Good Food festival links cooks, growers, workers
The idea of "good food" means many things, depending on your perspective. It could be delicious food, or food that's good for your health. The term has been adopted by policymakers to mean food that's good for the economy, or good for the workers who grow or process it. All those definitions were on the table -- pun intended -- at the recent Good Food Festival and Conference.
Over several days, participants ate from the bounty of Southern California's crops and chefs. They also gardened and talked. The conference was held to mark the 30th anniversary of the Santa Monica Farmers Market.
L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky helped kick off the conference, talking about how his own eating habits have evolved. The panelists generally offered an overview of some of the issues about growing and eating food -- including how to feed schoolchildren, the effects of farming on the environment, conditions for farm and restaurant workers, an upcoming congressional farm-bill debate, obesity and other questions.
On a panel about food and public health, Bob Martin, a former executive director of the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production, jumped right into one of the controversial topics -- the raising of animals for food.
Martin said that much of the antibiotics used in this country are given daily to animals on industrial farms. That, he said, is a "major generator of antibiotic-resistant bacteria." In an effort to get Congress to change laws on animal farming, he said, the Pew Charitable Trust has decided to establish the Human Health and Industrial Farming Campaign.
Changing food habits, and reducing the obesity epidemic, won't happen overnight, said another panelist, Robert K. Ross, who is president of the California Endowment.
He compared changing the way people eat to getting people to quit smoking. "Sometimes we think we are in a policy debate. But this is a fight," he said.
The endowment is part of a campaign called Fresh Works to get grocery stores to open in neighborhoods where residents often are left to shop for food at gas stations or liquor stores.
Mud Baron, who runs a four-acre farm in San Pedro that supplies public school gardens with seeds, noted one simple way to improve children's eating habits -- something he learned by gardening at schools.
"Kids who grow veggies eat veggies. Kids who cook veggies eat veggies," he said. "We don't need more policy papers."
Steve Ells, a chef and chief executive of the Chipotle chain, said food that's fast doesn't have to be unhealthful. Before Chipotle, Ells said, he worked with famed chef Jeremiah Tower and never lost a "belief in really good ingredients," a belief he carried to his burrito chain. He also said that when he visited hog farms, he saw animals suffering and waste lagoons, and "a level of exploitation I didn't want to be a part of." As a result, his company buys its meat from hundreds of farmers whose practices he supports.
More than 30 million American children get at least one meal a day in school; as a result, what those meals contain also has become a topic of national debate, with districts around the country trying to buy more fresh produce and less processed food. The director of school food for Riverside, Rodney Taylor, talked at the conference about how he has shifted his supplies to fresh food. Last year, his district spent $500,000 on food for salad bars in 29 schools.
The festival, held at various places including Santa Monica College and Santa Monica High School, also included chef demonstrations, gardening seminars, canning and baking workshops and -- of course -- eating. It was organized by FamilyFarmed.org, whose mission is to expand locally grown and responsibly produced food to improve communities. It runs several programs on such things as farm to school efforts and food safety.
-- Mary MacVean
Photos: From top, a produce display at the Good Food Festival, FamilyFarmed.org founder Jim Slama, and dishes served to students or staff at the Riverside schools. Credit: Mary MacVean/Los Angeles Times