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Food Talk at Wherecamp 2008

Page history last edited by PBworks 12 years, 2 months ago

We had a lively discussion with several participants - whom hopefully should add themselves.  Mikel, Audrey, Paige, Anselm, Brandon, Rich Gibson, a fellow from Australia, and many more.


Because many of us have talked about this before (last year and online) we skipped much of the preamble.  Some of the links I (Anselm) feel might help provide some context include,



Basically we're starting from an assumption that people need and would be happier and healthier if they understood their local food webs.  It's a topic that has become a common theme in the west.


First we talked about local information and trying to crowd source some of this.  Mikel was interested in particular in how a new generation of young urban farmers could be better connected to each other - using technology that they are perhaps more comfortable with than the traditional farmers all sitting around breakfast together at a rural pub;


What kinds of local information?


  • What plants can and should people grow regionally?  [ How about in specific micro-climates? ]
  • What does well?
  • Is there or could there be a way to share that information with other farmers?
  • Does this need to be a digital media solution?
  • Well, are there problems with farmers communicating? or not?


Coming out of this there is the question "Are farmers working in their own best interests"?  and "Do farmers actually have any communication problems"?.  We decided that farmers probably are not having huge communcation problems but rather that incentives are weirdly warped by oil and government.


The casual observation is that the current incentive system is perverse.  Some have observed (Michael Pollan for example) that we have an industrial agricultural system that is largely made possible by oil and fertilizer. If left to its own devices much of the American heartland would actually be effectively sterile right now; we have destroyed the soil over the short term.  The same can be said of salmon farming practices on the west coast.  However this isn't really the focus of the discussion.  However it does raise the question of shifting incentives.


The marketing and advertising industry around "foodology" or whatever we call the stuff we're eating these days was also cited briefly.


So - then - how does one do an end-run around the incentive system?


  •     How do we create an incentive system stronger than the federal incentive system.
  •     We increase demand for local organic?
  •     Comparing the polyface farms strategy versus the industrial strategy.  [ Google Polyface farms for more details ]
  •     "local" food - a new label; is that good enough?


This actually ended up being quite a discussion focal point.  Rich Gibson clearly pointed out that "local" is not necessarily better than other criteria.  A fellow from Australia pointed out that New Zealand Lamb is much more efficient to produce there than in Australia.  Anselm countered with a critique of a lack of process transparency - citing the "transparent abbotoir" idea from "The Omnivore's Dilemma".  Rich pointed out that it's still possible to trust far away foods; even without a heavyweight formal certification process.




Strawberries were an exemplar of this.  Anselm pointed out how his mom loves to buy the biggest reddest strawberries although they taste pretty bad compared to small wild strawberries.  Mikel made the observation that in Sweden that wild strawberry patches are kept secret, like morels, because they are so prized.  Paige talked about how we subscribe to an aesthetics of food; how pretty that food is - how one would want a pretty apple instead of a worm ridden one.


Some of the criteria for perhaps gauging food quality might then be:


  • In season; seasonality of food -> don't get everything all the time
  • Penalize the restarants if their food is not in season (says one uk food critic)
  • Process Transparency.  Our food is packaged in a way that we cannot see the history; this is on purpose
  • Show Alternatives.  Be able to find other alternatives more easily - when you are primed to buy
  • Pay true costs.  An organically grown chicken can cost 34 dollars; it can be very expensive and seem too high
  • Avoid Frankenfood.  The meat in one mcdonalds hamburger can come from several different countries
  • Local may not be best.  Growing lamb in NZ makes huge sense given particular climate; how can we select for those cases?


Finally we talked about some of the solutions;



  •  Urban gardening; get people to participate - how?
  •  Patientslikeme -> for people who have serious illnesses this is a way to show the facts and details
  •  Farmer and friend networks -> ecotrust <- personal ecosystems management tools; audit salinity etcetera...
  •  Use barcodes and information about a food product to find its history, its carbon footprint etc. (paige)
  •  Foodhacking kinds of social food get togethers to talk about food
  •  Food education.
  •  Restricting our choices.  Half our choices might still mean a lot of choices





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