Yesterday, an important discussion took place on the issues of safe food, sustainability and health of our people and our planet with a conference called "The Future of Food" held in Washington, DC (archive of video highlights here). In February, there was a TEDx Manhattan conference on the food system called "Changing the Way We Eat" (archive here) that touched on related topics and the intermingling of ecology, health, politics, and economics. There are a lot of amazing people who care about food and health that are bringing up hard questions about our current food system and how we can feed the nation and the world without sacrificing individual health, public health or the health of our planet.
At the Future of Food conference, stalwarts of the food movement Wendell Berry, Wes Jackson, and Prince Charles of Wales (who knew?) gave their perspectives on the long road we have traveled and the long road ahead. On hand were a wide range of advocates (Josh Veritel of Slow Food USA, Laurie David, who is extending her environmental activism to the dinner table and to advocacy against antibiotics in meat, Marion Nestle, leading nutritionist and founder of Food Politics) and journalists (Joe Yonan of The Washington Post, Tom Philpott, Jane Black, and Paula Crossfield and Naomi Starkman of Civil Eats) who called out, via twitter and in person, big food on their arguments about the economic necessity of big-AG techniques and policies all day.
Following along at a distance, the conference was inspiring, enlightening, and, at times, infuriating in the ways that listening to the church choir might be when you are living in the red-light district. How can good food advocates get the message out more broadly that safe, good food is not a luxury, but a necessity? Furthermore, as Eric Schlosser argued in the Washington Post this week, how can we get across that being a "foodie" is not elitist?
The soapbox I stand on is family dinner, but I do believe that the future of the food lies around the family dinner table. Michael Pollan put it simply as "More and more, I realize our food problem is a cooking problem." Caring about what we put on the table for our families and knowing how to prepare real food are two of the first steps to changing the food system. Caring about getting to the table in the first place may indeed preempt that. We need to embrace a culture where the time spent to shop, cook, and eat together as a family is viewed as essential, not a luxury. Family dinner can consist of two roommates, a single parent and kids, a large brood of multiple generations, or any other configuration you can think of, as long as they are breaking bread together. We need to to value this simple act and get around a table together, if we are to ever change the way we eat.
Agenda and Speakers for The Future of Food Conference, May 2011
Changing the Way We Eat, TEDx Manhattan, Feb 2011
FoodDay.org, an event to celebrate the food movement and inspire families and communities to commit to real food.