Every once in a while, when get invited to speak somewhere, I accept more because I know the person asking me than because I know what I’m actually signing up for. Such was the case when Myra Goodman, cofounder of Earthbound Farms and a woman I admire, respect, and adore, invited me to come to Monterey, California, to have a “conversation” with her at the annual Cooking for Solutions event. Despite horrific travel problems getting there (yes, I cried again in an airport), I am truly glad I went.
The event is really two parts: The first two days are for chefs and media only, and consist of power-packed talks and panel discussions on the sustainability of food. The second part, which I will cover in a later blog post, is an extravaganza of good food cooked by celebrity chefs that is open to the public.
Anna Lappé, author of Diet for a Hot Planet, was the opening speaker. And she did an amazing job of tracing the chemical and processed food industries’ “talking points” to specific consultants and trade group campaigns for the “organic can’t feed the world” and “organic is too expensive” arguments. (I knew it all along, but she did the hard work of tracing the messaging back to groups like Crop Life International, which used to be called “The International Group of National Associations of Manufacturers of Agrochemical Products”—no wonder they changed their name a few times.)
Kathleen Merrigan, assistant secretary of agriculture at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, also spoke passionately about organic. According to the USDA’s strategic plan, the agency’s goal is to increase organic by 25 percent during this administration. She also urged the media to dispel the myth that organic is more expensive. According to the USDA’s Economic Research Institute, it is NOT! She didn’t mention GMOs at all until I asked her about them at the end of her talk. It was clear she felt a bit uncomfortable (even though I was very polite and nonconfrontational, thank you very much, Secretary Vilsak!). She acknowledged the problem of genetic drift, and said they may set up a fund to compensate organic farmers for GMO contamination…. But my question (not polite, sorry) is WHY AREN’T THE GMO COMPANIES LIABLE AND COMPENSATING FARMERS????!!!!!! It’s about time they are held accountable like the rest of us.
The highlight was—as it always is when he shows up—Ted Turner, whom I absolutely adore. His philosophy can be summed up in three statements, which he made:
- Give women birth control around the world.
- Give women equal rights and equal education around the world.
- Treat everyone everywhere with respect, dignity, and friendliness. A world of friends is a world at peace.
Now can you see why I love him? Plus, he is hysterically funny. And I would like to state that CNN has moldered and stagnated since he was kicked out by the suits at Time Warner…AND that the best burger in Manhattan (yes, better than Shake Shack and DB Bistro) is the Bison Burger at Ted’s Montana Grill. You can even get it on a whole grain bun.
The next morning, I drove out to gorgeous Earthbound Farms to participate in a conversation with Myra, moderated by Corby Kummer of TheAtlantic.com. First, I have to say that Corby is an excellent driver. He was a great interviewer, as well. We had a beautiful and delicious breakfast. I met some amazing people, and I hope I got my point across. My point? That organic is the one thing we can do to save ourselves and our planet. And that’s not religion, it’s fact.
Stay tuned for the chefs!