Food Industry

Miami Ad Students In National Competition To Reinvent Fast Food

"What if fast food could be...different?" That's the latest question posed by Yoxi (pronounced YO-see), a new interactive competition and social game that challenges teams of problem solvers to create and communicate unique solutions to pressing social issues. Nadia Payan, Rose Llera, Suhey Saldarriaga, three students from Miami Ad School, are representing our city and state as one of ten teams from across the country who will compete to see who can come up with the best solution. In this round, called You Are What You Eat, the task is "to reinvent what fast food means to the American diet."

There are no limitations as to what kind of solution the teams present. It can be anything from a product, technology or device, to an ad campaign or a school, government or community program. Judges include Food Politics author and university professor Marion Nestle, sustainable food pioneer, award-winning chef and cookbook author Michel Nischan, and Whole Foods Market Northeast Region President Christina Minardi.

The teams submitted videos for their idea, and then the videos were shown on Using a reality-TV format (Yoxi's creator Sharon Chang worked on American Idol and was part of the original design team for Hulu), online viewers voted and the first round of elimination is being announced today. Once chosen by the audience to advance to the final round, two teams will receive marketing support from top advertising agencies. Then the winning group will receive a cash prize from $5,000 to $40,000 to bring their concept to fruition. I spoke with Nadia, and naturally the first thing I wanted to know was what idea she and her crew (AKA The 3) came up with. (Watch The 3's entry video).

"I'm going to keep our overall idea under wraps, because we don't even know if we're going to make it into the next round," answered Nadia, who is in the school's digital design program (Rose is a copywriter, Suhey is in the art direction program).

Not quite the answer I was looking for, but this is the way it works: The video the teams produce in the first round are really more introductory in style - about the team members, what they think about the topic, how they might approach it in terms of coming up with a solution, and so forth. Specifics don't come until the groups get whittled down. "We find out whether we're one of six teams to make it into the next round. That's when we introduce our idea to the world."

The way the idea works may be under wraps, but Ms. Payan explained the general notion, which is a way to redefine and expand fast food "to be something besides burger, fries, and soda. We think there's a constrained definition of what fast food means. Over the past few weeks we've been conducting interviews with our friends and family and just random people about what their thoughts on fast food are. A lot of people automatically thought of fast food as McDonald's, Burger King, all the big chains. They never mentioned things that were tasty, healthy, and fast. One of the girls we interviewed had just gone to the grocery store and picked up a yogurt and a fruit and some granola for lunch. We asked her why that isn't considered fast food, and she said 'because it doesn't weigh me down.' So people can eat on the go in a healthier way and still feel satisfied; fast food doesn't have to be tied to the big chains.

As alternative fast food options, she mentions grocery stores' ready-to-eat meals ("It's a source a lot of people forget about") and the new wave of Miami's food trucks ("Sakaya kitchen I think is a really good example of a chef who supports local sustainable farmers and stuff. Even food trucks that serve empanadas - these are probably healthier than a burger").

How about falafel? I ask. "Falafel is a great fast food," says Nadia. I was going to question her about shwarma too, but didn't want to push it.

So let's root for The 3. Round 2 voting is Monday, November 29 at 3 p.m. until Tuesday, November 30 at midnight. Assuming our home team makes it, you can show support by going onto the website and clicking your support. The final winner will be announced on December 15.

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Miami New Times' restaurant reviewer for the past decade, and the world's indisputable master of disguise.
Contact: Lee Klein