Future of Food: Post-Conference Knowledge Dump

Like most endeavors worth undertaking, attending a good conference is an exercise in physical, mental and emotional endurance.  Nonstop information!  Bold soundbites!  Inane chatter!  Straight talk! Obfuscation!  Uncomfortable folding chairs!

Last week’s Future of Food conference offered the full spectrum: an all-day barrage of ideas challenged the mind, emotions rollercoasted through dramatic highs (Wendell Berry’s speech), disheartening lows (Vilsack’s stance on GM crops) and 15 hours of nearly uninterrupted sitting provided an epic test of posterior resilience.

Having allowed some time for my brain to process the stimuli and allow all the Big Thoughts to marinate, I'm pleased to present some highlights of the conference.  For the convenience of those who don’t like reading, I've summarized the entire event in the Top Five Big Themes section below.  For those who prefer details, see The Full Report for a speaker-by-speaker compilation of good ideas, bad ideas, compelling quotes and noteworthy observations.  And for those who'd rather avoid the written word altogether, visit the Post’s website to find video clips from the conference.  (Be sure to note prominent logo placement of event sponsor, Mars, Incorporated.  Ponder the implications.)

Top Five Big Themes:

Bonus Big Theme:

The Full Report

Panel I: Impact on Ordinary People

Opening Remarks: Eric Schlosser (author, Fast Food Nation; co-producer, Food, Inc.)

Schlosser underscored the theme of his recent article in the Post, noting that organic food isn’t just a luxury good for wealthy gourmands.


Will Allen (Founder, Growing Power)

Commander Heidi Michels Blanck (Division Chief, CDC)

Angela Glover Blackwell (Founder and CEO, Policylink)

Ronald Shaich (Founder, Panera Bread)

Lucas Benitez (Co-Founder, Coalition of Immokalee Workers)

Greg Asbed (Co-Founder, Coalition of Immokalee Workers)

Keynote Address

The Prince of Wales (environmentalist, organic farmer, heir to the British Throne)

Though I have very little interest in celebrities, high-profile royal weddings or the British Throne, I was excited to witness the keynote address, because the Prince of Wales is a serious environmentalist and longtime advocate for organic agriculture (i.e., he started practicing and promoting sustainable ag 30 years ago).  There’s already been plenty of outstanding coverage of the keynote address elsewhere (see Paula Crossfield’s post on Civil Eats, or the Post’s article and slideshow).  You can also watch a video of the entire address, or read the transcript.

Panel II: Future of Agriculture

Opening Remarks: Wendell Berry (writer, visionary, food movement guru)

Wendell Berry is a poet.  His speech (my favorite of the day), describes what we must do to change the food system.  I highly recommend watching the video here.

Fred Kirschenmann
(President of Stone Barns, Distinguished Fellow for the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture)

Wes Jackson (President, The Land Institute)

Dennis Belcastro (Executive VP, Industry Affairs & Collaboration, Grocery Manufacturers Association)

Fedele Bauccio (Co-Founder and CEO, Bon Appetit Management Company)

Stephen McDonnell (Founder, Applegate Farms)

Panel III: Health and Nutrition

Opening Remarks: Robert Ross (President, California Endowment)


Marion Nestle (Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at NYU)

Susan Crockett (Vice President and Senior Technical Officer, Health and Nutrition, General Mills)

Deb Eschmeyer (Co-Founder of FoodCorps, Outreach Director for the Farm to School Network)

Bigshot Speaker #2

Tom Vilsack (Secretary of the USDA)

Vilsack is a clever politician and a skilled orator (watch a clip of his speech here).

But things really got interesting during the Q & A:

Panel IV: Future of International Food

Hans Rudolf Herren (President and CEO, Millennium Institute)

Vandana Shiva (Director, Navdanya; physicist; world-renowned environmental activist)

Gary Hirshberg (CEO, Stonyfield Farm)

Closing Remarks

Senator Jon Tester (D-Montana; third-generation family farmer)

Want to add anything to our list of points/quotes/thoughts from the conference? Leave a note in the comments section.