Nourishment comes in various forms. The physical body is nourished with food and drink. The soul, however, is a bit more complex as nourishment means different things to different people. Religion feeds this part of the being for many. For others, it’s doing something that makes them feel like a better person. For me, it is being surrounded by people who love me unconditionally or sitting in a room full of people who care deeply about the same things I do. What is that you ask? Food. Nutritious, accessible, healthy-for-you and healthy-for-the-planet food.
This was my second year attending the Edible Institute (“EI” and to see the conversation on Twitter #edi2012). Last year’s conference made quite an impression on me leaving 2012 with some seriously huge shoes to fill. If you are not familiar with Edible, they are beautiful magazines filled with everything food-related local to that area, or as they say, Award Winning Magazines That Celebrate Local Foods, Season by Season. There are almost 70 Edible magazines and publishers flew in from all over the United States and Canada this past Wednesday to attend a publishers’ conference. Saturday morning Edible Institute ignited bringing publishers together with filmmakers, food writers, farmers, activists, fisherman, ranchers, winemakers, bloggers, and yours truly. I can tell you that the 2012 EI did not disappoint. The notion that one person can make a difference thoroughly resonated. It penetrated my self-doubt and reminded me that what I do matters and does make a difference.
“Life is just a series of breakdowns and breakthroughs. Not everyone will breakthrough, but everyone should have the choice.” – Nikki Henderson
I knew very little about Nikki Henderson when she walked up to the podium to deliver her keynote speech, other than the fact that she looked stunning in her fitted, cafe-au-lait colored knit dress and short, tight dreadlocks. Her bio told me that she was the Executive Director of People’s Grocery in Oakland, CA and a champion for food justice for the poor. Henderson told her food story which encompassed her time in her mama’s womb, her mother’s decision to breastfeed, seeing kale for the first time at 23, and learning what really worked for the impoverished and underfed people of Oakland. She’s wise beyond her years, funny, eloquent, and oh so passionate about what she stands for. The captivating oration was an all-around yummy way to launch a 2-day food movement conference.
Highlight: Henderson’s reminder that “food justice has to be for everyone who doesn’t have someone to fight for them.” That may mean the farmer on the other side of the political aisle who doesn’t have a voice (yes, the one who votes for the other guy) . She ended her speech by asking, “Who do you have to be to help the movement?” It was a profound and rather humbling moment. Not sure what my answer is…I’ll have to get back to you on that one.
“40% of all the food raised and grown in America is not eaten…it’s enough to fill the Rose Bowl [Stadium] every day.” – Jonathan Bloom
Once you get immersed in the food movement, you begin to realize that it’s kind of a small world. Everyone knows Michael Pollan, but have you heard of Barry Estabrook? This reserved and unassuming man, looked almost formal in his Docker-style slacks and navy sport coat amongst the sea of casually-dressed conference participants. In his recent book, Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit, he reveals how industrial agriculture has ruined the tomato in all ways – taste, the environment, and via abusive labor practices for field workers. It was his second time at EI and he was the moderator for the next panel.
I happened to have read an excerpt from Traci McMillian’s book, The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee’s, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table, a few weeks prior to EI, and both reading and hearing her talk about her investigative experiences as an expediter at Applebee’s, a garlic picker, and worker at Walmart, were utterly fascinating. I couldn’t help thinking, she must not have kids. She even got Rush Limaugh’s attention prompting him to refer to her as an “authorette” and “over-educated.” I’d say McMillian has officially made it.
Jonathan Bloom is the author of American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of Its Food (and What We Can Do About It) and pretty much astounded everyone when he said that we waste a quarter to a half of all food we produce. ” This waste is rampant at every checkpoint – on the farm, at the supermarket, your house, and in every restaurant. The part that really got me thinking was his comment that “wasting food is widely accepted in every community.” Ponder that for a moment. Other than money down the drain, is there any societal pressure to waste less food? How much food do you and your family waste on a daily, weekly, yearly basis? Expired food. Leftovers. Picky kids who won’t try their veggies. Moldy bread. Way-too-big portion sizes. Now think about your local Costco or Vons/Pavillons. Olive Garden or Outback? It starts feeling epically staggering especially when you consider that with all that waste, 15% of Americans are “food insecure.” Bloom notes that the biggest opportunity is at the supermarket level and that our waste hierarchy should be (in this order): eating, reducing, feeding to livestock, converting to energy, and finally composting. This book is on my reading list and I promise to do a review with helpful tips for everyone so we can all feel a little better about this waste crisis.
Surprising Moment: When McMillian reminded us that Walmart controls 25% of our food supply and in some communities it can be 50% or even more. When you have a monopoly, price increases and quality goes down. Stores like Walmart can use the produce section as loss-leader. It gets people into the store, but they end up buying, other, more expensive items.
“The web is the best hope for real change. It’s easier to have a complex discussion on the web than in print.” – Leslie Hatfield
The Cultivating Food Justice on the Web panel was made up of three heavy hitters. Naomi Starkman is a founder and Editor-in-Chief of Civil Eats. Leslie Hatfield, the Senior Editor at GRACE Communications Foundation where she edits and manages their food,water and energy blog, Ecocentric. Nicol Nelson works for TakePart, the digital arm of Participant Media (which put out such famed films as The Help and Food, Inc.). Starkman opened by asking the audience, “what’s your definition of food justice?” Big question, so many possible answers. The notion of going beyond “the choir” became a re-occurring theme over the 18 hours of conference time. How do we reach those who don’t know about the food movement, don’t care, or aren’t searching? I enjoyed hearing their wisdom on how they reach other audiences:
” A good story well told can make a difference. Where are you and who is your audience? Set out a trail of breadcrumbs and lead them to information” – Nelson
“Web writing should be light, layered, and linked. You can reach new audiences.”- Hatfield
“Food is a human right. It’s not just access. It’s a huge story to be told; how do we connect the dots for our readers?” – Starkman
Check out all their websites. These woman are reaching new audiences and leading people to care about the movement every day.
With that, it was 12:30, my stomach was growling, and the herd was off to lunch. Click for Part 2 (child labor, lady fisherman, food blogger extraordinaires, and local winos) and Part 3 (serious hero rancher, Chipotle controversy, Whole Foods meat). Also, stay tuned for a film extravaganza next week where we’ll show clips of all the videos featured at EI (Perennial Plate, The Harvest, Dark Side of Chocolate, Chipotle, Beekman Boys).
“I’d rather be called a farmie than a foodie” – Starkman
Fran Collin took the beautiful pictures of Henderson & McMillian above. To see more of his work, visit www.work-for-food.com
Main photo: Hyatt Santa Barbara
Uncredited Headshots: Edible Institute