This past Friday and Saturday, a couple of us had the pleasure of attending the True Cost of American Food conference, put together by Sustainable Food Trust. The motivating idea of the conference was that many of the (environmental, health, infrastructure) costs of producing and consuming food in this country have been externalized, and therefore invisible, but that we should try to account for the real costs--to all of us--of pollution in our waterways, or treating diabetes, or public assistance for low-wage workers. The whole experience was so eye-opening, and fascinating, with incredibly impressive speakers from all sorts of fields, from scientists to farmers to activists to CEOs of major food corporations. We were surprised to see that the restaurant industry was hardly represented among the attendees, even though we are always concerned with exactly these issues, and the Chronicle recently ran a great piece by Jonathan Kauffman about the economics of the restaurant business here in SF.
Overall, we came away from the conference with a clearer sense of the policies that shape our agricultural system and a lot of hope for the future, though it's going to require that people demand more of both government and businesses to break out of some bad habits. Above all, we felt hopeful about starting a conversation that brings so many sides of the food system together to produce real and lasting change.