One of my favorite aspects of the Edible Institute (EI) is that it’s still a small and intimate affair. You know a conference rocks when virtually every speaker and presenter sticks around to listen to the other panels. It’s interesting to hear their questions and sit with them at lunch. I know they are just regular-ole people, but it’s special to have the opportunity to actually talk to “food movement celebrities” at an event.  If you’ve been following along, this is the second post in the EI 2012 recap (click here for Part 1).

After lunch, conference participants lingered outside the Hyatt Santa Barbara attempting to absorb every last drop of sunshine possible before going inside. Our bodies were fed and it was time for more thought-provoking panels.

“Basically any food company that has enough money to advertise is evil” – Darya Pino

Darya Pino, photo from Summer Tomato

I was particularly interested in the Creating Food Communities on the Web panel (hmm…wonder why). I’d been following one of the panelists, Dayra Pino of Summer Tomato for a few years and was excited to see her name on the agenda. Pino’s background is nothing short of impressive with a degree in molecular & cell biology and a PhD in neuroscience. This woman is smart, skinny, well-spoken, very attractive, successful, and young. It’s hard not to feel a wee bit jealous.

“I didn’t want to preach to the choir.” Pino said that she appeals to people’s selfishness and desire to be thin with blog post titles like, 20 Ways to Eat Dessert and Stay Skinny! These posts draw all types of people in and by the end of the article they’ve learned a few things about industrial food. Pino reveled that even with her high website traffic rates, that it is still very difficult to monetize a site. “Basically any food company that has enough money to advertise is evil” she joked. I spoke with her for a few minutes at the evening gala event where she divulged that it was just 6 months ago that she was able to quit her day job and live off Summer Tomato. I’m not sure if this is helpful or super depressing news!

Cathy Erway, photo by Fran Collin

The perky and quirky, Cathy Erway told her tale of how she boycotted going out to eat for two years. This experiment led to a book deal, The Art of Eating In: How I Learned to Stop Spending and Love the Stove and website, Not Eating Out in NY.  I met the last panelist, Sean Timberlake, in person while tasting wine and was struck by how warm, humble and funny he was. I loved his career-path story which took him from “tech, gay and travel” to his niche website, Punk Domestics, “a content aggregation site for the hardcore DIY food community.”

“Think outside of the box to the point of absurdity.” – Cathy Erway

Takeaway: While the three shared totally different perspectives, one of the things I walked away with is how creative you have to be to cut through the noise and how important it is to stay true to your message even if it means you won’t be rich (darn it!!).

 

“Local does not mean sustainable” – Helene York

I am sad to admit that my notes for the next panel, Women of the Sea: Sustainable Seafood Challenges in California were less than desirable.  I learned that while I live right next to the Pacific Ocean, I know next to nothing about the thriving fishing community in my own city and was taken aback by the challenges that they face everyday. The three speakers, fisherman Stephanie Mutz, President of Commercial Fisherman of Santa Barbara, Anna Larsen, Founder of Siren SeaSA (a seafood CSA in San Francisco), and Helene York of BAMCO were extremely knowledgeable in their fields.

Red Sea Urchin, Photo: J. Maassen via cfsb.info

What I Learned: Fishing is complicated. Mutz prefers to be called a fisherman (not fisherwoman, fisher-person, or any other gender appropriate term). There should be more Anna Larsens. If you eat a fair amount of seafood, consider the seafood version of a CSA. Concerned about toxins in fish? Limit portion sizes to keep it affordable and healthy says York. Sustainability is a whole new word when it comes to fishing.

 

“Bio-dynamic is a holistic, bio-diverse method of farming. It can’t be bio-dynamic if it’s not organic. Organic is implied” – Bob Lindquist

At 3:45pm, we adjourned for a wine break. Yup, that’s right. In the back of the room were three winemakers pouring their goods and I can tell you, there’s nothing like a little Qupe Syrah in the afternoon. Quintessential Santa Barbara wine legends, Bob Lindquist of Qupe and Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat sandwiched the far younger winemaker, Sashi Moorman of Stolpman and Piedrasassi.  As someone who researches food additives, I found it fascinating that Moorman chooses not to add sulfur to many of his wines, “[the] definition of natural winemaking is to try not to add anything or take anything away.” His take on sulfites is refreshing as it is not typical in the wine world. Now whether or not you can make fabulous wine (that can travel) without it, remains to be seen.

Bien Nacido Vineyard, photo from Qupe.com

Picture a hillside of sprawling grape vines. There is beautiful lavender which is planted to attract bees and organic barley grown to give the soil more nitrogen. Finally, imagine the herd of sheep grazing the grapevine aisles to keep the the barley trimmed. It’s all so picturesque and would seem more like a scene from Eat Pray Love than grapes growing in the Santa Rita hills for Qupe. Maybe that’s why I love their syrah so much! Jim Clendenen really stole the show with his unique style of wine wisdom. This man is hilarious and there is no possible way I could do him justice. He’s just someone you’ll have to meet in the flesh.

 

“A basic knowledge of kitchen and garden skills is as important as anything kids learn in schools” – Brian Halweil

The afternoon session concluded with a keynote address by Brian Halweil, an Edible publisher for Manhattan, Brooklyn and East End. He had a tough act to follow, but held his own.

Highlights:

“Farmers cannot do it alone. And farmers won’t do it alone. They need allies. When regular people beekeep and save seeds it has far more impact than anything a farmer can do.”

Halweil lovingly calls participants in Cornell’s SPAT program “underwater mollusk militias.” What’s SPAT, you ask? Southold Project in Aquaculture Training. This program turns citizens into small-scale oyster farmers in areas of New York.

The fastest growing part of spirit industry is artisinal, micro-distilled products. “Drinkers care as much about the rye in the whiskey as the grass in their grass-fed beef.”

“5% of our food supply is good.” As in sustainable, organic, local, etc.

Serious thinking outside the box: Wholesome Wave’s Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program where healthcare providers are issuing “prescriptions” for fruits and veggies that can be redeemed for fresh produce. Wow, that’s a cool idea.

 

With that, we were released from the confines of the banquet room. The gala event at the Maritime museum was fantastic with an abundance of glorious food, drink and company. Stay tuned for the conclusion of this recap tomorrow for Part 3.