Conference to help consumers consider food choices

Bun Lai, chef and owner of Miya's Sushi.
Bun Lai, chef and owner of Miya's Sushi.

Food will be the topic on everyone’s lips at “Feeding the Future,” a two-day conference hosted by Connecticut College’s Goodwin-Niering Center for the Environment (GNCE) on March 27 and 28.

Chefs, farmers, activists, gardeners, scholars and concerned citizens will gather for conversation and activities related to the food system of the future. There’s much to discuss: Population experts estimate there could be an additional 2.5 billion people on the planet by 2050, a frightening proposition considering the lack of adequate nourishment among the existing population of 7 billion. And issues such as the expansion of a meat-heavy diet in the emerging economies of China and India, the erosion of soil quality and the overuse of pesticides in industrialized agriculture add an urgency to the situation.

“Providing abundant and healthy food to the world’s growing population — in the face of immense environmental challenges — is one of society’s biggest challenges and one that deserves the kind of deep discussion that this conference can facilitate,” said Jane Dawson, the Karla Heurich Harrison ’28 Director of the Goodwin-Niering Center for the Environment. “However, this is not a conference just for students or academics or people involved in sustainable food issues — it’s for everyone. We all make food choices every day which affect both our own health and the health of the planet, and the goal of the conference is to get people thinking about those choices.”

The conference will kick off on Friday, March 27, with an afternoon jobs forum and an evening keynote speech from Dan Barber, co-owner and executive chef of Manhattan’s Blue Hill restaurant and Blue Hill at Stone Barns, a restaurant at the nonprofit farm and education center Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture. Barber’s talk, which is free and open to the public, will be based on his new book, “The Third Plate,” in which he proposes a radical transformation for America’s cuisine. Barber will sign copies of the book after the talk.

“Dan is not only one of the country’s most innovative chefs, but also a very vocal and persuasive advocate of a total change in our industrialized food system, a change that would make way for genuinely sustainable food production,” said Dawson.

Saturday’s conference schedule will be organized into three sessions, one covering the lessons of the past, one exploring the challenges of the current food system, and one highlighting cutting-edge ideas and practices that could prove successful in the future. Within each session, attendees will hear from inspiring speakers, like Barber’s brother and business partner, David, an alumnus and trustee of the College who is also a trailblazer in the movement to promote ecologically produced food; Malik Yakini, a leader of the urban farming movement in Detroit; and Andras Forgacs, the founder of a company that is successfully cloning meat as a way to not only improve animal welfare but also vastly decrease the environmental and carbon impacts of meat production.

The conversations will continue during themed coffee breaks — one Paleo and one featuring desserts from a company using plant-based egg substitutes — and the Food & Schmooze Lunch with local sustainable food producers, urban farmers, foragers and representatives from food security organizations.

“The conference is designed not only to educate, but also to inspire,” said Dawson. “Participants will enjoy good food and conversation along the way.”

That includes a special event after the conference, “A Taste of Long Island Sound: Aquaculture, Alcohol & Beyond.” This reception and dinner will feature local, sustainable food, wines and ales. Bun Lai, chef and owner of Miya’s Sushi in New Haven — the first sustainable sushi restaurant in the country — will serve a dinner of creative sushi combinations incorporating invasive plant and aquatic species. (A separate registration is required for this event.)

“We wanted to make the conference accessible to a very wide audience so we could inspire more people to think — think about what foods they buy, where they buy them, what they eat, how they cook, and whether there might be a more sustainable way to feed themselves and their families in the future,” said Dawson. “If people think, are inspired to act, and take even a small step toward change, then we will have succeeded in our goal.”

“Feeding the Future” is the latest in the Goodwin-Niering Center’s biennial series of Elizabeth Babbott Conant Interdisciplinary Conferences on the Environment.

Visit the conference pages for more information and to register for the conference, the dinner or both. Or call the GNCE at 860-439-5417.

March 18, 2015