Grad Research: Visiting the “Food, the City, and Innovation” Conference

Clagett Farm July 21 2012

The following dispatch comes to us from MA student Natalie Zelt:

This past weekend the Food Lab at the University of Texas co-hosted with Boston University two days of round table panel discussions on food, global urbanization and innovation. The sequel to a conference hosted at BU last year, each of the six panels were composed of an interdisciplinary array of academics, practitioners and innovators who were charged with answering one of six questions: What is Food? Do we need to rethink how we produce food? How are cities building resilient food systems? What will our urban food map look like? What is innovation as it relates to our food system? Food Start-ups: who, what, where, when, why?

The interdisciplinary nature of each panel was extremely valuable to the conference overall as was the wealth of food thinkers and doers working in and around Austin. Placing architects next to sociologists next to urban garden managers next to artists and historians forced the majority of the panels to acknowledge the impact of both concrete problems (like frequent technological malfunctions of EBT machines when trying to adopt food stamps to a farmers market) and larger questions about the role of urban space in agricultural production.  Strangely enough the most raucous panel proved to be on Saturday morning. Having the founders of three of Austin’s largest organic farms and food cooperatives, Johnson’s Backyard Garden, Farmhouse Delivery and Greenling, in one room with Chris Romano, the Global produce procurement team leader for Whole Foods Market, led to seemingly friendly but loaded conversation about economic growth in food innovation in Austin that was punctuated by lively additions from the historians on the panel.

Only once, in the panel charged with spending two hours answering the question “Do we need to rethink how we produce food?” did the conversation fall into what felt like a tried feedback loop of food issues dialogue: continually reweighing environmental concerns against socio-economic issues of access and fair practices. Perhaps because, by 2013, the answer to the question under these panelists purview is clearly “yes.” Moderator John Doggett, did his best to push the conversation toward a centralized end, but unfortunately the group concluded with a frightfully complicated charge:  the need to outline America’s definition of “good food” for the future.

Finite solution forthcoming.

For a full list of the participants see:

One comment on “Grad Research: Visiting the “Food, the City, and Innovation” Conference

  1. The Food Lab says:

    Glad you made it out!

    Check out our facebook page for the conference for a timeline of great links and resources.

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