Rich Dialogue at the Center for Food Integrity Conference, #CFI11

>McDonald’s Headquarters and Hamburger University are just a few miles from my house, around the corner from our nearest mall. I drive past it frequently, mostly to ferry my daughter to get the latest must-have (according to her) fashions from Justice, but I never thought I’d have a reason to actually enter the campus and walk the halls where chicken nugget dipping sauces are invented. This morning I did just that, to speak on a blogger panel to a large group of agricultural producers and food manufacturers organized by the Center for Food Integrity along with Sara from Self Made Mom, Emily from West of the Loop, and Michelle from Honest and Truly.

We had been given the list of attendees in advance of the event, and were braced for some hostile questions from groups representing pork producers, corn farms, soybean farms, and many other large agricultural players. After all, fast food and big farms often get a bad rap from mom bloggers, especially urban mom bloggers who shop at Whole Foods and farmers’ markets. But the discussion was open and incredibly insightful for all involved, and I walked away feeling great from the dialogue.

Some of the most interesting questions included:

  • Why do we blog? To have a voice, to educate, to share our passions with like-minded individuals, to be part of a global discussion.
  • Where do we get our information about food production and how do we sort through the biases of various publications both online and offline? The New York Times is an important resource for us, as well at the New Yorker, trusted friends and blogs, and websites of different viewpoints. But we don’t blindly just accept what we read. We go beyond the first page of Google search results to hear from multiple viewpoints and find our own middle road, our own version of the truth.
  • What is our reach as bloggers? We shared some of our stats, explained blog readership, Twitter influence, and Facebook’s viral power.
  • Are we aware of the alarming growth of the world’s population and how to meet it with food production? I spoke about how that, along with the growth in childhood obesity in America, keeps me up at night. We need to find food solutions that work for the entire world, not just people like me who can afford to choose to buy organic and grass-fed.
  • What are the top worries when it comes to food production? The environment, population growth, pesticides, GMOs.
  • Do we feel enough is being done to safeguard children with food allergies? Emily and Michelle spoke about how much they had to educate themselves to read labels and how all parents of allergy-suffering children must do that. The real gap is in the restaurant industry. Waitstaff simply must get better educated about allegies to better understand the consequences of a wrong answer.
  • How do we shop for food in our urban neighborhoods and how that differs from rural food supplies? One farmer explained how he would need to drive 3 hours to get to a farmer’s market. So different than our vision of bucolic farm life.
  • How do we choose what hot topics to address on our blogs?
  • Will blogging be around five years from now? I answered a resounding yes. There will always be a demand and a need for long form writing on the web, regardless of the popularity of Facebook, Twitter, tumblr and whatever new micro sites come along. The discussion as a result of blog posts may move to different platforms, but blogs in some form will remain an important part of social media.
  • Outside of forums like these, how often do we really talk about food with our friends? Emily shared some typical discussions about supermarkets, recommended products, and cooking tips that occur daily on playgrounds, at playgroups, and at book groups with our friends.
  • What’s a good way for members of the agricultural world to engage with social media influencers in a positive way? We spoke about the importance of authenticity and transparency in leaving blog comments. Many attendees had blogs and I can’t wait to discover them, as well as participate in #agchat on Twitter. We need to foster this dialogue.

But the question I was most excited about was whether we would be interested in visiting farms to see first hand how our food is produced. I had the opportunity to visit some corn farms and some dairies last year and those trips were the highlight of my blogging experiences. To get to ask farmers sometimes dumb, and other times tough questions about their struggles and their businesses was so fascinating. It only left me wanting to see and learn more first-hand. I would love to travel to see cattle farms, pork farms, and egg farms as well, to better understand the issues we face in food production.

As a result of today’s discussion, it looks as though I may have the opportunity to do that in the Chicago area. If you’d like to join me, let me know and I’ll be sure to pass you the details of the trips as and if they become available. We can look into chartering buses, or at the very least, carpooling, and if kids are involved, all the better. It’s not enough to try to buy local, organic, and stay on top of relevant articles. I believe only good can come out of information sharing and that the more we know and understand about where our food comes from, the better equipped we will be to face the future.

11 Responses to Rich Dialogue at the Center for Food Integrity Conference, #CFI11

  1. >Vanessa,

    It was great to listen to you and the other Moms. I'm excited that you'll get to visit more production areas in the future. Food is so personal. We all need to know where our food comes from, what's in it and how it gets to our plate. I applaud your interest and look forward to reading about trips to the countryside!

    Jodi

  2. >Vanessa,
    What a pleasure it was to have you, and each of the outstanding women, as part of our panel! Each of us at the Center for Food Integrity, as well as all who attended the event or followed along via Twitter, appreciate your candid insight, transparent feedback and willingness to be a part of the conversation for helping make today's food system even better!
    Sincerely, Roxi Beck on behalf of the Center for Food Integrity

  3. >I'd personally love to join so if there is the ability for other bloggers to join the crew, let me know.

    I hear you and them on the issue of how we feed the world's population. This is alway the thing that has frustrated me most about local and sustainable food is that right now, it's really focused on more affluent consumers who can afford to pay more and go out of their way to find local ingredients. I think what hasn't been solved is how more of these foods become available for the masses, but I understand why it's so challenging because you can't start from any one direction. One, you have to get consumers to want it. (Which I think is a challenge. I think part of what we as consumers have to realize is that businesses, understandably, are out to make money so they will only make things that are profitable and that we demand.) Two, you have to figure out how to scale it up, which has implications in terms of how land is used. Three, you also, in many ways, have to change the American relationship with food.

    It's a crazy undertaking and one that is daunting and frustrating to me at the same time, but still something I'm very passionate about. I love the changes that are going on in the industry and I often think about how this can be expanded beyond the core.

  4. >We all appreciated your candor around the food discussion, so thanks for being there and this summary. Look forward to having you in #agchat and #foodchat on Tuesday eves, 8-10 pm ET. In case it's useful, this page has a few different list of farm & ag blogs. http://www.causematters.com/ag-resources/. Trash it if not. Great to shake hands!

  5. >I agree the session was great! Although we do farm we are only 20 miles from downtown Indianapolis. So, we always joke we have the best of both worlds, city and country! If you are ever in the Indianapolis area and want to stop by just let me know!! Also, if there is a particular type of farm, I think Sara seemed interested in fish… there is a really interesting fish farm in Indiana I could set up a tour with. Just let me know! I look forward to reading more!! Cheers!

  6. >I'm so envious; I'd love the opportunity to speak candidly with reps of the food industry (sadly, I'm East Coast). This is absolutely a dialogue that moms want and need to have with food producers. I can't wait to hear more, and about your visits to local farms.

  7. >I'm so impressed that you put this up already. I have so many thought swirling in my head from this that I can't quite sit down to write yet. The questions that were asked were really eye opening to me (and yes, I had a half hour chat on the panel with a friend of mine today at carpool dropoff), and I am SO curious to learn more. I have so many questions for the people who were asking US questions…. Fascinating.

  8. >I love that blogging has opened the door for you for this sort of opportunity/dialogue. So nice to hear that the discussion went so well, and I'm so glad you shared with us!

  9. >Loved you gals! I am always glad to hear other moms who struggle with the same things I do when it comes to food. We can't wait to possibly host you, your kids, and your friends on farms here in Indiana. There is so much we can learn from each other. Thanks for being so open about continuing the conversation.

  10. Good post. I learn something new and challenging on sites I stumbleupon everyday.

    It will always be interesting to read content from other authors and practice something from other web sites.

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