm NXT v2 is the latest model. These are some pretty sophisticated bricks!

Second, there are well over 11,000 teams in North America (US and Canada) who FLL expects will partake in the 2011 Food Factor challenge—and nearly 9,000 more teams worldwide—easily some 20,000 teams. No team can have less than five members: that’s 100,000 inspired, brainy, school-age kids.

Third, such kids have done well already. Geeky kids with sacks full of LEGOs took on last year’s challenge called “Body Forward” for innovation in biomedical engineering. The result? The “BOB-1″—which sounds like a Lego creation, yes, and is—but it’s also a multifunction, cost-effective prosthetic hand device that attaches to the end of an arm or hand and enables users to hold, grip, stabilize, or secure handheld items. The beneficiary? A three-year-old child born without fingers, who can now hold handy things like a pencil. The geeky kid inventors? A team of Girl Scouts from Ames, Iowa, called the Flying Monkeys—who received an award of $20,000 from the X Prize Foundation for cooking up a winner idea. Cooked up with LEGOS.

So, kids: put aside your dreams of competing on Iron Chef or Top Chef. Those guys only get to play at the end-product stage of food. And their shows reek of the phony, even if they aspire to Reality TV. Why settle for less? To food, you can add technology. Get yourself a chef as a mentor, to be sure—so you can learn to appreciate food safety issues and explore challenges they face in the kitchen. But there’s much, much more to food, including quality and safety. Technical approaches and solutions to food safety challenges are out there, just waiting for discovery.

And parents: get those kids out from behind computer and TV screens and into the action. These FLL challenges pack in brain-food for your kids. To come up with a truly innovative design that improves food safety—using a LEGO Mindstorm NXT v2? Come on! That’s gotta be fun, right?

So, Super Chef is putting out a call—a call to chefs around the world to get involved in this challenge. Open your kitchens to Food Factor Challenge teams. Volunteer to help them learn about food safety—one of the most important topics in your kitchens, in the factories that process much of your food, and on the farms that raise that food. You have absolutely nothing to lose by giving a bit of time and insight. You and the rest of the world have much that might be gained from a league of 20,000 teams representing 100,000 intelligent students, all working to devise the most innovative solution to food safety issues.

Come on, chefs: get in the game!

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About Juliette Rossant

Juliette Rossant is an American author, journalist, and poet. Following publication of her book Super Chef (2004), she began an online magazine... (more)