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Future of Food Conference

Future of Food: the food movement goes mainstream

Last week (May 5) many of the world’s leading experts on food gathered at the “Future of Food” conference in Washington DC, sponsored by the Washington Post. It brought together The Prince of Wales (no less), a lifelong environmentalist and organic farmer, Eric Schlosser, author of “Fast Food Nation”, and Wendell Berry, winner of The National Humanities Medal.  Experts from some of world’s biggest food companies, academia and nonprofits discussed trends in agriculture and consumer behaviour that is shaping the future of food.

The event was designed by WashingtonPostLive to “advance the conversation” about sustainable food: , featured a glittering array of speakers from many aspects of the food movement.

Here are some excerpts and comments:

Prince of WalesThe keynote speaker was none other than the Prince of Wales, fresh from his son’s wedding, who gave a serious and inspriring talk that touched on a great range of pressing issues related to agriculture, health, and the state of the world.

“Everyone has to work together and we all have to recognise the principle that Mahatma Gandhi observed so incisively when he said that we may utilize the gifts of nature just as we choose but in her book, the debts are always equal to the credits. It is, I feel, our apparent reluctance to recognise the interrelated nature of the problems and therefore, the solutions that lie at the heart of our predicament and certainly, on our ability to determine the future of food. How we deal with this systemic failure in our thinking will define us as a civilization and determine our survival.”

Read his full speech here

Hans Rudolf Herren, president and chief executive, Millennium Institute USA: “This idea that there’s a God-given right for cheap food has got to go because that’s the problem we have. But we have to figure a system that the poor of the world also can afford food. There are $400 billion of subsidies a year for a few (large-scale) farmers. Take that money, support the poorer people to afford better-quality food grown by small farmers, organic farmers. Then you have solved the problem. I mean the large farms, what do they produce? They produce corn for ethanol and soybeans for feeding animals. I mean, really, if you look at the system the way it is today it is totally upside down.”

Robert Ross, president and chief executive officer, the California Endowment: “Nothing short of a powerful movement will reverse the trends that are in front of us. The scientific community first understood that tobacco was bad for your health in 1921. And it wasn’t until 1965 when the Surgeon General got permission to put the warning label on the side of a cigarette pack. It wasn’t until the 1990s when we began to see some of the significant and meaningful policy and practice changes. And again, that victory is not done.

So, if we do a side-by-side comparison of the complexity of the issue before us today — health and nutrition and food access and sustainability — compared to tobacco it is a far more complicated and complex undertaking. At the end of the day, that was a power issue, and it continues to be a power issue. And the only way to confront issues of power is to craft a movement that wields power.”

Gary Hirshberg, chairman, president and chief executive officer, Stonyfield Farm: “I have yet to meet the consumer who says, ‘I want the milk with more synthetic hormones, please.’ We have got to change the law. We need labelling. It’s not very complicated. Those of us who have some discretionary income, some ability with our purchases, we’re reshaping the world by our daily purchases whether it’s at a restaurant or a store or a farmer’s market.”

Patrick Holden, organic dairy farmer in Wales and the founder of the U.K.-based Sustainable Food Trust: “I think that this morning’s speech by the Prince of Wales was a landmark. I think it will come to be seen as marking the beginning of a new chapter in the discussion about sustainable agriculture.

What he really was saying was that not only is the current model of agriculture and food systems unsustainable, but it needs a radical transformation if we are going to address the challenges of climate change and resource depletion and all the other things he touched upon. Those of us who are involved in sustainable agriculture have a new responsibility which wasn’t on us before. There was a certain comfort in being adversarial, but now we have to work with others and rebuild the food systems for the future.”

Prof Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition, food studies and public health, New York University: “Anyone who has been involved in food issues for any length of time had heard these opinions before and most of the speakers were talking to an audience of a few hundred of the converted. Nevertheless, I think there’s a story here, and not just because I was on one of the panels. The story is that the event happened. The food movement has gone mainstream.”

Source: Washington Post

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