A short post (maybe) on Edible Institute 2011

By having to wait until Wednesday to remark on this, I am definitely one of the latest people to comment on the conference. I may, in fact, be the latest. In any event, I still wanted to share some thoughts here.

I especially wanted to see Dr. Joan Gussow’s keynote speech and Dr. Gary Nabhan’s closing remarks of the first day. I figured I’d learn a lot from everything in between and everything the next day, but I was looking forward to those two as highlights.

Dr. Gussow’s speech was quite good. She touched on her experience with becoming a nutritionist, and being the only one in her field that focused more on how food was being produced than what was in it. That didn’t win her a lot of friends, as you can imagine. She also focused on where she sees our system now (and she doesn’t see it going any place pretty). She recommended a couple of books, Eating Animals and Eaarth, neither of which I’d heard of before. She says they’re both depressing (she, in fact, described Eating Animals as “ruthless”), but give a lot of important information. I imagine that my library card and I will go meet these two books when I get back home to Chicago. She also said she found a lot of encouragement in the activities people who are concerned with our food system are engaging in. As far as she’s concerned, these are all good experiments to figure out how to feed the world when industrial agriculture falls (something else she is utterly convinced will happen). She also answered a question about the growers who do not get certified in a variety of ways (being “certified organic”, as an example). Namely, she feels like we have a culture (As a nation? Globally? Unclear.) that could be just fine if we were willing to learn, understand, and ask questions. However, we tend to look for a label, phrase or slogan that gives us an opportunity to not think about all the nuances. I’ve heard that exact sentiment about a variety of people about a lot of things, from a stupendous variety of people.

She also flat-out said we need to be traveling less, a lot less. And called herself out on this, for flying from New York to California for a conference. I had been thinking about that for myself and my traveling, so it was interesting to hear her say it was no good thing even for her, much less for me, your boring “general, interested public”. That said, everyone else who knew I flew out there for the con from Chicago seemed genuinely thrilled that I’d invested so much time, effort, money and interest to do so. Interesting dichotomy.

Dr. Nabhan’s speech was extremely off the cuff, and was mostly about tying together everything we’d heard about in the day. He spoke of pushing for change as a continuum and finding your spot on that continuum, and understanding that your spot needn’t be static. It was definitely a good wrap-up to the day, but a bit less thought-provoking for me. I did, however, manage to get one of his books, and he signed it for me and directed me to some interesting botanical happenings in Chicago.

What about in between and the next day? Well, the “in between” panels were mostly inspiring. The panel of speakers about urban agriculture moved me the most. We had Ashley Atkinson from “The Greening of Detroit”:http://www.greeningofdetroit.com/9_0_about_us.php, Annie Novak of “Eagle Creek Rooftop Farms”:http://rooftopfarms.org/ and “David Cleveland”:http://industry.ucsb.edu/faculty/profile/431 of UCSB all give us their thoughts on urban ag. Atkinson spoke of the many community gardens in Detroit, and how deeply involved that community is getting into growing their food. By the next growing season, she says, 1 in 50 Detroit residents will be involved in these gardens. That’s huge! Novak had a lot of good things to say about how to grow on rooftops, and the challenges and benefits of doing so. Cleveland spoke about where produce is grown and consumed, and especially about the dangers of focusing on “food miles” for considering the environmental impact of your food. He was really good, albeit quite brusque-seeming, and I’ll definitely be looking for some of his publications to understand more of his work.

The other panels were very interesting to hear, but I didn’t follow a lot of their words as much. What I did get out of them, though, was a lot of resources to learn more that I’ll be checking out. These panels were on food writing, on reporting and on advocacy. There is a LOT to understand there, and I’m just dipping my toes into a bit of any of them. So more of what I’ll be doing with the info there is digging deeper. Following some suggested folks on Twitter, at least for awhile. Checking out some of the blogs, and some of the news sites. Searching for information about some of the names I got.

The next day was two more “panels” and two workshops. The first panel was probably a lot more interesting to the publishers in the group than it was to me, as it was a panel of the sponsors to speak about their products. Interesting, but not deeply meaningful to me. The second is why I say, “panel” as it was called a panel, but it was one man speaking of how he accidentally founded “Rancho Gordo”:http://www.ranchogordo.com/ while trying to figure out what to do with himself. It’s mostly beans and it was 100% interesting. I felt it was really an example of truly sustainable business: everyone involved wants to make money, and they find they do it best by working together, not exploiting each other or ripping each other off.

The workshops? Well, I attended one on food blogging, where I learned I am probably doing it all wrong, but that might be okay anyway. I also asked, and was told, that posting recipes from cookbooks is not illegal, since a recipe cannot be copyrighted (this part, I was 99% sure of), but it’s a hot-button issue and a raging debate comes from it. So, I’ve been given a couple of resources to read up on, as well as purchased a book that should help me learn more about both blogging and food (and putting the two together). So, watch this space! Hopefully it will evolve mightily over the next year!

The other was on connecting food buyers with food sellers. I was in way over my head, and cannot intelligently comment on it. My apologies.

Finally, food: They had a gala Saturday night at the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum. It was a lot of fun, and they had a lot of local businesses come out and showcase their food and drinks (mostly wine). It was delicious, and I drank a bit too much. It was a very, very good time.

The breakfasts and lunches, though? They need to find a way to solve that problem. We had hot dogs & hamburgers one day for lunch, Mexican buffet the second. Breakfasts both days were slices of melon, pineapple and strawberries, with danishes. In other words: totally conventional hotel catering, and not particularly “in theme” for the event. I understand that they’re trying to find venues that can hold all the people they hope show up, and places to put them and ways to feed them, so I can’t say I hold it largely against them. I suspect, though, that I am in the “quiet majority”, and that they will be hearing about it for the next year from a variety of others. Indeed, it was obvious they’d already heard about it some, as one of the organizers briefly discussed those issues. What I wonder, though, is how tolerant their crowd is going to be if it happens again next year. If they continue to serve the very food their company is claiming to be against, the accusations of hypocrisy will come quickly, and with good reason.

I’m told there will be another next year, also in Santa Barbara. So, let me conclude with this:

“A-. A few issues, but would buy again.”

2 thoughts on “A short post (maybe) on Edible Institute 2011

  1. Your conference sounds really interesting Tasha. Thanks for writing about it. Hope you made it home safe and sound!

    • I’m glad you found it interesting, Rosa! I am home, safe, sound and even cozy. Now it’s about making more delicious meals.

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