The Atlantic is hosting its annual Food Summit this morning, featuring panel discussions and interviews on sustainability, food safety and more. Senior editor Corby Kummer interviewed Sam Kass, the White House senior policy adviser for healthy food initiatives, on the White House's on-going work related to childhood nutrition. And the deputy secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Kathleen Merrigan, delivered remarks. But the real star of the morning was the irrepressible José Andrés, who offered up one impassioned argument after another during a discussion of global food safety, access and affordability.
On Haiti: Having worked in the country devastated by an earthquake last year, Andrés had a lot to say on the subject of food aid. He pointed out that the headline news of last year—enormous donation pledges—have not materialized, and he called on the G-20 countries to put their money where their mouth is: "The issue we face over and over again is really a lack of delivering what's promised." And later on in the panel, Andrés argued that the international community needs to be moving away from food aid and toward greater development initiatives.
On subsidies: Andrés kicked off the discussion of farmer subsidies saying, "Let's all subsidize the hell out of everything. Why? Because we can. Because we're rich." He later clarified, just in case of the language barrier, that, yes, that was a joke. Really, he says, we should be trying to achieve a balance that allows us to subsidize domestic farmers without breaking the backs of small farmers in developing countries: "People, this at the end is about morals."
On World War III: Food security is national security, Andrés argued, with the agreement of his fellow panelists, Rep. Jim McGovern and former European Union agriculture commissioner Franz Fischler. And he made a big prediction: "I can guarantee you that World War III—10, 20, 50 or 100 years from now—will not be anymore for that oil, but will be precisely to control those areas that produce the goodness of the Earth that feeds us all."
On solutions: Andrés pulled out his professorial cap and schooled summit attendees on what needs to be done to deal with food security issues. The United Nations, he argued, is not the right body to tackle it. In fact, he says, that body doesn't exist at all—and ought to be created, separate from everything else, to bring together policy, funding, social aspects, and research and development.
On remembering the little people: Andrés conceded an audience member's point that it's foolish to stabilize food prices globally, but he reminded her that "we need to understand that life is more than macroeconomics." Rephrasing metaphorically, he says, "The world is a very big swimming pool, but it's also a little pond. And sometimes we have to take care of the little pond."
On Cargill: After a shout-out to the local FRESHFARM Markets, Andrés brought up Cargill's hold on the agricultural industry and seemed to compare it to the recent banking meltdown. He says he has no problem with Cargill and its success, but adds that he would never allow a company to grow that big: "Sooner or later we're going to see that having the food production in the hands of the very few is not good business for America and I can tell you it's not going to be good business for the world. That's another food for thought."
The summit is live-streaming until approximately 2:30 p.m., with remarks from Alice Waters coming up at 1:45 p.m.