Stories / Impact

Talking Sustainability and Science in Charleston

Elena North-Kelly

Elena North-Kelly

April 23, 2012


Last week, we filled you in on our recent regional salon, held in preparation for our 2012 JBF Food Conference: A Crisis in Confidence: Creating a Better, More Sustainable Food World We Can Trust. The salon drew a diverse group of 18 insightful chefs, farmers, restaurateurs, educators, and other members of the Charleston food community who shared their opinions on what’s happening in today’s food system. The participants were asked to consider trust through a variety of lenses, and yesterday’s post was devoted to the notion of “place.” Next up, we’d like to share what everyone had to say about the context of science as it relates to trust in our food system:

Science had both positive and negative connotations for our participants. According to one nonprofit organizer, “We use science in a positive way to combat and preserve aspects of the food system, but science is also underwritten by large corporations in very questionable ways.” Similarly, some participants felt that science translated to fear: “People are terrified of E.Coli outbreaks—but from produce and bags of spinach, not from generic processed food. We need to talk about how to educate both farmers and consumers.” 

Education was the common denominator for all the critical issues surrounding the concept of science in our food system—and not just educating the consumer. As one farmer explained, “My biggest fear is that an astrophysicist is going to jump out and tell me how to raise my crops. What do I need for proper food security? I’ll higher a geneticist.” Most felt, however, that education was most critical for the consumer. “This generation is lost on the most basic understandings of food,” said one educator. “If you ask a child to draw what a fish looks like, they’ll draw a square—because that’s what it looks like on their lunch tray.”

When it came down to discussing solutions, one restaurateur suggested: “As a general rule, if you can’t pronounce the name of the ingredient you’re eating, don’t eat it! We have a deficit with understanding where food comes from and how our body uses it.” One farmer felt strongly that agriculture should be taught in schools, saying: “Food security and trust are inevitably linked. If you’re going to trust, you need to understand agriculture and horticulture. E.Coli contamination, for example, comes from errors in soil science.” 

And finally, a conservationist warned that we shouldn’t rely too heavily on science, saying: “We’re putting too much trust in the science we have.  As scientists, we acknowledge that these are theories based on a set of beliefs, and some new information or data could come in and change that at any time. Science is not a perfect science; it doesn’t mean perfection.”

We’ll continue to report on our regional salons as they occur, as well as the additional concepts discussed in Charleston, so stay tuned! 

Our upcoming JBF Food Conference and Leadership Awards will take place on October 17 and 18, 2012 at the Hearst Tower in New York City. To receive updates and registration information, please send us a note at:

The photo above was part of the delicious lunch served by our host chef, JBF Award Winner Sean Brock.