Cindy Ma is a Junior pursuing a degree in Nutritional Science, Dietetics at UC Berkeley. With passions in food, business, and technology, she conducts research through the Undergraduate Research Apprentice Program on “Food Innovation” with Dr. Sohyeong Kim. Cindy also works at the Garwood Center for Corporate Innovation as a Social Media Assistant. She intends to pursue a career in nutrition consulting and writing that will empower others to make healthy and sustainable lifestyle choices.

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From February 27-March 1, I embarked on a 3-day adventure at my first Food Hackathon. Since its inception three years ago, the Food Hackathon has grown steadily, attracting the attention of billion-dollar food corporations including MARS Inc. and Quaker Oats. Galvanize in San Francisco, hosted this year’s Food Hackathon 3.0. Rebecca Jean Catering’s delicious and nutritious food powered all the hackers throughout the weekend.

Nutrition for All


Friday, opening night, the atmosphere felt alive and bright with the mingling of coders, students, designers, entrepreneurs, chefs, scientists, and all forms of “foodies”. Tim West, the founder of Food Hackathon + Forum and graduate of Culinary Institute of America, kick-started the event with a heartfelt welcoming speech about his vision to innovate the food ecosystem through hacking. West simply puts it, “To hack is to take something broken and put it back into something useful and better.” The food system is broken and what better way to heal it than to hack it. Dr. Bruce German, Director of UC Davis Food for Health Institute, commented that since the industrialization of the food system, the nutrition profile of our food has steadily decreased. Developed from the awareness that large-scale food production does not address global issues of food affordability and nutrition, this year’s hackathon challenge, Nutrition for All, gathered top food innovators, developers, and entrepreneurs to create innovative solutions that would target the challenges in our food system.

Food Hackathon + Open Innovation


The hacking officially started Saturday morning; anyone with an idea could pitch to the crowd for one minute. Surprisingly, a considerable handful of hackathon participants had an idea to pitch. Varying from yogurt that catered to personal gut biome to smart toilets that could analyze health status through stool to crowdsourcing gardeners to work idle neighborhood plots, ideas were vast and many, innovative and inspiring. Leveraging Open Innovation, all hackathon participants brought their diverse skills and knowledge to efficiently create a collaborative force against the broken food system.


I mingled with various groups before settling on a group that wanted to develop a drug-food interaction database. Having been on antibiotics just the week before and experiencing painful side effects, I felt strongly connected to the work. I’m not the only one who has faced preventable issues like this; according to Mayo Clinic, “Nearly 7 in 10 Americans take prescription drugs.” The FDA estimates that over 2.2 million face adverse drug reactions, causing more than 106,000 deaths annually. Our mission at Took That? Eat This. is to create a database of potential nutrient deficiencies and adverse effects from the consumption of medical drugs and other substances in order to inform medical providers and patients on foods to avoid or to consume. We believe that this app will benefit the healthcare industry since it will greatly improve the quality of life for anyone taking medication worldwide.


Sunday afternoon, judging commenced. Every group delivered a presentation of their application that they had diligently worked on in the event’s 36-hours of hacking. One notable, crowd favorite was Symbolic Recipe Language (SyRL), an international pictorial food language that defied language barriers through symbols and numbers; with their application, there would no longer be a need to translate measurements and cooking instructions. After an hour of deliberating, the judges chose Took That? Eat This. Shocked and elated, my team and I jumped with joy upon hearing this news! As the winners, we won a month’s use in the Galvanize workspace to develop our concept and an all-expense paid trip to the 2015 Milan World Expo, which will focus on the theme Feeding the Planet: Energy for Life. We plan to further advance our concept with the aid of developers, healthcare experts, and entrepreneurs. Watch out world, Took That? Eat This. is going to improve your lives in the near future!