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LIveBlogging the 2014 Edible Institute @ The New School, NYC

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Hello again everyone and thanks for playing along at home. My name is Kurt Friese, producer of Edible Radio and publisher of Edible Iowa, and we're coming to you live(ish) from Beautiful Greenwich Village, New York, and the New School. There is livestream video as well.

Our keynote this morning is New York Times columnist Mark Bittman, (@Bittman), and the title of his speech is "Whither the Food Movement." In light of his recent column,

First a little housekeeping:

To see last year's liveblog, click here

To learn about Edible Communities' family of media, check out EdibleFeast.com and EdibleCommunities.com

To see the entire lineup for this 2-day festival of thought for food, visit EdibleInstitute.com

Follow along on Twitter via hashtags #Edible2014 and #EdibleInstitute

Lastly remember please that this is a liveblog and as such my nimble little fingers will occasionally tap the wrong keys, so for that I humbly request your indulgence.

***

And we are about to get underway here with Edible Communities co-founder Tracey Ryder welcoming a capacity crowd to the Tishmann Auditorium at the New School. She will introduce our keynote, Mark Bittman (bio here).

Mr. Bittman caused a bit of a stir recently when he suggested that we "Leave Organic Out of It," and I'm sure he'll be touching on that in his keynote here today.

Mr. Bittman promises to try to stay away from numbers and stats, and starts out by noticing that the general public is frightened of food - it's full of chemicals, causes cancer, gluten, and on and on. Everyone likes local and organic, yet some are tempted by weird ideas like "Soylent."

What does one do when everything we hear about food seems to contradict everything else we hear about food? How often do we hear "There was a study"?

Eat less. Eat real food. Yet we have no real definition of "real food"

"We live in a place where we are constantly assaulted with "eat me" signals, Bittman says. Meanwhile, how do we make diet healthy and make agriculture sustainable.

Bittman calls for an al out ban on advertising of junk food to kids, and a sugar tax. Because, as he points out, "People are dying."

He says that GMOs suck, but paying people unfairly sucks more, fossil fuel farming and antibiotics sucks more, killing the bees sucks more, and many other things, and he defies us to point to one person who has died from GMOs.

Organic is great but it's flawed, and industry is creating many problems with it. "Eating a conventional apple is better than eating an organic cheeseburger."

"The worst diet is an absence of food. The best diet has not been determined."

The biggest problem, Bittman says (and my readers have heard me screaming from the rooftops) is that people are not cooking. And he emphasizes that reheating is not cooking. And he points out that cooking is cheaper than not cooking.

Question time. I'll do my best to keep up.

First questioner asks the great organic food question - how do we feed 9 billion people sustainably?

Answer: focus on quality over yield (but how we get there I don't know, he says). The simplest but not easiest answer is eat less meat. 40% of US grain production goes to feed meat. Another 40% goes to the "stupid" production of ethanol. Most of the remaining 20% does to junk food.

Next question says he is from Equal Exchange wondering how we get people to care about where their food comes from and how the producers are paid/treated. Bittman says it is beginning to happen, media people are asking him those questions where just 3 years ago they were not.

"How do we get people who don't have means or time or access to cook?" (a fave question of mine).

He says ballpark 75% of people in US are not poor, and can afford to do it.
"We need to turn cooking into a non-spectator sport." But what about the other 25%? It is not a cooking question, it is a social justice question. Why do we have people working 16 hours a day at $8/hour to try to raise 2 kids alone? He revises the old adage and says "Think Nationally and Act Locally" - and question all candidates on food issues. I would add, by the way, a reminder that the opposite of poverty is not wealth. The opposite of poverty is Justice.

And a good follow-on question asks about the 6 corporations that control 85% of America's food, and wouldn't campaign finance reform help to fix that.

"Yes."

Next question.

(Personal side note, please consider supporting http://www.wolf-pac.com).

And now a question about what do we do with our aging farmers?

Bittman says we need to find a way to get land into the hands of those who want to farm it in an affordable way. We have machines and chemicals to substitute for people and intelligence.

And lastly a GMO labeling question - and a jab about not liking his aforementioned "leave organic out of it" column.

He says that using GMOs to grow corn and soy is a problem, but not as big a problem as simply growing corn and soy - there's too much of it. And he emphasizes that we agree on 95% of these issues so don't let one disagreement ruin a beautiful relationship. He gives the questioner the last word and she calls for labeling.

O wait no he doesn't - debate back and forth - he wants to know what happens when labeling stops GMOs? Questioner doesn't know but says customers have a right to know.

A discussion panel in a few minutes.

***

Jane Black is here to introduce and moderate our next panel. A couple years ago she moved to the most unhealthy city in America, Huntington, WV, to study it and write a book (which goes to the publisher this week!).

The subject of the panel is "Can the 'food revolution' cross geographical cultural and class boundaries?" Panelists include Scott Mowbray of Cooking Light Magazine, Kathlyn Terry of Appalachian Sustainable Development, and Nevin Cohen, professor here at the New School.

Asking Scott: Is talking about this a turn off for many people? Short answer, yes. But he says taste raises consciousness and consciousness creates change. In other words, the way to their heart is though their stomach.

Kathlyn is concerned about how to grow "specialty crops" compared to "sure things" like tobacco. You have to meet people in the middle and move them toward a better way. Help them be able to make better choices, whether "conventional" or organic.

Nevin wants us to stop referring to 'the food movement.' Doesn't seem to think it is inclusive or diverse enough. I would contend that it can involve the income inequality issues and related issues and often does, so the problem is not with the term 'food movement,' it's with awareness of all it does and should include.

Scott Mowbray is emphasizing diversifying recipes, and he insists that grocery stores are getting better.

He also emphasizes being "tribal" with food - the stuff that's exciting to close-knit groups of people. Says local beer is a great example.

Nevin re-emphasizes the labor and other human aspects to these issues

***

Back from break with a fish story - a panel on "How will small-scale fishers save east coast seafood. Featuring Paul Greenberg, author of Four Fish, Sean Tobias Barrett, Mike Martinsen and Bren Smith. Intro by Brain Halweill of Edible East End, Brooklyn, Long Island and Manhattan.

Oddly enough we import 90% of our seafood (average travel: 4000 miles, yet export 30% of what we catch. Almost all of what we export is wild, almost all of what we import in farmed (and imported wild stuff is pirated and/or mislabeled). We even freeze our whole fish, export it, where they thaw it, bone it, refreeze it and send it back!

We eat 15 pounds of seafood per person per year (compared to 100 pounds of red meat)

Be sure to watch "The Least Dangerous Catch" TEDTalk with Bren Smith.

Sean is now talking about lack of access to local fish is very concerned about the mislabeling issue. He has created the concept of CSFs (like CSAs for fish. It's called Dock to Dish. Gives a lot of credit to Chef Dan Barber of Blue Hill for getting together some great restaurants to act as sort of Big Brothers to the CSF.

Discussion turns to "trash fish" that are not trash at all - such as Sea Robin - which is delicious and abundant but ugly and unpopular, yet now it graces plates at Le Bernadin and Blue Hill.

Bren is concerned with how to handle a small local fishery in an era of climate change. Acidification, rising water, etc., is and will continue to wipe out his oyster beds.

3D Restorative Ocean Farming (kickstarter is already funded but still needs support) is a multilayer sustainable aquaculture based on how nature already works.

Mike Martinsen of Montauk Shellfish grew up picking oysters by hand. "I built my house on oysters." '95, and '96 were great years, but then MSX and Derma plagues wiped out every oyster in New York. Got into buying and selling lobsters and did well at that for a while, then in '99 that market collapsed. Tried clams - then QPX takes that out.

We must, he says, change the by-catch laws to force fishers to keep what they catch and find a market for it rather than simply taking what they want and killing the by-catch.

He then went into a very moving story about an epiphany he had on the stern of the boat in the fog chanting a Buddhist prayer into the water, "let me be your voice," and when the fog lifted they were surrounded by thousands of pilot whales.

Leasing bottom land for oyster farms is the sort of bureaucratic nightmare you'd expect, with 5 state and federal agencies to deal with.

Bren dislikes what he calls "Teddy Roosevelt environmentalists" - insisting "we could set aside the entire ocean, and it's still gonna die."

"The elephant in the room is wild fisheries--is there a transformative fisherman to make these practices more widespread?"

***

My dear friend Gary Nabhan was supposed to anchor this next segment but sadly had to cancel out at the last minute, leaving us in the capable hands of Brian Halweil. On the subject "Farm-Based Food Chain Restoration for Pollinators and People, we have Scott Chaskey of Quail Hill Farm (@noustindrinks; Jack Algiere from Stone Barns (@StoneBarns); Ken Grene of the Hudson Valley Seed Library (@SeedLibrary), and Chuck Eggert of Pacific Foods (@PacificFoods).

Jack points out that a lot of what is degrading the farm is consumer demand. Meanwhile Ken Green reminds us that the seeds are the foundation of farming, and while GMO seeds are bred to succeed in a chemical environment, diverse organic seeds are bred to thrive in organic soil.

Seed Library is asking the questions about what is right for what region to attract the right pollinators for the area. Scott tells us they they recently discovered the thought-to-be-extinct 9-spot ladybug on Quail Hill Farm a few years ago (Cornell U. was very excited) and still they are not finding that variety anywhere else.

The issue of scale arises with Chuck Eggert, who is farming 4000 acres compared to 88-300 acres with the other participants). Pacific Foods has over 100,000 heritage breed chickens and turkeys that graze in the open air, which in turn fertilizes and restores soil for native plants, thus supporting pollinators.

"Diversity reduces risk of catastrophic loss" Jack Algieres

Ken Greene is concerned about how climate change might cause catastrophic losses if a sudden shift affects a place where, for example, almost all the brassica seed is produced (in the Hudson Valley). Same could happen, for example, to California wine country or Kansas wheat. My book Chasing Chiles is all about this very issue.

Growing breeds native to the location increases the likelihood they can survive the shift. Chuck's Pacific Foods is transitioning all his livestock to feed from within about 20 miles, which helps create a market for native grains and seeds.

Question time

First is asking for about what to plant to combat Bermuda grass. Jack says you have to try several things to know what will beat it out in a particular place. Suggests rying white clover, oats, annual rye. Ken suggests she try for a SARE grant to run some trials.

Any bias against hybrids on the panel?

Scott thinks they can be useful, and there are some people who are trying to de-hybridize hybrids. Jack is one of them. Ken thinks they are good short term but not long term solutions.

Chuck thinks a crossover is coming where in a few years organic is going to be cheaper, responding to a question that returned to the idea of economies of scale.

***

Next up: TECH!

Danielle Gould of Food + Tech Connect is leading the panel.

Noah Karesh of Feastly (@eatfeastly)
Benzi Romen of Farmigo (@MrBenzi)
Jennifer Goggin of Farmersweb ((@jenngoggin)

Food tech is info tech and hardware that supplements, and supports food production and nutrition - in 4 years there over 3,000 companies that have cropped up in the sector. Media, restaurant tech, food/fitness etc...

How can tech change how farmers are selling food to businesses and individuals?

Noting that farmers are far more tech savvy than they once were, we learn that Farmigo helps make it easy for farmers to know what to grow based on their customers demand, and thus it helps them scale safely and correctly.

Jenn Goggins is talking about how the tech can help farmers find more customers without taking away field time or forcing the hiring of an extra bookkeeper or marketing guru.

In the dining sphere, Noah says that tech builds connections for people to know where their food comes from. And for cooks, it empowers line cooks, for example, to find new, profitable outlets for their creativity. Feastly is also wrestling with a wide variety of health regulations, since their site helps people make profitable meals in private homes.

Danielle mentions that the sustainable food community was a little slow to adopt technology. She asks Benzi how he sees that changing. he points out that software used to be very expensive to create, and today it's much cheaper. "Food is the laggard in e-commerce," only 4-5% of the population is willing to buy food online. he doesn't think supermarkets will be around in 10 years. I think that's surely too short a timeframe, especially when, for example, you can still see video rental stores surviving here and there.

Chris is talking about food benefits that Google is offering its employees, and he has partnered with them to compare their wellness with what they are providing and using their algorithms to show what foods might be more healthful and improve eating behaviors.

Danielle says the funding floodgates have opened for the food + tech sector, and she asks the panel why. Noah thinks it is less from food investors and more from tech investors looking for new verticals. Benzi says it's driven by the new freelance economy, or what he likes to call the economy of community. A lot of talk about the collapse a few years back of WebVan and how that scared money away that is only now returning.

Where will we be in 5 years? Farmigo reiterates the removal of supermarkets (sounds awesome, but overly-idealistic). We will see even more data and analytics to improve food lifestyle choices. Feastly wants people to use their space as an alternative to Yelp or Foodspotting, and that maybe they can encourage entrepreneurship.

Sadly I have been called away for the last part (bummed to be missing the DRINKS!) Please tune in to the livestream video for the rest of the day.

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