Food Dialogues spectators as feisty a rivalry as OSU-Michigan (maybe)

Food is now prime-time. That’s right, food fanatics around the country have turned food into fodder for water cooler, as well as kitchen table, conversations.

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They’ve picked their teams, donned their favorite T-shirts and plastered bumper stickers from taillight to taillight. It’s become so dramatic, in fact, that chefs have now reached a level of celebrity previously reserved for only Hollywood’s most elite. Wok of fame anybody?

Remember the simpler days when dietary discourse consisted of “What’s for dinner?” (beef, of course) and “Would you like fries with that?” Those easy questions deserved simple answers.

Wasn’t it nice knowing that food lived at your local grocery store? We didn’t question where our food came from or how it was grown. It was seen as snobby in those days. Heck, if the words “extra virgin olive oil” passed your lips, you were branded a pretentious twit.

It’s different now. We’ve grown up. Our conversations, like our tastes, have matured. Whether you blame it on the Food Channel, or Oprah’s squabble with the beef industry ­– it doesn’t matter. Our fascination with everything edible is here to stay.

Now the questions are a little more complex, like, “Are GMOs required for sustainability today?” and, “Are the foods we eat today more nutritious?”

Those are just two of the many questions asked at the Food Dialogues: Ohio event, hosted Aug. 15 in Columbus.

If you consider cooking shows pre-season games, then the Food Dialogues is like the Super Bowl.

The Super Bowl of food

Farmers, ranchers, professors, food professionals and nutritionists sit center-stage, lapel mics firmly in place, with a moderator. The sport? An open conversation about our food supply.

If you don’t think talking about food and agriculture is a sport, you’ve clearly never had a conversation with somebody who disagrees with your point-of-view. I promise, the whole thing is more interesting than it sounds.

Everybody begins watching and listening to the conversation, rooting for their favorite team, of course. There’s the pro-organic cheerleaders, the conventional crowd (biotechnology allowed), and the pragmatists who sort of sit back, keep score, and don their thinking caps.

But, unlike competitive sports, behind the pageantry is substance. The panel conversations are supposed to ease the die-hard nature of the foodie fan-boys (and girls) by answering food and agriculture questions in as straightforward and honest way as possible.

But even honest answers lead to some dramatic moments. Audible hisses and gasps from the audience happen from time to time. They’re not caused by some superhuman feat of athletic prowess, however. What causes the visceral reaction is the act of driving home a point.

Last week’s first panel discussion was filled with such moments. It was also the panel focusing on GMOs and biotechnology, the meatier, more rousing, of the two panels. The other panel discussion focused on sustainability.

During the first panel, things heated up when Doug Billman, an Ohio organic dairy farmer from Wayne County, said that the dairy industry’s been under the microscope for years, why isn’t the biotechnology industry? He then added that if GMOs are safe, why doesn’t the industry label food containing GMOs?

Tensions rose as the audience awaited the rebuttal to Billman’s Hail Mary pass. Two answers came from the panel. One answer, by Dr. Ruth McDonald, was straightforward. She said that labeling GMOs would cost a lot of money. Pass deflected. Then, Dr. Andy Michel, assistant professor of entomology at the Ohio State University, replied that all food has risks. He added that labeling for GMOs may be misleading because all scientific research shows that there’s no difference between GMO and non-GMO crops in terms of safety. Interception for the pick six

That’s just one example of the back and forth that the Food Dialogues: Ohio offered.

At the end of the day, each team graciously met in the middle for a handshake and a good-game pat on the back. The real winner here was the audience, who left the auditorium with a better understanding of how and why our food system works the way it does.

Now that some of the complicated questions have been answered, we may finally be able to get back to, “What’s for dinner?”

For a play-by-play of the Food Dialogues: Ohio, visit our post.

About the Author

Will Flannigan is Farm and Dairy's online editor. He grew up in Salem, Ohio, and is new to the agricultural scene. Will enjoys hiking, community theater and learning new things. More Stories by Will Flannigan

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