Gastronomy in the 21st century

It’s Thanksgiving season again, and the double shadow on our great American food holiday is feast and famine, both. A bounteous industrial food system is wasting the land and leaving a billion of us humans hungry, and another billion both overfed and undernourished. As climate change kicks in, the food agenda’s a changing too. Farm-to-table greens, slow food, local food don’t sound like answers anymore to the vast scale of modern food’s maldistribution; not to mention the depletion of farm soil, the desertification of the land, and the deluge of run-off pollution.

In our search for solutions, we began looking around our own digital backyard. Over at the Media Lab, the Open Agriculture initiative (OpenAg) has begun growing basil in “personal food computers.” Their big picture mission is building new tech tools to be used by a billion new farmers.

Our guest Caleb Harper presides over the OpenAg project. The child of a farming family in Kansas, Harper now sees “open source” tech as the solution to the crisis in modern food production. He’s joined at our table by Dr. Walter Willett, the most cited nutritionist in the world, who’s waged a 30-year war on trans fats.

For Raj Patel, co-author of the new book A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things, tech solutions are only effective when we examine the broader economic system embedded in our meals. To understand the big picture challenge, he says, all we have to do is consider the Chicken McNugget.

Julie Guthman writes and teaches the whole food story, farm-to-table, past to present, at the University of California. Now in residence at Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute, she studies modern strawberry farming as one the new frontiers for food justice and activism.
Legendary French chef Jacques Pépin—who’s cooked for Charles de Gaulle and Jackie Kennedy, among others—offers us his own Proustian memories of past holiday meals, as well as a taste of what’s to come.

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