May 12, 2014

Edible Institute 2014 Wrap-Up

Anna Lappé

Some quick thoughts about the wonderful and thought-provoking Edible Institute 2014 that I attended over the weekend. When Brian Halweil, who publishes four Edibles, in Manhattan, Brooklyn, East End and Long Island, opened the conference, he said one of his goals was to "draw a new path for the food and drink" community.

The conference, put on by Edible Communities Publications, did that, and more. New York Times columnist Mark Bittman, the day's keynote speaker, elaborated on his recent provocative Times op-ed piece asserting that good food advocates would do well to lay off the anti-GMO campaign and focus on issues of sustainability (including banning the prophylactic use of antibiotics on livestock and better pay for farmworkers) and banning marketing of junk food to kids under 19.

Nevin Cohen, a professor of environmental studies at The New School, teaches courses on food systems and is working on a book titled "Kale of Two Cities" (with apologies to Dickens and Mayor de Blasio, he said). He called out the "good food movement" for "being largely white," but pointed to activist groups like La Finca Del Sur, an urban farm cooperative in the South Bronx run by Latina and Black women.

A rollicking panel on seafood posed the question "How will small-scale fishers save East Coast seafood?" Moderated by writer Paul Greenberg, it was filled with great storytellers: Sean Barrett of Dock to Dish, Mike Martinsen of Montauk Shellfish Company and Newfoundland fisherman Bren Smith. Smith has invented something he calls "3-D ocean farming," which I love for it's economy and emphasis on raising the profile of seaweed in the pantheon of sea foods. Martinsen told a moving story (involving Buddhist chanting and the magical appearance of pilot whales as far as the eye can see) about how he lived through the collapse of the oyster and then lobster fisheries, then took a detour to get a degree in biology before partnering with one of his professors to start an oyster cultivation business. Because of these mighty bivalves' ability to filter estuaries and harbors and provide clean, sustainable sources of protein, Martinsen said somewhat incredulously, "I can't find anything wrong with what I'm doing."

Poet-famer Scott Chaskey of Quail Hill Farm in Amagansett, one of the country's first CSAs, talked about how he couldn't find a single earthworm on the farm's four acres when he started farming the land 30 years ago. Today, the farm has grown to over 30 acres and it's teeming with worms, thanks to sustainable practices that have allowed 500 varieties of vegetables and flowers to thrive.

Anna Lappé one of the founders of The Small Planet Institute and the daughter of Frances Moore Lappé opened day two with her keynote speech, an impassioned call for a kind of activism that can stand up to the might of deep-pocketed food and agriculture corporations and their lobbyists. Her practical advice included showing individual members of the community how small actions (a garden, a neighborhood coop) can add up, and quashing the oft-heard criticism that the fight for real food is led by "elitists." Chèvre eating aside, it's the multinationals that cynically push sugary junk foods on children who are the true elitists driving the majority of food sales in this country, she said, choking up with emotion at one point.

There were many more speakers to learn from but instead of relying on me, why not livestream it yourself?