A few weeks ago, I went to a Farm to Fork summit hosted by the (who knew?) Swedish American Chamber of Commerce. Aside from having the absolute best conference food I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating (last year’s NY State American Farmland Trust conference was a close second) — based on a spread that managed to be creative, aesthetically pleasing, locally sourced, health-conscious, and delicious, the organizers had clearly internalized the event’s mission and were practicing what they preached — the summit was really edifying and I met a number of interesting people to boot.
The overarching theme of the summit was the future of our food, and the panelists spent time pondering what our meals might look like in the next 30 years or so, whether that’ll be because or in spite of our best efforts, and discussing their efforts to drive change in the food system.
Some of the opening remarks were given by a Dr. Thomas Gass, who is a prominent policy player in the UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs. He’s working to implement the UN Sustainable Development Goals and had some stark words for all of us about the difficulties of, say, eradicating hunger (goal #2) in the face of extreme environmental degradation.
[They say] give a man a fish… Well, I’ve got news for you: that man already knows how to fish. But the lake is now empty of fish because of pollution from a nearby gold mine that is being shipped to far parts of the world. And the lake is shrinking because of climate change.
I was reminded of that quote today as I scrolled through the NYTimes’ devastatingly powerful Year in Pictures — take a look at the first picture featured in the month of May and you’ll understand exactly what I mean.
So how do we ensure that everyone still has enough fish to eat? The other speakers talked more pragmatically about the solutions they’re championing. We heard from the CEO of Impossible Foods (a meat replacement company), from the Executive Chef at an award-winning Stockholm museum restaurant that is putting vegetables front and center on the plate, from the CEO of a company manufacturing sustainable alternatives to fish oil out of algae, from the inventor of a “selective weed cutter” called CombCut (I need to see this thing in action!), from people who are trying to use the emerging Internet of Things to their sustainable advantage, and more.
The two standout sessions were 1) the talk given by Claus Meyer, culinary heavyweight and founder of only one of the world’s most famous restaurants (Noma, in Copenhagen), and 2) the one about insect protein (nom!).
Claus Meyer is a delightful and quietly funny man, who acknowledged that Nordic cuisine beat some pretty long odds to become world renowned. He noted wryly that ever since Luther set Norwegian culinary tradition back in the day, for the past 300 or so years eating was effectively “supposed to be inferior and gotten over with as quickly as possible.” His own home life wasn’t much different, as he explained that “my parents literally divorced to the sound of the microwave when I was 14 years old.” Despite that less than promising start, Meyer found a mentor and father figure in a French baker and the experience of apprenticing for that man changed his life’s course. After mastering French culinary skills, he realized that maybe Nordic cuisine could also be something to be proud of. Enter: Noma. Now that he’s based here in New York, besides rolling out his new food hall and restaurant over at Grand Central to much acclaim he’s also doing exciting things with urban revitalization and culinary training in the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn. The goal is to open a sit-down restaurant there which employs culinary graduates and serves as a tool to help solve entrenched health and poverty issues in the community.
At the very end of the day, we heard from two female entrepreneurs who are working on bringing insects-as-food to the masses. Robyn Shapiro, the co-founder of SEEK, is using cricket flour as an ingredient in her energy/snack balls, while Josefin Stromberg, CEO of Qvicket, has a line of cricket flour and is developing a pancake mix based on her original creation. In case you were wondering, yes, cricket flour is what it probably sounds like: roasted and ground crickets. It’s turned into a fine meal that can be used for all sorts of cooking and baking purposes.
I can attest: the SEEK bites are tasty! And for what it’s worth, if I hadn’t been told about the ingredients, I would never have guessed what they’re made of. They have a slightly nutty flavor, which is apparently a pretty common description of cricket flours, and given that the flour is made of insects, it also happens to be really protein rich. Both entrepreneurs described a funny observation in their marketing experience: after originally anticipating that 20 and 30-something females would be willing to give this concept a try and become the early adopters, it turns out that gym jocks are actually pretty into this stuff for its protein denseness.
This summit got a big two thumbs up from me. It’s an annual event so hopefully I’ll be able to go again next year!