In a room full of food writers, editors, movers and shakers, I found myself all alone. As applause struck a fevered pitch in the audience, my heart rate began to race. I tried to edge out from my emotions and siphon them into the seat next to me. I tried to make my fingers with their triggered itch behave, but instead I let the pull sweep me into the locus of its energy. I began sinking deeper into a reality I’ve known would be my truth for too long and took up the helm of a voice in the wilderness crying out.
Monday marked several important intersections as IACP invoked trying to answer the question of “The Future of Food” and it also happened to be the day of The Giving Table‘s grassroots effort of bringing together over 200 food bloggers against hunger. How strange to see the overlap on two topics that affect one another. The future of food and hunger wrapped me in a curious cocoon from which I soaked in the five speakers’ comments. One voice in particular rankled me exceedingly.
According to one speaker from a large chemical company that’s gotten into the business of selling seeds, the future of food will be found in genetic engineering. He spoke with the ease of power and the smoothness of molasses letting phrases like “open-pollenating corn” slip out nonchalantly even as his agenda continued to propel his words forth. Their interest in “feeding the world” and “diversifying crops” didn’t speak to the terminator seeds they have engineered that have built planned
obsolescence into something that naturally would grow when nourished. My fingers hit the keypad with fervor trying to capture the comments and put them into the ether of the internet that others not in the room, not applauding could chime in. As luck or shrewd planning would have it, no time was available for Q&A, so any questions to put the propaganda in check could not be asked aloud. I refrained from saying something I might regret to the “former farmer” on best business practices.
A session later and like all the other attendees, I walked with the throng into the lunch line snagging salad greens with tongs and settling into an open seat. Between bitefuls and earfuls from my foodie friend, I caught snippets of story across the table. A chef I respect was speaking to two colleagues and I found a horror growing in my chest as their conversation continued down a treacherous path, citing how brave it was for the chemical company representative to show up and what good work they are
doing. My foodie friend piped up, head nodding that yes, their efforts would be the future of food. I was flabbergasted. Silently, I sat in a strange sense of observation. My thoughts turned back to the future of food session that morning and the comments of another panelist who claimed that the amount of food we are now eating means we have to account for an extra billion people that will need to be fed. Accounting for an extra billion people – GE seeds as the great white hope, together
they sapped any sort of hope I had held onto when I walked into the expansive ballroom that morning. On a day dedicated to fighting hunger now through raising awareness with readers and prompting calls to action, I found my thoughts in a dystopic future of our own making. Bedraggled, I crawled into bed that evening with eyes wide open. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses…” would now read, “We are the poor, the tired, the ninety-nine percent masses…” with a questionable food future.
Sometimes, if I let myself think about the problems in the world around us, they can easily bog down any sort of small progress with their enormity. This stymies the process from starting. It keeps us mired down in quick solutions instead of considering long-term consequences. On Tuesday morning, the topic of “How California Has Changed Food and Continues To” brought me to a new understanding that what we, as food writers, editors, movers and shakers attempt to do is deeply
entrenched in the future of food. We write, photograph, develop recipes not merely for today but with tomorrow in mind. The grim reality of lack of real food access beyond boxed food and tampering with nature thinking we can outsmart it affects us even if we don’t realize it. When the food writer posits aloud in a room of their colleagues, “How can we be adequately compensated for our hard work?” this is the question asked by our readers. So, in thinking about the future of food collectively, we can make
a difference in how that system gets shaped by asking important questions and calling for greater accountability and provoking our readers to do the same. As Kat Flinn reminded a room full of food writers, “the pen is mightier than the sword” is more than just an adage. “Communitarian food” and the drive back toward local may not save our food systems or eradicate hunger, but applying the principle of loving your neighbor as yourself could ensure they don’t go hungry and that they have access to food that doesn’t play at being real. If this is the future of food, it is one I can easily espouse.