Bring over 300+ foodies, chefs, nutritionists and rabbis together to talk about food… and you better have a good plan for what to feed them! Planning food for the Hazon Food Conference is a delightful challenge. We have a list of food values which we try to meet at all Hazon events — and yet the values themselves sometimes conflict with each other. Add the fact that we’re not throwing a dinner party for 12, and the decisions get a lot more complicated. Food procurement and institutional cooking is an area that has a long way to go in terms of sustainability, and we’re proud of our efforts to nudge us along on that route — but we’re far from there yet. Here are some of the values we try to meet, and the choices we made to get there at this year’s Hazon Food Conference at UC Davis.
1. Local & Seasonal: Should feature fruits and vegetables that are in season in August. Ideally they are grown in Yolo County (where UC Davis is), or at least, in Northern California or California.
2. Natural, whole grain, unprocessed: In general we favor whole wheat breads over white; granola or oatmeal over sugar cereals; yogurts, jams and peanut butters without preservatives, white sugar & white flour, artificial flavorings, or hydrogenated oils.
3. Fair Trade: Especially chocolate, coffee, tea.
4. Kosher: Any processed foods (that come in a package) should be certified kosher with a ‘kosher seal’ on the packaging.
I just came back from an inspiring tour of University of California Davis’ food science program led by Sean Lafond, a Ph.D student in food sciences, who recently prepared tomato ice cream as a fun experiment in his home. “It tasted like tomato ice cream,” he said, though he doesn’t usually dabble in experimental ice creams, like the avocado ice cream made in one of the test kitchens by another researcher.
For the food conference participants, seeing the four-building complex replete with food kitchens, a wine laboratory, a brewery, a processing plant and an experimental garden was a full-circle kind of experience, where we could see the kind of work that goes on behind the scenes to put the ideas behind the food movement into action.
At a session entitled “The University of California: Friend or Foe to Sustainable Agriculture” at this year’s Eco-Farm Conference, Tom Tomich of the UC Davis Agricultural Sustainability Institute reminded participants of how the California budget crisis may affect farming: With massive cuts to the University of California system expected, funding for agricultural research at its land-grant universities is in danger. The students and faculty doing GMO and pesticide research can secure funding from private companies, but researchers doing sustainable agriculture and food systems research are on shakier ground, says Tracy Lerman, a UC Davis graduate student and member of the Community Development Graduate Group. As an example, she cites the closure of the Small Farms Center as a result of state funding cuts to the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
Lerman and her fiancé, Leon Vehaba, are helping to organize sessions at the 2011 Hazon Food Conference, which will be held at UC Davis this summer (August 18-21). The conference will showcase agriculture and food systems research taking place at UC Davis, which is the largest of the public land-grant universities in the state. In particular: