Monday, May 25, 2009

The Future of Food Conference & Michael Pollan!

My apologies for not posting in awhile...I always seem to get busy no matter what time of year it is!

In any case, I had a wonderful end to finals week with the conference The Future of Food: Transatlantic Perspectives on May 8th and 9th. And the next Tuesday, I finally saw Michael Pollan speak at the West Roxbury Branch Library!

The Future of Food Conference, organized by the Institute of Human Sciences, was meant to encourage people to think more consciously about the food they buy and eat. It discussed some of the present problems regarding our food systems and sustainability, and also presented some potential solutions to these problems.

The two day conference began with the workshop "Wild Fermentation," which featured Sandor Ellix Katz, author of the books Wild Ferementation and The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved. Katz taught us about fermentation and how easy and simple it is to make sauerkraut. In vinegar or acetic acid fermentation, yeasts convert carbohydrates -> alcohol + CO2, and bacteria subsequently convert the alcohol -> acetic acid + water, producing vinegar (1).

After Katz, Bryant Terry, whose latest book is Vegan Soul Kitchen, talked to us with a lecture, cooking-demo, and dinner. Terry, also an eco-chef and food justice activist, spoke with us about his experiences; and the menu included recipes featured in his book, such as citrus collard greens with raisins.

Next up was a free screening of King Corn, with an introduction by filmmaker Ian Cheney and subsequent discussion with film director Aaron Woolf. The film discusses how corn has become a commodity and is in almost everything we eat. Additionally, corn is one of the U.S.'s most over-produced and over-subsidized crops. If you have not seen this film yet, I highly recommend it!

Saturday was comprised of five panels and two keynote addresses. The presenters included Satish Kumar, editor of the magazine Resurgence; Mark Winne, author of Closing the Food Gap; Benedikt Haerlin, president of Save our Seeds; Harriet Lamb, Executive Director of the Fair Trade Foundation; Michael Ableman, farmer and author of Fields of Plenty, and many more!

Numerous thought-provoking facts and comments were made, such as:
  • 40% of greenhouse emissions are food related
  • 30-50% of food produced in the U.S. is thrown away
  • 30-40% of the cereal production in India is rotting after harvest
  • The food crisis is the product of cheap food/food subsidies
  • Many genetically modified plants are marked with antibiotic-resistant marker genes, which has led to some controversy.
  • In the Union of Concerned Scientists report "Failure to Yield" by Doug Gurian-Sherman, genetically engineered crops actually do not increase yields! See the press release here.
There were many great discussions, questions, and comments made on Friday and Saturday, and hopefully videos of the entire conference will be up on the Institute of Human Science's website soon!

For another take on this conference, read Slow Food BU's blog post or my friend Elizabeth's post.

Last year I had made a trip to Brown University in Rhode Island to see Michael Pollan, only to be told that the room was packed and that I could not get in. So on Tuesday, May 12th, I was very excited to finally see him in Roxbury!

Michael Pollan highlighted a few topics from his books, which include "The Omnivore's Dilemma" and "In Defense of Food."

In short, Michael Pollan suggests that we should "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." A few other things that Michael Pollan touched upon:
  • Nutrition science- it started in the 1830's/1840's, so it's not very strong yet, and it's arguable at best. Most often, they are based on food frequency questionnaires, which are not the most reliable.
  • Nutrition labels- can be off by ~20-30%!
  • Companies/committees can say to eat less of a nutrient but not less of a food.
    -This caused the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition to recommend to ''Choose meats, poultry and fish that will reduce saturated-fat intake," and to not to give their original recommendation to "reduce consumption of meat," due to uproar from the meat and dairy industry (1).
The traditional Western Diet, which includes everything but vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, often leads to chronic disease. Thus, we need to rethink about what we're eating, and so Michael Pollan is currently collecting Food Rules to make this transition for Americans easier. Some rules he has already collected include:
  • Don't eat anything you've ever seen on TV
  • Eat all of the junk food you want, as long as you make it yourself
  • The Japanese quotation: "Eat until you are 80% full"
If you have any other helpful food rules, e-mail them to Michael Pollan at foodrules[at]!

And if you would like to read another recap of Michael Pollan's visit to Roxbury, read my friend Elizabeth's blog post here.

For those of you in the area, hope you've enjoyed the long weekend and the lovely weather!