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Viability of alternatives to factory food to be debated Sept. 23 at UC Berkeley by food heavyweights Alice Waters, Eric Schlosser, Michael Pollan, Mark Hertsgaard, Corby Kummer, and moderator Orville Schell
13 September 2002

By Kathleen Maclay, Media Relations


Webcast Berkeley

The Sept. 23 panel discussion, "Factory Food: Are the Alternatives Viable?," can be viewed in an archival online webcast (1 hour 21 minutes).

Requires RealPlayer.


Berkeley - Experts on food and the environment will gather at the University of California, Berkeley, on Monday, Sept. 23, to address whether organic, community-scale agriculture and food production can replace conventional, large-scale agribusiness, and the likely costs of such a dramatic shift.

"Factory Food: Are the Alternatives Viable?" will be hosted by the Western Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism. The 7:30-9:30 p.m. program is free and open to the public.

Orville Schell, dean of the journalism school and the event's moderator, said the discussion will "let the sort of 'alternative' people really talk about the alternatives and discuss their views on whether or not they are they viable. Can you feed the world organically? And what are the consequences of continuing food production in its current mode?"

Alice Waters, proprietor of Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley and a food activist, will introduce the panelists, including:

* Mark Hertsgaard, a journalist and regular contributor to National Public Radio's "Living on Earth" environmental program. He is a Hewlett Foundation Fellow at the journalism school, which in 1998 established a program in environmental journalism with a grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. Hertsgaard wrote "Earth Odyssey: Around the World in Search of Our Environmental Future" (Broadway Books, 1999) and "The Eagle's Shadow: Why America Fascinates and Infuriates the World" (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, October 2002).

* Corby Kummer, senior editor of The Atlantic Monthly and author of "The Pleasures of Slow Food: Celebrating Authentic Traditions, Flavors and Recipes" (Chronicle Books, November 2002). He also writes the monthly "Palate at Large" column in The Atlantic Monthly and is a frequent food commentator on television and radio.

* Michael Pollan, a contributing writer to The New York Times Magazine and author of "The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World" (Random House, 2001) and "Second Nature: A Gardener's Education" (Dell Books, 1995).

* Eric Schlosser, correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly and author of "Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal" (Houghton Mifflin, 2001). The book explores the rise of franchising and the spread of obesity and examines fast food production. "Fast Food Nation" was on Waters' recommended reading list this past summer.

The "Factory Food" forum is part of a four-day program for food and environmental writers chosen as fellows to this Western Knight Center for Specialized Journalism mid-career training session.

Schell proposed the conference topic because of the increasing importance of the issues it will address: food and the family, food safety and regulation, the powers and perils of bio-engineered food crops, agribusiness and the family farm, environmental impacts relating to agriculture, food packaging and the future of food. Sessions will be led by scientists, federal regulators, food industry representatives, and Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope, as well as reporters.

Conference participants also will tour Star Route Farm, a 40-acre organic produce farm; and McEvoy Ranch, an organic olive orchard where olive oil is produced. Both are in the North Bay.

"This (debate about the viability of alternatives to factory food) is an area more and more journalists are becoming interested in because it makes a connection between the world of food, its production and the environment," said Schell.

For Schell, it's been a longtime interest. In addition to being a journalist and author, for more than 20 years he was a partner in Niman Schell Ranch (now Niman Ranch), which raised humanely-treated livestock on all-natural feed, using no growth hormones or sub-therapeutic antibiotics. Schell wrote "Modern Meat," (Random House, 1983), about the increasing reliance on technology as well as on chemicals, hormones and feed additives to produce bigger, meatier and the most cost-effective animals.

"There's beginning to be a real overlap between the areas covered by journalists writing just about food and just about the environment, and there seems to be a reformatting of the 'yuppie food crowd' to embrace a more socially conscious side of the equation," he said.

Fast food's popularity, the rarity of the family garden, and the virtual disappearance of family meal prepared at home and eaten by parents and children together, have combined to profoundly alter familial and social relations, the relationship of children to nature and the way children grow up, Schell said.

These issues are also important to students, Schell said, noting that on a walk across campus, he recently overheard students having an animated conversation about Schlosser's "Fast Food Nation."

Wheeler Hall Auditorium, where the panel discussion will be held, can accommodate 800 people, and Schell said he wouldn't be surprised to see it filled to capacity.