Edible Institute 2013 Liveblog: March 16-17 2013

03/15/2013 07:01 pm ET | Updated May 15, 2013

Author's note: Please remember this is a liveblog. Forgiveness for typos and the like is appreciated. I'll get back in there and fix them as I can. And don't forget to hit refresh from time to time to get the most recent info. Thanks. ~kmf

The 4th annual Edible Institute, featuring a keynote address by author and Columbia University professor Marion Nestle, meets this weekend, March 16 & 17 in Santa Barbara, CA.

Edible Institute is a 2-day gathering of some of the local food movement's most influential thinkers, writers, and producers. In addition to Professor Nestle, this year's lineup includes:

  • Paul Willis, Niman Ranch Farm
  • Will Turnage, VP, Technology & Invention R/GA
  • Clare Leschin-Hoar, Journalist
  • George Leonard, Ph.D, Director of Strategic Initiatives, Ocean Conservancy
  • Elissa Altman, Food Writer,
  • Peter O'Driscoll, Project Director, Equitable Food Initiative
  • Bonnie Powell, Director, Bon Appetit Management Co.
  • Helena Bottemiller, Journalist
  • Sanjay Rawal, Producer and Director
  • Barton Seaver, Healthy and Sustainable Food Program Director, Harvard School of Public Health
  • Cecily Upton, FoodCorps
  • Brian Halweil, Publisher and editor of 3 Edible Magazines and Senior Fellow at the Worldwatch Institute

Always inspirational, always in depth, always delicious and sometimes funny, the Edible Institute is fast becoming America's premiere event for local food journalism and advocacy. Follow along on Twitter a #Edible2013.

8:30 AM PDT:

They are starting to roll in this morning and everyone us abuzz for the kickoff keynote address by Marion Nestle. We expect to be hearing more about the bees, which she blogged about yesterday, and referenced the strong and in-depth New York Times piece on the topic (Spoiler alert: Don't read it if you're not into doomsday scenarios).

Professor Nestle will be followed by a panel entitled "Food Safety: Unconventional Approaches to Improving Our Food," led by Bon Appetit Management Company Communications director Bonnie Powell. On her panel are Helena Bottemiller - Journalist, Food Safety News, Urvashi Rangan - Consumers Union, and Peter O'Driscoll - Oxfam.

Tracey Ryder, Founder and CEO of Edible Communities, is stepping up to the mic so it looks as if things are about to get underway...

Brian Halweil, who will be a speaker later in the conference, is going to introduce professor Nestle. The well deserved accolades are flowing, including how prolific she is (2 MORE books coming this year) and Time Magazine named her a top 10 influencer in food. Follow her if you like at @MarionNestle.

She's coming out with a cartoon book (!) this year called Eat, Drink, Vote, so look for that.

Big plug for the new movie "A Place at the Table" - emphasizing as we all know that there are 1 billion people in the world who are food insecure, and another billion that are overfed and undernourished. These are social problems, she tells us, that must be addressed by changing culture and changing society.

IN 1980, 15% of American were obese. In 2008, it was 34%. And yes, eating less it part of the solution, but the "food industry knows that eating less is bad for business." In 1980, there were 3,200 calories per day available to each American in the food supply. Today it's 3,900. She puts a lot of the blame on "Mountains of corn in a sea of farm subsidies."

Deregulation of Wall Street had a lot to do with it too. The "Shareholder Value Movement" - getting companies to report growth - became the buzzword. That's hard for food companies unless they get people to eat more. Again 1980 - deregulation of marketing food to kids led to spending on that going from 4.2B then to $40B in 2010. In 2011, Coca Cola spent $267M on Classic Coke alone.

Any health claim, studies show, will convince people that the food is lower in calories. Food is everywhere, including odd places like Staples and Bed Bath & Beyond.

Why do people think fruits and vegetables are more expensive? Ag policy supports the production of Hamburgers, not vegetables Fruits and vegetables, as a result, ARE more expensive.

She has thrown in a plug for the important book Appetite for Profit, showing how companies are left with very little choice but to do everything they can to fatten us all up.

Despite what position you may hold on Mayor Bloomberg's attempts to control the consumption of large quantities of soda, there is no denying the basis for his concerns. Those one liter bottles of Coke have 26 packets of sugar in them. The soda industry spent $40M lobbying against soda taxes in 2009. Last year they spent $2.2M lobbying against it in Richmond, CA alone.

She showed us a great juxtaposition of a new ad in NYC about how now a 16 ounce Coke is small ("Small is Big" the ad tells us), next to a Coke ad from the 1950's about their new "large" 16 ounce Coke that "serves 3!"

"Pursuing public health is not just rational it is imperative." -NY Daily News (not exactly a liberal bastion) Editorial.

"Opposition to soda ban sad proof that Americans still fight for what they believe in." - The Onion

She calls what is going on now, with the dozens of great organizations like Slow Food and Oxfam and many many others the "Edible Revolution" because the Edible magazines are capturing what's going on in the broader food movement. But she calls for more coverage of local food advocacy, and support for the (short-lived?) Occupy Big Food Movement.

Standing O as Professor Nestle's talk concludes. Q&A about to commence.

George Leonard of Ocean Conservancy asks where she thinks GE labeling is going. She says Prop37 was the right move and it didn't lose by much. The USDA is delaying their decision on GE Salmon for good reason - they will cause a huge uproar either way. "Eventually the industry is going to beg government to regulate them."

"Isn't this elitist?" - "I don't know anyone in the food movement who doesn't want it to spread to EVERYBODY." The government COULD subsidize fruits and vegetables they way they do commodities to make them more affordable, but they choose not to. She urges us to represent values...

Break time. And on this break I'll encourage you all to follow the brilliant Ms. Elissa Altman on Twitter at @PoorMansFeast and all her sentient observations on this conference and all things food. While you're at it, check out her James Beard Award-winning blog so that you're all set for her panel discussion this afternoon.

10:15 PDT

Only 15 minutes behind so far as we go into our first panel discussion. To save you the labor of scrolling up, this is "Food Safety: Unconventional Approaches to Improving Our Food," led by Bon Appetit Management Company Communications director Bonnie Powell. On her panel are Helena Bottemiller - Journalist, Food Safety News, Urvashi Rangan - Consumers Union, and Peter O'Driscoll - Oxfam.

Off the bat, if you haven't seen the TEDx from Urvashi Rangan, don't miss it. You will never read food labels the same way again.

Helena Bottemiller is telling us about the impact of the Stupid Sequester on food inspection, and that meat inspectors will likely be furloughed for 11 days. The impacts of this are uncertain but none of the prospects are good.

Urvashi Rangan works for Consumer Reports and likes that it's a great place to do science because she can call it like she sees it without the constraints of corporate oversight. She's talking about finding bugs in antibiotic-fed chicken and pork that may not actually cause illness, but they can live in your gut and pass their anti-biotic resistance along to bugs that can make you sick.

Irradiation is a "band-aid solution," according to Ms. Rangan. If we can create demand for credible systems we can place the onus back on producers.

"The farm labor system is an egregious scandal" Peter O'Driscoll tells us, (see also: FILMING THE FACES BEHIND OUR FOOD, below) and he is working on the Equitable Food Initiative to empower farm labor to improve food safety.

The Food Safety Modernization Act was signed in 2011 and was the most sweeping change in regulation of food since 1938, and try to not just react to food-borne illness outbreaks, but focus more on prevention. "Industry decided they WANTED to be regulated," Bottemiller tells us (as Nestle had predicted will continue to happen). FSMA requires any food producer who makes more than $25K to create and provide a food safety plan that demonstrates that the producer understands the risks and is taking proper preventive measures. The Tester Amendment made this more balanced for small local growers. Comment period is open.

Ms Rangan is now talking about the National Organic Safety Board and some of the odd exceptions that can be created, supposedly for 5 years and then sunset, which is supposed to create a demand for alternatives. Tetracycline and streptomycin for apples and pears are two examples, and that has not been sunset, but rather has been extended twice and soon a third time. It's used to stop fire blight, but as a result, fire blight is becoming resistant to it (because SCIENCE!).

"We don't think producers should be able to use the organic label if they use antibiotics," Ms Rangan says.

Are antibiotics in the orchards having direct effects on farmworkers? Peter O'Driscoll says yes, definitely. There are 20,000 contaminations per year, with particular impacts on women and evidence of birth defects.

***Reminder - Tons of coverage of this conference on Twitter - follow #Edible2013***

Mr. O'Driscoll says "We need a 'culture of compliance' all year, not just on the day the inspector shows up." Farm workers have zero incentive to report evidence of contamination in the field.

Ms. Rangan is touching on the importance of stopping state "Ag Gag" laws, an issue that's near and dear to me as an Iowan, because of the vital need for transparency in our food safety regulations.

"50% of the ground turkey in stores is ALLOWED to contain salmonella," which is the last piece of "gloom and doom" Ms Rangan says she has for us. She says the kernel of hope is all the people like those i this room who are aware and are spreading the word.

Animal Welfare Approved is one of the best labels out there, Rangan says. She's concerned that too many people think "natural" means "organic," and the government is an accomplice in that.

Praise now for the efforts of Costco, who is working with the aforementioned EFI, Costco's food safety motto, Bottemiller says, is "If you can test for it, why wouldn't you?

Some tweets from the conference:

  • @PoorMansFeast: Label noise in the marketplace is very high, so labels that are effective can't be heard. #Edible2013
  • @c_leschin: Companies shouldn't be able to make any claim they want to on a package. - Urvashi R. #Edible2013
  • @PoorMansFeast: Why will WalMart allow salmonella to 49% in their products but Costco will not? #Edible2013
  • @ediblejersey: Theme emerging at #Edible2013 : Need for honesty and transparency in food marketing.

Break time. Coming up next: FILMING THE FACES BEHIND OUR FOOD: Sanjay Rawal
Documentary Filmmaker (see his TEDx here), and see a preview of his new film Food Chains here.

Mr. Rawal is talking about the sever conditions of Florida farm workers in the lead up to the clip of his as-yet unfinished film. It focuses, unsurprisingly, on Immokalee, and begins with a little of the history there. 80 years ago it was an African-American labor camp. Now it is a Latino labor camp. The town is unincorporated and has no mayor or city council despite having a population of over 40K. One profiled family lives - mom, dad, and young son - in a 12' x 8' room in a trailer with 6 other people. For this privilege they pay $200/week. Looking at scenes of the workers picking tomatoes, it is nearly impossible to differentiate it from a scene in one of the early episodes of Roots.

Workers must pick 15 buckets an hour, 450 lbs., just to make minimum wage of $7.70. Americans buy 8 million pounds of tomatoes every day. One worker brought home a check for $42.50 for the day. He left for work at 5am, and got home at 8pm.

One woman interviewed called an ambulance for a fellow worker who was bitten by a snake. Her pay was reduced for a week.

"I this country we are not poor," one worker said, "we're screwed." I'm watching the way some of the older workers walk, hobbled by years in the field, and I'm startled by the thought of the attention being paid to millionaire football players with solid healthcare benefits.

"What is ingrained in the agriculture industry is a complete lack of respect for the people who are harvesting the food. They don't even think of them as people," says author Barry Estabrook in the film.

In recent years there have been 7 successful convictions for slavery there. Abject slavery - chains, shackles, people bought and sold at the side of the road for cash money. Considering how hard it is to bring such charges, those 7 must represent the tip of a very big iceberg.

Enjoy your lunch.

1:00 PM PDT:

Next the wonderful and talented Ms. Elissa Altman, James Beard Award-winning author of Poor Man's Feast (hint: Don't miss that book!), will host a panel called "Hacking the Food System." Panelists are Danielle Gould of Food & Tech Connect and Will Turnage - VP, Technology & Invention, R/GA (Follow him at @wubbahed).

The idea here is to look at the intersection of local, sustainable food and technology. It's not "hacking" like stealing your password on your bank account, it's about building innovative ways to use tech to collect datapoints and provide innovative solutions to difficult problems.

"If we are truly going to use tech for the betterment of the food system we need to do it in a broad and consistant way," Altman tells us. And perhaps we are as it has just been revealed that we are trending on Twitter as I type (#Edible2013), ahead of Lil Wayne and Sara Palin!

Ms. Gould shows us a graphic that says there are well over 800 tech companies out there concentrating on one aspect or another of the food system, from restaurant management software to agriculture to social networking to diet and exercise. One that's been getting a lot of attention is recipe kits, wherein companies send you a recipe and all the necessary ingredients, scaled out and ready to use.

Will has an app called Bread Baking Basics - check it out - it's designd to get people past the perceived barriers to home bread baking, and you can design your own recipes even though you've never baked before.

"How can Edible publishers 'hack the food system'?" Altman asks. Gould suggests it really is as simple as telling stories about the innovative work going on out there. Turnage thinks that curating has an awful lot to do with it too, that non-linear way of gathering information where people dip in and out of sites and sources. He says he's seeing a lot of hyper-localized sources, like Michael Ruhlman's first self-published iBook (it's on the uses of schmaltz, by the way - check it out).

Turnage is saying that Michael Ruhlman felt comfortable doing that book because he has 100,000 twitter followers so "what does he need a publisher for?" Well, I'd contend it was a publisher or maybe two that GOT him those 100K followers.

Now Ms. Gould is talking about how tech is making it easier for people to shop their values, sourcing the food that they believe is right for their health or the planet or farmers or whatever is important to the individual consumer.

Will Turnage has a great game to combat our tech addiction (mine is admittedly pretty bad). When he and his friends go out to dinner, everyone puts their phones in a stack in the center of the table. First person to grab their phone picks up the whole tab.

Gould points out that food and tech is still very much a kind of "wild west" world, where everyone is trying everything to spur natural selection and sort of cull the herd of apps and digitalia.

Turnage is comparing what may be happening to the food world in regards to tech, with what happened to the music world in 2000-2005.

And that's a wrap for that one. Next we're going to watch: "GROUND OPERATIONS: Battlefields to Farm Fields with Dulanie Ellis, Producer/Director." It is about efforts to help returning veterans put their lives back together by starting and/or operating farms.

24% of returning vets are unemployed. 200,000 are homeless, 50% suffer from PTSD. 22% suffer from traumatic brain injury. The VA prescribes seroquel for some of these symptoms, and one of the know side effects is suicide. A veteran commits suicide every 80 minutes.

Vets wait 6-12 months for VA benefits. The VA makes mistakes on 1 in 4 filings. $944B to fight the war, less than 1% earmarked for veterans.

Farms give vets an opportunity to "de-escalate." Many of the vets profiled are now working at Veterans Farm. The Farmer-Veteran coalition is mobilizing veterans to feed America. The Veterans Sustainable Agriculture Training Program is also working hard to transition vets from the battlefield to the farm field.

100 Seeds of Change is a new Veteran-led program to build 100 community gardens throughout Englewood, CA.

After all, in the final analysis, food security IS national security.

BTW, two of the speakers in the film will be speaking later here at the Institute, Danielle Nierenberg and Ellen Gustafson, founders of Food Tank, the Food Think Tank

3:45 PM PDT

OK! after some truly fantastic oysters and bubbly, it's time to learn about the threat to those tasty bivalves: Ocean Acidification. On the panel are:

Bill Dewey, Taylor Shellfish Farms
George Leonard, ocean acidification expert, Ocean Conservancy
Gretchen Hofmann, Marine Science Institute, Univ. of CA, SB
Brian Halweil, editor of Edible East End and co-publisher of Edible Brooklyn and Edible Manhattan magazines (and also an oyster farmer).

CO2 absorption in the oceans is changing the chemistry and killing the baby oysters by increasing acid levels in the water, thus messing with the calcium in their shells. Think of this: Just your breath on a glass of water has enough CO2 to noticeably alter the pH in a glass of water. Now think of the amount of CO2 we're releasing into the atmosphere and the size of the oceans. This in turn can further damage the climate, and even effect the weather (yes, deniers, those are two different things).

Gretchen Leonard is actually making new oceans in her lab and UCSB, and using them as testing grounds to see the potential future effects of climate change on ocean environments. Part of her research is helping find particular breeds that withstand the changes, and part is about trying to stop or reverse it.

George Leonard is driving home the point that as much as we talk about ocean acidification, it's really about people. The first real message is "stories matter." And the story is not just about oysters - they are just the "tip of the spear." This effects far less "perceived elitist" food like salmon and tuna by disrupting their food chains.

Brian Halweil, who farms oysters as a hobby on long island. The ocean acidification problem is not as bad in the Atlantic yet because of the geographic structure of the Atlantic, but he emphasizes that acidification is far from the only insult to our oceans. Red tides, warming, storm surges which will all compound the acidification problems when they do come.

That's a wrap for today's segment of Edible Institute 2013. Hope you'll come back here tomorrow for day 2, and thanks for following along!

Sunday, 17 March, 2013

Good morning and welcome back everyone to day two of the Edible Institue. Another great lineup today kicking off with Paul Willis, fellow Iowan and founder of Niman Ranch Pork. Before we get to that a quick thanks and well done to all the folks at the Edible Institue Gala last night! We had a fabulous time with stunning food and delicious wine from tons of wonderful Santa Barbara talent (too many to link, in fact, so please Google at will:


Thanks to all of them from everyone in Edible Communities.

After Paul we were expecting to here from Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan, except she sort of resigned, a move that is a loss to the Institute but a much bigger loss to American farms and food.

Later we'll have a panel discussion on Building Food Communities Through Farming and Ranching with Krista Harris of host magazine Edible Santa Barbara

But first, PIGS!

Discussing the pastured pig movement in America with Paul Willis is Gibson Thomas, among my favorite Edible publishers up in Marin and Wine Country, and host of the fantastic drinks podcast The Drink Tank.

Gibson is doing the intro, telling of Paul's time with the Peace Corps and VISTA, and then his return to his family farm in Iowa in the late 70's. The prevailing wisdom at the time was that pig farmers would all have to "get big or get out," but Paul went the other way. He wanted to raise them the way he had learned as a boy, but he could only sell them to Hormel and the like. A chance meeting with Bill Niman led to the creation of the pork side of Niman Ranch, which in just a few years grew from just Paul to now over 500 famers. Most are in Iowa, but also in Nebraska, South Dakota, Minnesota, and North Carolina.

You can read more about Paul in Nicolette Hahn Niman's wonderful 2006 book The Righteous Porkchop.

One encouraging aspect of the Niman pork farmers, Paul says, is that their average age is 47 (for farmers across the US it's 57 and rising.

"People had bought into this 'other white meat' thing, but that led to lean but also dry, tasteless awful meat"

All Niman pork is Global Animal Partnership certified. Niman has 8 field agents who check in on their farmers in person, not just because they need to verify that they are upholding Niman's rigorous standards, but also because about 30% of them are Amish (no phones!).

"If it weren't for the system we created so that these farmers could bring their pigs to market, they'd all have last their farms by now."

Paul's now discussing the false high price ethanol has created for corn, which has raised the "floor," or lowest price Niman pays its farmers for their pigs.

Niman brings 3000 pigs to market every week. Commodity pork brings 400,000 per day. "Those big confinements produce a lot of waste. You can call it manure or you can call it toxic waste. Iowa has the most polluted waterways in the US."

Niman weens at 6 weeks. Commodity pigs come out of the gestation crates at 17 days. Also Paul's sows are impregnated naturally. He has one boar, who's name is Walter Chester White (Breaking Bad subreference intended).

Many Niman farmers raise, grind and mix their own feed. On the GMO front, Paul contends that we've lost that issue - that it's much to pervasive now.

On slaughter, their abattoirs have worked with industry legend Temple Grandin to make the system as humane as it can be.

For more on Paul, check out my podcast, The Blue Plate Special.

Next is "Building Food Communities Through Farming and Ranching," moderated, as I mentioned, by Krista Harris of Edible Santa Barbara. Her panel includes Robert Abbott of Hilltop and Canyon Farms, Elizabeth Poett of Rancho San Julian, Guner Tautrim of Orella Ranch, and Noey Turk of Yes Yes Nursery

Elizabeth Poett grew up on the ranch she now helps operate, where she concentrates on her own herd within her father's herd, and enjoys marketing it to restaurants and in farmers markets. She too is a fam of Temple Grandin (linked above), and with a group of fellow ranchers helped develop a humane mobile harvesting unit.

Guner Tautrim likes to focus on the land stewardship, and credits Bill Mollison's Permaculture "Bible," Permaculture: A Designers' Manual, which he read cover to cover while spending 2.5 years on a sailboat.

Noey Turk "I guess I just feel in love with being in the field." Says she found farming to be the cure for anxiety.

It's harder to make mistakes, she tells us, when you have to meet a payroll. I can identify with that.

Krista asks the panel what challenges there were in coming back to farms they grew up on. Poett says she was raised to believe that as a woman she can do everything the men can do, so "quit whining and get in there and do it."

Robert Abbott, who grows avocados, says avocados are weird. He doesn't know of any other crop that stays on the tree for 18 months (maybe there are some nuts?). You really need to plan things out 15 years, which is very tough in such a fluctuating market.

Guner says a farmer today now farms thousands of acres because of technology, but it's that tech that puts them into debt. He calls for a wave of divestment, for people to stop spending money and/or investing in destructive farming practices and "nutrient devoid food"

Noey suggests that when you buy local you are investing in a knowledge base. Although, some farmers are very competitive and won't share knowledge.

Now Elizabeth is talking about her mobile slaughter system, and that it has to live up to all the USDA standards of the big houses, with an inspector on site each time, etc.

"What else can we do besides buying local?" Guner says SPREAD THE WORD! And especially with kids. Edible magazines can be a catalyst for change.

Next up, a panel on School Food. Back in a few minutes.


Here's another super-strong panel on the subject of School Food with Moderator, Molly Watson
and speakers Barton Seaver, Harvard School of Public Health, Healthy and Sustainable Food Program Director Chef, Author, & National Geographic Fellow and Cecily Upton, co-founder of FoodCorps and the Program Director for Sites and Services (and fellow Slow Food soldier).

"The problem is parents don't understand how complicated it is" to fix school food, because of all the rules and regs that stand in the way, Molly Watson says. Cecily Upton voices kudos to the USDA for the new meal pattern.

Barton Seaver is talking about the fact that the first kids that went through the recent changes and programs like those that Ann Cooper has built, are now entering college and entering the workforce and making further changes themselves. Many of them working on improving packaging, shipping, and reducing waste. "Waste is nothing but a misallocated resource."

Now Cecily is discussing a few of the various hurdles to getting local food into schools, many are logistics, many are regulatory.

"Bottled water is an environmental morass" Seaver says, and in a school he worked with they asked Sodexho to remove it. And they did, but that still left all the Coke and the rest of the bottled water with stuff added to it. Thus they banned the only healthful bottled drink. This had ripple effects throughout the system, lowering participation, lowering costs and ultimately lowering the healthfulness of the who program. The law of unintended consequences.

Cecily says it's not that school cafeteria workers don't want to serve better food or that they are lazy, it's that they feel trapped in a system.

On the issue of "The kids won't eat healthful food so why bother," Cecily says that's a lazy answer and that it's simply not true, especially when they have opportunities to know it in other contexts, like in the classroom and school gardens.

Barton talks about the importance of shifting the culture so that kids think that going to the cafeteria is a chance to see something new, an act of exploration.

"Sustainability is as much about the products we use as it is about our expectations of them" Seaver says.

Molly Watson points out that we don't expect profit from math class, so why the cafeteria? It's a lost opportunity for an unbelievable teachable moment.

Google has the goal, in cooperation with BAMCO, has set a goal of the world's healthiest workforce by 2020. Imagine if we did that in school?

Coming to a close here now, break out workshops this afternoon. If you really read all the way doen here, WOW! and thanks. Remember there's tons more on twitter - #Edible2013, and tune in again next year for #Edible2014!!