Food for Thought From Denver
Greetings from Denver! I am here attending the 31st annual conference of the International Association for Culinary Professionals (IACP), joined by some 700 of my closest friends in the food world (including Food section editor Joe Yonan). We are writers, editors, farmers, chefs, entrepreneurs and artisan producers representing North America, South America, Europe, Australia and Asia. It is pretty darn cool to be among one’s brethren, people who speak the same language, often with their mouths full.
This year's theme is "Pioneering a Sustainable World," an opportunity to discuss where our food comes from and how it's grown, raised or processed and how this conversation applies to the current economic crisis.
Yesterday's opening session, "The Soul of Sustainability," featured a panel moderated by radio personality Lynn Rossetto Kasper ("The Splendid Table"), who asked the questions I have been longing to hear addressed in a public forum: "Is this business about local and organic about the real world? And how do we offer safe, healthy and delicious food that is affordable to all people and their children?"
For we inside-baseball players, the assumption is that we all know what the word "sustainability" means; just a month ago, Obama Foodorama's Eddie Gehman Kohan asked me that very question, and I prefaced my response by saying, "I feel like my definition of this word is constantly changing, but here it is, as of today":
Sustainability is about shifts -- from a colossal, uber-industrialized, impersonal system with zero respect for the land, animals and the eating public to smaller, regional and/or localized business relationships that respect the land, the people who work it and the relationships between farm and table. It's about being transparent about where food comes from, how it's grown, raised and processed, and it's about honoring our natural resources and giving priority to the human element -- from conditions of farm workers to the highly preventable epidemic of teenage obesity and diabetes. Sustainability is about true democracy -- equal access to safe and nutritious food.
Yesterday, organic farmer and IACP Scholar-in-Residence Fred Kirschenmann reminded us that "Food is about relationships, but we have come to think of it as a thing, so we have lost all the rich connections to food."
And star chef Dan Barber (Blue Hill in New York City), who runs the ground-breaking farm-to-table program at Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture in Pocantico Hills, N.Y., offered this to chew on:
"Our food system is an insult to history, to the basic laws of nature. It is the General Motors mindset of farming -- take more, sell more, waste more, and for the future, it's not going to work for us." He argued that "the best ecological and ethical decisions are also the most flavorful."
Walter Robb, COO of Whole Foods Market, added this: "We cannot talk about sustainability and not talk about the conditions of agricultural workers."
As the first day of the conference came to a close, I wondered aloud what, if anything, the word "sustainability" means to you. Does it speak to your lives and how you shop, cook and eat? Is it a word that sounds more ethereal than practical? And, as Rossetto Kasper, asked, is this a moot point when so many people are struggling to simply get food on the table, local, organic or otherwise?
Clearly, there are no definitive answers or solutions to this enormously complex conversation, but in the spirit of "keeping it real," I welcome your input so that I may share it with my colleagues in the food world.
Have a delicious weekend.
By Kim ODonnel |
April 3, 2009; 10:43 AM ET
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