For my third post in my 2013 Feast Portland series, I saved the best for next to last: the Speaker Series.
True: the food at Feast Portland was absolutely phenomenal, and certainly a massive draw for attendance. From the Grand Tasting to the Sandwich Invitational to the media events and more, Oregon's bounty of food, wine, and beer took center stage. Yet, for me, what I tasted was simply the appetizer: the meat of the Feast Portland meal lay within the thought-provoking Speaker Series.
There were six excellent topics addressed during the four-day Feast Portland series of events. I wish I had time to attend all of them. The three I attended knocked my soggy, rain-laden, Feast food-weighted socks off -- and I still can't stop thinking about them.
Hunger Bites: Let's End It
Recent data shows that there are nearly 47 million people living in poverty. In 2012, 49 million Americans lived in food insecure households: 33.1 million adults and 15.9 million children. An impressive panel of speakers kicked off the Speaker Series of Feast Portland to discuss the challenges, current legislation, potential future, and possible solutions to the hunger and poverty issues in our country.
- Nona Evans, Whole Kids Foundation (Austin, TX)
- Cylvia Hayes, First Lady of Oregon (Salem, OR)
- Lucy Melcher, Share Our Strength (Washington DC)
- Ellen Teller, Food Research and Action Committee (FRAC) (Washington, DC)
- Patti Whitney-Wise, Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon (Portland, OR)
There was a lot of discussion around the recent passage of a bill that would slash $40 million from SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) over the next 10 years. At the heart of the matter: the fact that the majority of those who would be affected as children. Nearly four million people would be cut off from the food stamp program starting next year. After that, nearly 3 million per year would fall out of the program.
Some of the highlights from this panel:
- "Elected officials are so disconnected from low income clients. It's very easy to make those cuts when they don't have a face. It's easy to vote against statistics; it's not easy to look a client in the face and say, 'Yeah...I'm cutting your lot."
- "We will not maintain greatness if one quarter of our kids are living in poverty."
- Nutrition education is extremely important. There are wonderful programs that help teach families how to really stretch the dollars they have and how to cook nutritious food on extremely limited budgets.
Could you live on SNAP for a week? SNAP challenges have been taken on by various elected officials throughout the country in which they attempt to live on the average daily food stamp benefit (about $4 per person per day). I have to say: I don't know how people do it. I honestly do not think I could without breaking down. $4 per person per day. With kids. My heart breaks just thinking about that. Personally, I don't understand the massive cuts our congress made to SNAP. I don't get it. But then, I don't understand a lot of what's happening on the hill these days...
Transparency and GMOs
The second Speaker Series I had the pleasure of attending was a fantastic discussion about GMOs (genetically modified organisms). I'll admit: this issue overwhelms me. I fear we've reached that horrible place in time where you stop, realize what you've done, and you can't ever, ever go back. This discussion was very helpful in framing the debate about GMOs and mandatory labeling and breaking it down to how these issues affect each and every one of us.
The esteemed panelists:
- Delana Jones, Yes on 522 (Seattle, WA)
- Robyn O’Brien, AllergyKids Foundation (Boulder, CO)
- Errol Schweizer, Whole Foods Market (Austin, TX)
- Arran Stephens, Nature’s Path (Richmond, British Columbia, Canada)
- David Steves, EarthFix (Portland, OR)
I have followed Robyn O'Brien on Twitter for quite a while now. She's a former food industry analyst, a mom of four, who has taken on the daunting task of "restoring the integrity of our food supply and the health of our children." Her work is inspirational and her words at this speaker series event made a great impact on me. She asks the questions we all ask as mothers, fathers, daughters, brothers, grandparents, friends: why are we continually producing genetically modified "food" that continues to make our country so sick? "Correlation is not causation; but, correlation of that magnitude justifies examination." I agree.
Highlights from the panel:
- "It's a battle against nature or a battle for nature."
- Non-GMO does not mean organic, but organic does always mean non-GMO.
- "Mandatory labeling will NOT increase your food costs."
- Some say it all started in the mid-1990's with flavor-saving tomatoes, and GMO corn.
- There is a labeling law on the table, Senate Bill 633, in Washington state right now. Close to 200 companies support GMO labeling in Washington.
- What can we do? Remember to not just fight the Monsanto's of the world, but to also thank the large companies like Target who are launching non-GMO lines. They need to know they have support.
- It takes three years to convert genetically engineered crops to non-GMO crops.
- Monsanto is the beast with a 62 million dollar war chest, ready to invest millions into fighting food labeling laws and putting non-GMO farms out of business.
- Why do farms go GMOs? It's hard to say no to the subsidies, the insurance programs, the marketing support.
O'Brien says, "This truly will be the legacy of our time."
So what type of legacy do we want to leave behind, folks? What kind of world do we want to leave for our children, and their children? In my eyes, it's not a world where our food makes us sick. It's not a world where we don't know what is in our food or where it comes from. I want a better world, a safer world, a healthier world. Don't you?
Create an Awesome Food Business Without Selling Your Soul
Finally, the third speaker series I attended spoke to the serial entrepreneur in me. I loved hearing from a panel of such accomplished business owners and execs about the challenges and truths of running a food business.
The lineup included some of my favorite local and national brands:
- Piper Davis, Grand Central Bakery (Portland, OR)
- Chuck Eggert, Pacific Foods (Tualatin, OR)
- Allison Frost, Think Out Loud (Portland, OR)
- A.C. Gallo, Whole Foods Market (Austin, TX)
- Kim Malek, Salt & Straw (Portland, OR)
- Steve Smith, Smith Teamaker (Portland, OR)
"We can make change happen," said Chuck Eggert of Pacific Foods, "and we can make a positive change." This seemed to be the theme of the panel. In addition to great nuggets of wisdom about financing, managing, and marketing a business, each of the companies spoke to the issues of sustainability, localization, and integrity-driven core values as driving factors behind their business success.
Some highlights from this speaker series:
- "Sometimes it's better to be stubborn, than smart," - Chuck Eggert, Pacific Foods. His favorite piece of advice to entrepreneurs is the quote from Churchill: "Don't you ever, ever, ever give up."
- Kim Malek of Salt & Straw admitted to cashing out her 401K to start her business. Friends and family have since helped invest in the business growth.
- Piper Davis of Grand Central Bakery suggests entrepreneurs find "investors who share your same values and who have similar visions for your rate of growth."
- For A.C. Gallo of Whole Foods Market, his business is all about making connections between customers and their food. "It's always important to create connections for the customer to understand where their food comes from, how it was made."
- Two of the panelists were college drop outs (A.C. Gallo and Steve Smith). Chuck Eggert has numerous degrees, including an MBA and a food science degree. Others hold various college degrees.
- Steve Smith says "It takes a year in the market, sometimes more, to recoop the initial money you've invested in your product."
I wish all of my fellow enterpreneurs could have attended this panel with me. I highly recommend keeping a similar panel topic for next year, since there are so many food businesses in the Portland area.
Why We Feast
Through it all, there was a hashtag trend attendees used, in addition to the speaker series title hashtags: #WhyWeFeast. It was so simple yet so powerful to me.
Why we feast. Think about it.
It's more than just the fact that Feast Portland was a benefit for Share Our Strength's No Kid Hungry campaign and Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon. While giving a portion of the proceeds is commendable, why we feast is so much more than that.
We care about the food we put in our bodies, and in our children's bodies.
We care about how our food is grown, processed (or not), and labeled.
We care about where our food comes from: who makes it or grows it, where are the origins, what is their food philosophy?
We care about making sure that more healthy food reaches those who can't afford as much as we can, and that they are informed about how to make healthy eating choices on a meager budget.
We care about making all of it better - not just for us, but for everyone around us.
I was really moved by the Speaker Series events I attended. I was inspired to dig deep and ask myself the hard questions. I walked away realizing the hard truth: I know so very little. Yet, I care so very, very much. And that, is a start.
I am motivated to do more, be more, help more, advocate more. What sort of actions the digging will lead me to, I am not certain of just yet. But I left the speaker series events knowing I had to DO something. And when that something becomes clear to me, trust me: you'll know it. And I hope that you, too, will share in that journey with me.
Thanks to Feast Portland for not just feeding attendees well and shining glorious light on Oregon's best bounty, but for accomplishing what all events should do: make people think and move people to action.