A Food Innovation Conference: Day 1 | Sumfood

Posted in Culinary, Food Systems on May 06, 2019

Everything is different – little has changed

It is fair to say that I was somewhat ambivalent about returning to Seeds and Chips for another year. Having attended the event last year, I had vacillated between enthusiastic awe and bouts of despondency. The event is nothing short of spectacular – past US presidents (and a couple of potential US presidential contenders) have attended, royalty speaks, bands play, and it is an ideal platform for encouraging innovation and collaboration.

Yet, there appears a bit of a disconnect. Before talking about the disconnect however, it is important to acknowledge that it is always good to attend events, and the privilege of being exposed to new people and new ideas is always appreciated. This event is no different in that regard.

The venue

The Seeds and Chips event is nestled among the Milan World Food Exhibition – this wouldn’t be a problem except that one of the focus’ of this year’s event is around the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Those goals don’t sit easily in a neighbourhood touting refined meat products, exclusive oils and frozen desserts. Perhaps, however, I am the only delegate that has been affronted by this particular hypocrisy.

Welcome to the Anthropocene…

Reinforcing the timebomb that is global food production, each session begins with reminding us that the oceans are full of plastic, soils and waters are contaminated, and climate change is happening. Of course, this would get a bit tiresome by the end of Day 1, so the negative is offset with a message of hope. Hope is represented by the presence and voice of ‘teenovators’ – young people sharing their ‘a-ha’ food moments and the solutions that they have come up with, to address their chosen problem. These young people should be (and literally were) applauded for getting up on stage and telling their stories to a room full of people from more than 40 countries, reminding us that the importance and urgency of global action on reducing food waste and improving food systems is a good thing. No argument there. But, and this is a big but, are the right people in the room?

Who should be in the room?

So, who should be in the room? Consumers, consumers, consumers. Yes, we are all consumers and yes, we are also representing our own particular consumer perspective alongside our role in the industry, government or NGO that we represent. But, no, we cannot represent consumer agencies when we have agendas for selling more products. While I respect that Nestle and Pepsico are doing good work in making food production more sustainable, I will remain cynical until it becomes clear that their concern for the Sustainable Development Goals is more than just the equivalent of the tobacco industry’s social responsibility initiatives of the 1990’s. It is my intention to write further blogs throughout the event and I have some material ‘stored’ on the rather fascinating topics of dark matter and alternative proteins (watch this space), and on the interactions with passionate and committed product vendors (one of which is a cold-brewed coffee, my fascination has more to do with their story than the free product samples, honestly).

To be fair, day one is only just drawing to a close and there are three more days to be wowed by the calibre and innovation of the speakers. Watch this space.

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