Edible Institute Conference on Food Systems: May 10-11, 2014

That weekend happened to be a very busy weekend. I had the river cleanup on May 10th (here’s my blog on that) and then this conference on May 11th followed by a visit to the Frieze Art show (here’s a link to some pictures taken there)  the same afternoon. However, all three were equally fun and educative and I am happy I stretched myself that weekend to attend them all.  Below is a brief summary of the event, organizers, event hosts, and some thoughts from attending the sunday morning session.

About the event:

A 2-day celebration and discussion of where the American food movement is, and where it’s going. This annual think tank, part of the meeting of Edible magazine publishers from around the nation, will feature talks and panels by farmers, chefs, drink makers, journalists, investors and food and drink enthusiasts (like all of us).

Topics will include: building sustainable food businesses in cities; scaling up good food in food service; whither foodtech and how can it change the food system; why should Americans eat more regional seafood; does independent food journalism matter; what can we learn from other regions and nations about fracking; and is the good food movement drinking enough.

Featuring speakers included:

  • Mark Bittman (keynote)-Mark Bittman is the author of the “Minimalist” column, which runs weekly in the Dining section of The Times. He is one of the country’s best-known and widely-admired food writer.
  • Anna Lappe (keynote)-She is a widely respected author and educator, known for her work as an expert on food systems and as a sustainable food advocate.
  • Tom Philpott-He is the cofounder of Maverick Farms, a center for sustainable food education. He also writes for Mother Jones publications.
  • Gary Paul Nabhan– He is an internationally-celebrated nature writer, food and farming activist, and proponent of conserving the links between biodiversity and cultural diversity. He has been been honored as a pioneer and creative force in the “local food movement” and seed saving community.
  • Dan Barber– Celebrity (at least for people in the food world) Chef of Blue Hill. He spoke about CSF (similar in concept to CSA but related to Fish). He recently wrote an excellent article in NYT, who also did a great review on his latest book.
  • Danielle Gould- She writes about the intersection of food, health, tech and innovation. She is the founder of of Food + Tech Connect.
  • Jane Black– A Brooklyn-based food writer who covers food politics, trends and sustainability issues.
  • Danielle Nierenberg- She is an American activist, author and journalist. She is known for her work addressing sustainable agriculture and is the co-founder of the Food Think Tank.
  • Brian Halweil– Brian is the editor of Edible East End, and co-publisher of Edible Long Island, Edible Manhattan, and Edible Brooklyn. He and his family tend a home garden and orchard, and keep ducks and oysters.
  • Fabio Parasecoli– New School faculty. Publications include Food Culture in Italy and Bite Me: Food in Popular Culture.
  • Andrew F. Smith– He is a writer and lecturer on food and culinary history. He serves as the general editor for the Edible Series. He also teaches Food Studies at the New School.
  • Nevin Cohen– He is a New School Professor with an Urban Environmental Policy background. His areas of expertise include: Urban food system, urban environment, civic agriculture, food production, and urban environment integration.

About the event host:

Attendees enjoy two days of discussions at The New School in Manhattan. I felt it was a very progressive school that really believed and practiced sustainability. They were hosting the event as part of their interest in food related topics. See below for details on Continuing Education programs related to Food.

My thoughts on the event:

I only attended the sunday morning session but I think it was a good crowd with attendees coming in from all over the country. The speakers were very passionate and well versed in their areas of expertise. As someone who follows this industry I was looking to learn and hear something new and also as is always the case; network and feel/get inspired to learn and do more. One of the most inspiring talks given was by Anna Lappe. What she said wasn’t new to most of us. She spoke about the nexus between food, environmental sustainability and social responsibility. She reminded us that it’s important to support organics not only for the sake of our own health but also for the sake of the farm laborers who get exposed to toxic chemicals which may be cheap for us but cause them numerous long term health damage.  It was both awakening and reassuring.

Next I got to hear a panel discussion on one of my favorite food topics- What is Food Waste, what are we doing about it and what more can be done? It was a panel discussion headed by Danielle Nierenberg with participation from Ben Simon of Food Recovery Network, Nick Papadopoulos of CropMobster Community Exchange and Food Waste News, and Claire Cummings the first-ever Waste Specialist for Bon Appétit Management Company Foundation. They all gave excellent talking points and quotes such as ‘Eliminate Acceptability that it is ok to waste food.’ They spoke about how it’s not so much a food waste issue vs. a food distribution issue.  However, when one lady from the audience asked how she could stop waste food from her catering business they didn’t have a specific answer for her. I guess that goes with the knowledge that there is no one solution that fits all and we have to come up with customizable solutions which is hard but not impossible.

Lastly, there was a discussion on what comprises a food system. It’s everything including nutrition, health (effect of GMOs, organic vs. industrial fertilizers), production (soil, water, chemicals), food waste, food subsidies, supporting food producers (big farm vs. local producers).

Overall, a very informative and inspiring event. Looking forward to next years and being able to see substantial progress made over the year.

To learn more:

1. Edible Communities’ family of media: EdibleFeast.com andEdibleCommunities.com
2
. New School Food Studies
3
. Live blogging on the event.

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