The “Future of Food” conference convened by the Washington Post at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, provided much… well, food for thought. However, the 30 speakers, who included the Prince Charles, Prince of Wales and Bon Appétit CEO Fedele Bauccio, weren’t serving up snacky soundbites, but multi-course meals made up of whole, high-fiber ingredients.
For example, Prince Charles, a longtime organic farmer, gave an eloquent, 45-minute speech on the problems of modern agriculture and the “vicious cycle” of a globalized, fossil-fuel-dependent food system. He contrasted it with truly sustainable farming, which “maintains the resilience of the entire ecosystem by encouraging a rich level of biodiversity in the soil, in its water supply and in the wildlife.”Much to the surprise of the Washington, DC audience, he also pointedly questioned whether the time had come to end the “curiously perverse economic incentive system” known as American farm subsidies, in which millions of public dollars support evermore-massive production of a few commodity crops.
After his keynote, the Prince of Wales asked a few of his fellow speakers to meet with him privately. Fedele was actually a few minutes late for his own panel because he was sharing some of Bon Appétit’s philosophy and practices. Fedele said it was clear Prince Charles “really knows his stuff” when it comes to farming and sustainable food.
According to Jay Keller, Bon Appétit’s chef/manager at Gallaudet University, His Royal Highness was “fantastic—the best conversationalist I’ve ever spoken to in my life!” Jay was one of a handful of team members selected by the event’s organizer to chat briefly with the royal guest. Prince Charles told Jay that the maroon-colored carrots were his favorite, both to grow and to eat. “It was almost like talking to a farmer; he really seemed to be coming from that perspective,” said Jay.
For “The Future of Agriculture” panel, Fedele was joined by Applegate Farms CEO Stephen McDonnell and two of the most respected big thinkers in sustainable agriculture, Fred Kirschenmann, president of Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture (and Fedele’s former colleague from the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production), and Wes Jackson, president of the Land Institute. The wide-ranging discussion touched on whether “small farms were really the answer,” in the words of the moderator, food writer Jane Black; as well as on antibiotics in meat and the declining health of America’s soil.
Asked for his thoughts on the first question, Fedele shrugged off the “local vs. organic” debate. “The biggest issue for me is flavor and taste, and the quality for our chefs,” he said. “Regional or local is the way to go from my standpoint.”
To watch clips from all the speeches and panels, visit the event website at the Washington Post.