Food choices explored at conference, Nov. 16-17

Some of the nation's leading thinkers on issues surrounding food will convene at Princeton University next month to explore how eating choices affect not only people's health, but also the world's climate, animal welfare and the survival of the family farm.

In collaboration with renowned bioethicist and professor Peter Singer, the Princeton Environmental Institute (PEI) will hold a conference titled "Food, Ethics and the Environment" Thursday and Friday, Nov. 16-17, bringing together industry experts, scientists, local farmers, students and representatives of University dining services to build on existing movements on and off campus to examine food choices. Advance registration for the free conference is encouraged via the conference Web site.

"By bringing together leaders in the field, student activists and the individuals on campus with responsibility for campus dining systems, we hope to raise the level of awareness about the many issues at stake in the choices we make about the food we purchase and eat," said Katharine Hackett, associate director of PEI. "We also want to encourage a dialogue about what choices Princeton University makes for campuswide food and health. By heightening overall awareness, our goal is that the conference will have a lasting impact on food systems on and off campus."

A diverse group of high-profile authors was selected for the conference for their insightful exploration of critical issues surrounding food production and consumption, Hackett said.

Along with Singer, a number of prominent authors will give presentations and participate in panel discussions: Michael Pollan, New York Times Magazine writer and author of "The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals"; 1981 alumnus Eric Schlosser, author of "Fast Food Nation," which has been adapted to film and is scheduled for theater release in November; Marion Nestle, former senior nutrition policy adviser for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and author of "What to Eat"; and Gary Nabhan, author of "Coming Home to Eat: The Pleasures and Politics of Local Foods." Additional panelists will include professors in the geophysical sciences, leaders in local agricultural efforts, student activists and others influencing the current debate on food issues.

"The level of public awareness of food as an issue of ethical and environmental importance has risen dramatically within the past few years," said Singer, Princeton's Ira W. Decamp Professor of Bioethics in the University Center for Human Values, a member of PEI's associated faculty and co-author -- with Jim Mason -- of "The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter."

"Recently we've seen increasing recognition that the decisions being made by individuals and institutions are affecting the global and domestic marketplace, in addition to the health of the planet and the welfare of billions of animals," Singer said. "One indication of this is the anti-factory farming measure on the ballot in Arizona on Nov. 7th."

Princeton has offered a variety of courses on food in recent years, but the conference will mark the first time PEI has hosted a program on food as an environmental issue. The conference is intended as the first in a series of events organized around the theme of ethics and the environment, and is funded by 1966 alumnus Bert G. Kerstetter.

The conference will open at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 16, with a discussion between Singer and Schlosser in Richardson Auditorium titled "Moving Beyond Fast Food Nation." The conference will continue Friday, Nov. 17, with a full day of sessions, including contributions from Nestle, Pollan and Bob Langert, vice president for corporate social responsibility at the McDonald's Corp.

The schedule also includes a discussion on the benefits of locally grown foods, and a session on the effect of industrial food production on global warming, animal welfare and the ecology of the oceans. A limited seating gourmet lunch of locally sourced ingredients from farms with a commitment to sustainable agricultural practices is also scheduled, though separate registration and a $25 fee is required. The concluding panel discussion, "Eating More Ethically at Princeton University," will include presentations from John Turenne, president and founder of Sustainable Food Systems, and Stuart Orefice, director of Princeton's dining services.

"The conference will conclude with a panel that includes students in a discussion that focuses uniquely on how the conference issues can be incorporated into a more thoughtful, ethical and socially responsible food system on campus," Hackett said. "Student interest and activism was a driving factor in selecting food as the centerpiece for this inaugural ethics and environment conference."

Undergraduate and graduate members of the student organization Greening Princeton will participate in the final panel in acknowledgement of their role in spurring several initiatives now in place in campus dining halls, including the use of cage-free shell eggs and sustainable seafood, the introduction of fair trade coffees, and the increased use of organic produce and cereals.

"This conference is a great way to get students interested in the origins of what they eat," said junior Katy Andersen of Greening Princeton, one of the panelists. "The disconnect from farm to fork is a growing problem in the United States, and for Princeton to take a role in examining this issue is incredible."

According to Orefice, whose staff has worked closely with Greening Princeton, University dining services is committed to remaining sensitive to the political, ethical, environmental and health issues surrounding food choices at Princeton.

"We recognize the importance of considering the broader context of issues surrounding the production, distribution and preparation of food," Orefice said. "This is evidenced by the many continuing efforts in dining services to shift purchases toward foods produced with practices that have a lower impact on the environment. We remain open to new ideas as the public debate continues to shape the way we think about food."

In addition to PEI, sponsors for the conference are the Center for Human Values and the Program in Science, Technology and Environmental Policy in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. More information about conference speakers is available online.

Members of the news media who wish to attend any part of the conference must RSVP no later than noon Tuesday, Nov. 14, by e-mailing

Registration for the conference is free on a first-come, first-served basis for the general public. Open seats for conference events will be offered to non-registered individuals via "wait lines." The conference sessions will also be simulcast in rooms 28 and 46 of McCosh Hall, and registration is not required for seating at the simulcast sites.

The conference will be webcast live. An archived version also will be available for viewing through this link after Nov. 27.

Parking will be available in Lot 21, and there are several public transportation options for visiting the Princeton campus.