Monday, November 12, 2012

The Good Food Festival and Little Bit of Everything While Focusing on the Big Picture

 Wrote a travel article for the SM Observer on the Good Food Festival!

The Good Food Festival and Little Bit of Everything While Focusing on the Big Picture

For its second year the Good Food Festival & Conference returned to Los Angeles. Produced by in cooperation with the Santa Monica Farmers Markets, the conference’s mission is to be a connection point for the NGOs, businesses and individuals who are driving the Good Food Movement.  The festival’s focus on regional and national issues that are integral to building local and sustainable food systems and educating people about the Good Food Movement.

On Saturday, November 3rd, LACMA co-hosted a series of panel discussions on building organic and sustainable food systems. Topics include: Building Community with Good Food, Good Food=Good Jobs, Is GMO Labeling Coming to California?  On Sunday, November 4th the Good Food Festival & Conference culminated with the fundraising event: Localicious.  Held at the Annenberg Community Beach House in Santa Monica, guests savored the freshest and best of the season with signature dishes prepared by 30 of LA’s leading chefs paired with 30 farmers from the Santa Monica Farmers Markets.  The event was a great way to meet some of the new players of the L.A. food world. 

Localious Feed 
One such player is the new restaurant Feed.  Opening in early 2013 on Abbot Kinney Blvd., Feed will feature seasonally inspired menu of forward thinking California style dishes that are nourishing for the body and the soul.  Full of both consciousness and craft the dishes served at Localious included: Vegan German Butterball Potato, Pumpkin Seed and Blackened Escarole Soup with Cashew Crème and Roasted Blue Hubbard Squash Salad with Baby Torpedo Onions, Red Kale, and a Labneh (which is a soft Middle Eastern cheese made from yogurt), Tahini & Preserved Lemon Dressing.  With Chef Matthew Dickson formerly hailing from Grace, Malo, Rockenwagner & Vida, menu items will be sourced from local farmers markets focused on sustainable and organic ingredients.  Feed will also offer an all-organic beverage program to include wine, beer, and spirits and feature locally sourced organic ingredients, homemade organic syrups and mixers.

Another new kid on the L.A. food block is nano brewery Smog City Brewing, which celebrated its one-year anniversary in October.  In the beginning Smog City was described as the “little brewery that could,” and they’ve definitely delivered.  Last month in Boulder, CO their Groundwork Coffee Porter took home of the gold at the Great American Beer Festival, the Oscars of the beer world.  With a taste that screams chocolate covered espresso bean, this robust Porter is aged on freshly roasted, freshly ground Groundwork coffee, which enhances the flavors of chocolate, roasted malt, and coffee (Of Course!) already present in the beer.

The fun table at Localious (and there’s always a fun table at these events) was the new Hermosa Beach restaurant Abigaile.  Serving toasted Crostini with sautéed mushrooms from Shiitake Happens Mushrooms Abigaile paired these tidbits with their house-brewed craft beers created by Brewmaster Brian Brewer.  Brian’s philosophy on beer making is simple: bring only the freshest, high quality ingredients to the process.  And with beer names like Orange Blossom Blonde Ale, Misfit Pale Ale, and Bourbon Vanilla Porter, it seems like fun is also part of the equation.  This coolness also translates to their space, as the location has been a church, an artists’ co-op, a rehearsal space for Black Flag over the years before becoming Abigaile, a place where their philosophy is that one of life’s greatest sources of joy is what happens when people come together to share a meal.

While dining and drinking under the stars is all fun, the panel discussions at the Good Food Festival on Saturday focused more on the numerous food issues at hand.  Unfortunately the featured guest speaker, MacArthur Genius Will Allen of Growing Power, was unable to attend due to sickness.  Instead the conference opened with a segment from a new PBS documentary titled Food Forward (not to be confused with the SoCal non-profit Food Forward) which featured Milwaukee’s Sweet Water Farm and their sustainable aquaponics system was inspired by Allen.  This was followed afterwards by a Skype talk by Allen’s daughter Erika Allen, Projects Manager for Growing Power.  Based out of Chicago, Erika Allen focuses on urban agriculture that is rooted in social justice focusing on food security (a household's physical and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that fulfills their dietary needs) and food sovereignty (having control over the food that is consumed in your location through local growing systems).  “Urban Agriculture has an opportunity to impact and transform the entire world through engaging people in their environments,” noted Allen, “allowing them the opportunity to be safe, affordable, and healthy, regardless of their income.”  Allen introduced the audience to the urban Chicago farm, Iron Street.  Previously an old truck depot once completely up and running (right now they only use a third of their 7 acre space) Iron Street Farm could grown up to 20,000 tons of a food a year in the middle of Chicago (and that’s year round!).  Allen also that to work small you need to also work big, “to be involved in Urban Agriculture you need to be involved in food policy.  You can’t have an thriving urban agriculture without dealing with politics of food production.”

After Allen’s presentation the first panel of the Good Food Festival, BUILDING COMMUNITY WITH GOOD FOOD, focused on the force of community building.  “It’s about people just showing up,” noted Moderator Evan Kleiman and host of the KCRW weekly radio program Good Food, “it’s about making a decision as simple as showing up at a famer market, gleaning, exposing yourself to something you’d never thought about before.”  

On this panel Laura Avery, supervisor of Santa Monica's Farmers Markets, repped the distribution side of the conversation.  Her market, which brings farm fresh produce to almost 1,000,000 customers each year, just received LA Weekly’s Best Farmers Market in LA.  As LA Weekly stated, “the market that takes over the Santa Monica Promenade on Wednesday mornings is in a category of its own. Decades before markets started popping up in every neighborhood in town, the Santa Monica Certified Farmers Market defined the genre.”  1996 Avery introduced a Salad Bar Program in Santa Monica Schools that now includes Santa Monica Farmers Markets Greens at all Santa Monica public schools.  Avery noted that we have an organic garden at the White House but the USDA and FDA don’t allow us to know whether our food has been genetically modified.  “Food is community; sharing ideas about food is as compelling as a recipe.  We want to know what’s going on, the government isn’t getting it done, so we get it done by meeting into groups.” 

Also speaking was Meg Glasser from Food Forward, SoCal’s largest gleaning organization who noted that by the end of this year they will have gleaned 1.3 million pounds in the three and a half years they had been around.  Food Forward began in a grass roots way in 2009 when Rich Nahmias saw Tangerines on the ground in his neighborhood, so with the help of 3 of his friends he gleaned 800 pounds of Tangerines that day for SOVA food bank.  Food Forward’s backyard harvesting now spans the gamut: from one tree at one home to 800 trees at Cal. State Northridge where they collected 18,000 lbs in 4 hours.  Food Forward now has 50 receiving agencies, 4,000 volunteers, and is located in 4 different counties. 

One other panel member was D’Artagnan Scorza the Executive Director of the Social Justice Learning Institute.  The Social Justice Learning Institute is dedicated to improving the education, health, and well being of youth and communities of color by empowering them to enact social change through research, training, and community mobilization.  From the SJLI emerged the food program "100 Seeds of Change" Food System Initiative.  100 Seeds of Change is a comprehensive, city-wide plan to create urban gardens at homes, local schools, city parks and other locations with city youth & community members in the city of Inglewood.  The goal of this initiative is to transform Inglewood into a healthy living community by empowering residents to collaboratively be active in growing their own food in a local network.  In the end, the food grown within this network will create Inglewood’s first complete local food system that is sustainable from the ground to the plate.  “We don’t give ourselves enough credit for the impact we’re making in creating these food communities.  Seeing a child who’s never tried Chard before, that’s what feeds me,” noted Scorza. 

Nowhere did food issue seem most controversial than in the last panel of the Good Food Festival & Conference: IS GMO LABELING COMING TO CALIFRONIA?  Just days away from narrowly losing the election emotions were high for those all those involved in the GMO discussion.  Although viewpoints varied on the place of GMOs in our food system everyone on the panel agreed that labeling was a need that has yet to be met in the State of California.   As Ann Gentry of Real Food Daily noted, “My motto is: if you tell people what it is the product you are selling them they will be loyal for you forever.”

Although the United States does not require the labeling of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), 61 countries around the globe do (including the entire European Union, Brazil, and China).  Those who advocated for labeling in the state of California were definitely the underdogs as the world’s leading pesticide and processed food companies outspent “Yes on 37” by more than 5 to 1, and beginning on October 1, spent about a million dollars a day on anti-labeling advertising.  
As California Right to Know Campaign stated in a press release the day after losing the election, “today is not the end of our campaign to secure our fundamental right to know what’s in our food.  It is a strong beginning, and we thank the millions of Californians who stood with us. We are proud of our grassroots movement, our 10,000 hardworking volunteers, and the diverse coalition of health, faith, labor and consumer groups that stood with us. We will keep fighting for consumer choice, fairness and transparency in our food system. And we will prevail.”
And in a nutshell that is what the Good Food Festival & Conference was all about: choice, fairness, transparency, and education in all the varied elements, big and small, surrounding what we eat. 
Kat Thomas is a Santa Monica food writer and foodie.  You can check out more of her writings at

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