JBF Food Conference Recap: Rethinking the Future of Food

Last month, the James Beard Foundation hosted their 6th annual conference tackling the very large topic “Rethinking the Future of Food.” I will say, this is no easy feat. Breaking it down into three perspectives, speakers, panelists, and participants examined this topic through the lenses of the future of health, the future of the kitchen, and the future of the farm. I was lucky enough to be able to attend this conference, tackling subway mazes and Times Square crowds (but quickly scrapping the idea of city walking in heels) to meet and learn from some of the most influential leaders in the food system.

In between the star struck moments meeting Tom Vilsak, US Secretary of Agriculture, Saru Jayaraman, founder of ROC-United, and Beth Kowitt, senior editor at Fortune Magazine, I was equally impressed by the on-the-ground leaders doing the gritty work to challenge the current food system. We found two important themes when talking about a better food future—that some great people do work by making the “box” work better, and that others do work by forgetting that a box exists altogether. And the big question, Why? Why is the food system set up the way it is now? Why do we eat the way we eat? Why do some things need to change?

And in turn, Why not? Why not create sushi dishes with umami-rich tomatoes? Why not consider eating alternative forms of protein, like crickets? Why not demand more for food workers? And near and dear to my heart, why not consider the Co-op model as the norm, rather than a specialty?

Here’s a quick overview of the thoughts, questions, and themes that went around the room:

  • People thinking about people. – How can we address issues of food insecurity amongst food workers? How can we combat injustices in racial divides across the food system?
  • Thinking about the environment. – NASA scientist, Dr. Ellen Stofan, showed pictures of the Earth from above and how our agricultural decisions will impact that view. Farmer Eliot Coleman discussed regenerative agriculture and how we can reverse some of the damage we see today.
  • Thinking about the future generation. How can we help the children of today, the leaders of tomorrow, have to tools to see the value of food, healthy choices, and get them involved in their own futures?
  • Thinking about scale. – How do successful concepts on small scales apply as they grow in scale? Are they still feasible and what has to change?
  • Thinking about alternative food systems— How are conventional food systems failing us? How do alternative systems fit into the picture? How can we utilize the cooperative model to bring positive initiatives to communities? How can we incorporate the technologies of a rapidly advancing world for positive good?
  • Thinking about resilient communities – How does access to nutritious, quality foods build a better community? How do people come together over food? How to people feel agency over their own food choices?

In the closing moments of the conference, it felt like there were vastly more questions than answers, but surely a spirit of determination to bring change for the better to our food systems. As with many large-scale issues, there is no one answer, but many innovative and radically different parts that come together in a movement of change. I am proud to look at those of us in our seemingly small community becoming a great big part of that change. Even here at the Co-op, becoming a Member gives you a voice for change in our community. After all, we are all in this together.

Do you want to learn more about how food fits in our community and get inspired to think outside the box?

You can:

Learn more about the co-op here.

Contact us here.

Check out our classes and education workshops here.

Set up a group tour by e-mailing us at learn@citymarket.coop.