“Climate Change, Food, and You” Transcript
Priya Krishna: Hello. I'm food writer and cookbook author Priya Krishna. Did you know that more than 750,000 New York City children are likely to miss two meals a day this summer? When class isn't in session, many children lose access to the free breakfast and lunch that is usually served in schools. The folks at Food Bank For New York City wants you to know that, unlike school, hunger doesn't take a break. Help them end hunger by providing meals to families and children in need. Visit foodbanknyc.org to learn how you can volunteer, spread the word and more.
Kerry Diamond: Hi Bombesquad. You're listening to Radio Cherry Bombe, the number one female food focused broadcast in the universe. I'm your host, Kerry Diamond. Let's thank today's sponsors, Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Schools and Traeger wood-fired grills. We have some travel in our future, Asheville, North Carolina, we are headed your way this weekend.
Kerry Diamond: We'll be doing an event this Saturday, September 14th, as part of the brand new Chow Chow Food Festival and there are only a few tickets left. The event is taking place at the AC Hotel in downtown Asheville and we've got some insightful talks, a wonderful panel, snacks and drinks and a chance for all of you to meet and mingle with the Southern Bombesquad. Including superstars Vivian Howard and Katie Button. Tickets are $30 and available at cherrybombe.com.
Kerry Diamond: Not going to be down south? No worries. Later this year, we're headed to Kansas City, Houston, Miami and Philly for live podcast events. Our Columbus event though, is sold out. Thank you so much to our friends at Kerrygold for supporting our tour.
Kerry Diamond: What else is in the works? We've got jubilee Seattle taking place on Saturday, November 2nd, at Block 41 in downtown Seattle. It's going to be a really cool day. We'll be talking about so many things. Being a chef, bio hacking, oysters, apples, AI, creativity, you name it. We'll be announcing the line up very soon. For tickets, again, visit cherrybombe.com.
Kerry Diamond: Today's show is a major one and I'm glad you're listening. I'm talking with Amanda Little, the author of an important new book called The Fate of Food. What we'll eat in a bigger, hotter, smarter world. I'm sure a lot of you have been wondering what climate change will mean for the world's food supply and Amanda is here to tell us. She's a journalist, author, mom and professor and Vanderbilt University in Nashville. She has written an incredible book that I really hope everyone reads. Before we get to my conversation with Amanda, here's a word from Le Cordon Bleu.
Kerry Diamond: Are you daydreaming about culinary school again? Make this the year your dreams become reality with the Le Cordon Bleu, the legendary culinary school. Study classic French culinary techniques and cuisine and patisserie as part of their exclusive nine month Le Grand Diplome, and graduate into a world of opportunity. You also can extend your course of study to include culinary management and dedicated internships. Le Cordon Bleu has locations in more than 20 countries around the world and located within some of the best food cities out there. London, Ottawa, Madrid, Bangkok, Tokyo and of course, the spiritual home of cuisine and Le Cordon Bleu, Paris. Turning your daydreams into reality is closer than ever. Visit cordonbleu.edu for more, and let your culinary adventure begin.
Kerry Diamond: Why did you decide to tackle this subject?
Amanda Little: Oh, that we had to just take the whole hour for that. The simple answer to that is that I have spent the better part of the last two decades really, as an environmental reporter, a science writer, really interested in how do we tell the story of climate change in a way that's accessible to people and that can access to the issue and makes us care.
Amanda Little: I wrote a book called Power Trip: The Story of America's Love Affair with Energy, in I think it was 2008, and that took me on the road and I was talking to folks about fossil fuel addiction and how we're transitioning from our energy past, our energy future and moving into what we hope will be a sustainable energy future. I had a chapter on agriculture which is, of course a huge part of our fossil fuel demand, 20% or so of energy flows to agriculture, fossil fuel energy, of course is part of why agriculture is so climate intensive and carbon intensive, and people really wanted to talk about food. It just meant so much more what we put in our mouth than what happens behind the light switch or under the hood of our car, and I came to see it as a much more intimate frame for a story that I felt a lot of urgency.
Amanda Little: I came at it from the outside, a bit of an imposter in the space, not as a food practitioner and not as a very good gardener, in fact, as a field backyard gardener, as someone whose had trouble with virtuous eating-
Kerry Diamond: Virtuous eating. What does that even mean?
Amanda Little: Well, I first tried veganism. I strayed into the plant-based diet, really craved, of course, all the things I felt that I couldn't have. But I tried to then become a vegetarian and then a pescatarian and then only craft-meats person and-
Kerry Diamond: Where have you netted out?
Amanda Little: I have really tried to do now, very moderate meat eating.
Kerry Diamond: So mindful omnivore?
Amanda Little: Yeah, mindful omnivore.
Kerry Diamond: Okay.
Amanda Little: I like that. I like that. I live in Nashville, Tennessee. My fam, I have little kids and my husband is a devout Chicagoan meat-eater, loves the sausage and the bratwurst and the steaks and all that, and so I've been trying to get my family on board. We are actually slowly moving toward moderate meat eating beat as a condiment.
Kerry Diamond: Meat as a condiment. I think that's the first time we've heard that phase on radio Cherry Bombe.
Amanda Little: I'm glad to hear that because I'm ripping it off from someone else. I'm not sure who, but I've heard that at one point and thought like, oh I like that.
Kerry Diamond: So if meat is a condiment, what about condiments?
Amanda Little: Extra condiments. You've got to put more sauce on there when you have less meat. But I think that we can over think a lot of this diet stuff and I think that when we get really absolutist, or if I get really absolutist about I can't have this or I can't have that, of course then it gives so much power to that thing and all I can think about is the thing I can't have.
Kerry Diamond: There's so much confusion. I think about this almond controversy over the past few years where people are it's like, oh my God, it takes gallons and gallons of water just to produce a single almond, we shouldn't drink almond milk. And then you're like, is that even true? How do you find out if that's true or not? And that's just one example.
Amanda Little: It is. There is so much information about what you can eat and can't eat and should eat and shouldn't eat, and what's environmental beneficial and what isn't and there are really no simple answers because there certainly are ways of producing meat that are carbon neutral or even carbon positive or climate positive. I think they actually call it climate positive meat and there are ways of producing local fruits and vegetables that are in a way that is very environmentally beneficial and also, there are local fruits and vegetables that have huge carbon foot prints, or that are flown by jet planes from long distances and we don't really look at that.
Kerry Diamond: Right, coffee.
Amanda Little: Yeah, coffee. Even something like berries and asparagus-
Kerry Diamond: Bananas. In the off season, berries and asparagus.
Amanda Little: Yes. In the off season. The fruits and vegetables that are shipped can actually have fairly have low carbon footprints, relative to a berry or something that's produced in a hot house nearby. The shipping may actually have a lower carbon footprint than the green house, depending on how the green house is run. There are some green houses that are-
Kerry Diamond: This goes back to all the confusion.
Amanda Little: It makes it hard to tell the story.
Kerry Diamond: Do you feel less confused having written this book-
Amanda Little: I do.
Kerry Diamond: ... or more confused? You do.
Amanda Little: I do.
Kerry Diamond: Okay.
Amanda Little: I feel the other piece of this story that was so surprising to me, is really the impact of climate change on our food systems and how real and immediate that is. Five years ago, 2014, the international panel on climate change produced yet another climate report. In the fine print, there is a passage about the impact of climate change on food systems and it read, and this is I think a pretty direct quote, “By mid century we may reach a threshold of global warming beyond which current agricultural practices can no longer support large human civilizations.” That really threw me. I have thought-
Kerry Diamond: Apologies to everyone out there who is panicking right now.
Amanda Little: This is actually a really important piece of this is that, pressure drives adaptation and innovation and some of the ways I think we're capable of adapting to these pressures can repair and heal a lot of the existing problems in the food system. We'll get to this, I'm very hopeful, but we have to understand how serious these challenges are.
Amanda Little: Just in the last year or two we begun to see what feels like a fairly distant problem so by mid century, current agricultural practices can no longer can support large human civilizations. What? But still that feels so abstract to most of us. Because I live 70 yards from a supermarket that's open 19 hours a day, 7 days a week, that stocks 50,000 food items from all over the world and it feels like it will never run out.
Amanda Little: Most of us are more concerned about having too much food or too many calories than too few food options. So, this is very disorienting to hear-
Kerry Diamond: Plus the fact that we have an administration that is really not dealing with climate change at all.
Amanda Little: That's right. That's exactly right. We're in this moment where we're still debating at the high levels of our political system, and even our media, as to whether climate change is a scientific reality. And yet-
Kerry Diamond: And you are here to tell us.
Amanda Little: And I'm here to tell you that climate change is something we can taste. This is a kitchen table issue, literally and figuratively. We're seeing that now in the 2020 elections, we're seeing climate change come to the fore for a lot of the democratic candidates and we heard the green new deal brought a lot of attention to the climate issue and I think that's-
Kerry Diamond: One of the reasons we love AOC.
Amanda Little: Yes, right. AOC and a lot of the other new generation of leadership, and the members of congress who are really getting climate change onto the agenda, is affecting how it's being discussed among 2020 candidates. But the point is, these big concerns that the IPCC and international scientists are talking about, looming 10, 20, 30 years down the line, are already very apparent to many producers. For this book, I traveled to 12 countries and 15 states. It became an urgent story that I had to tell and I had to see how this is affecting farmers in western Kenya, how is this affecting farmers in Israel, and in Mexico and in China and in India. How are communities and food producers and engineers and scientists adapting and responding to these challenges.
Amanda Little: The stories that we've heard about impacts on the things we hold most dear. Olive oil in Italy, we heard olive oil is running out.
Kerry Diamond: I didn't hear that.
Amanda Little: Yes.
Kerry Diamond: Is that true?
Amanda Little: There's huge pressures on Italy's olive oil production, because of bacterial infections in that have been ransacking these olive groves, and then extreme weather in the winter has been damaging the roots of the trees. So you're taking off line trees that have been producing olives for decades. It's very hard to get that production back on line. So yes, there were headlines, Italy is running out of olive oil just a few months ago and of course, people over here are asleep at the wheel. Because we're getting now products that are cut with hazelnut oil or other kinds of oil so we don't really notice it.
Amanda Little: We begun to hear some of those stories, and since then it has moved to other regions. I interviewed peach farmers in Georgia and citrus farmers in Florida and avocado farmers in Mexico and apple farmers in Wisconsin, cherry farmers in Wisconsin and Michigan. Virtually anyone who is producing food right now, especially the foods that are most high nutrient and high flavor, are aware that the shifting seasons, the increasing heat, the milder winters, the insect infestations, strange and different bacterias and fungi, coffee rust fungus, these things-
Kerry Diamond: I have to ask, with all of this happening, why does anyone get into farming today?
Amanda Little: A lot of these are fifth generation farmers, I just think that I said fifth because I just was doing a story about a coffee farmer in Guatemala who is a fifth generation farmer. He's 37 or so and he has 90 hectors of coffee farm in Guatemala and he produces for intelligence and all this has great demand. He produces some of the most coveted arabica coffee in Guatemala, but his supply is so hard to maintain, because he is getting this coffee rust fungus that thrives in higher humidity and warmer environments. He is in the mountains, as a lot of coffee farmers are. The coffee plant, like so many of the plants we love most, crops we love the most, is a specialist plant. It likes to thrive in very specific conditions, so you throw off those conditions and it makes it very difficult. Why is he staying in the game? Because he's devoted to the legacy of his father and grandfather and so on-
Kerry Diamond: It's in his blood.
Amanda Little: ... it's in his blood. But he's also seriously considering moving to Mangoes and moving to avocados, and he's beginning to try other crops because he may not be able to produce coffee in that same region. The region where coffee's thriving is moving up in terms of latitude and altitude. It may be that the land is no longer suited to the crop that his family has grown for so long. But, he's also working with scientists in the region who are trying to breed coffee plants that can survive the new normal. The same goes for citrus, the same goes for peaches, and the same goes for cherries and apples and so on.
Amanda Little: So much of what the horticultural scientists are working on right now is, how do we teach plants to be able to thrive and adapt in these new conditions. Maybe can we borrow from the wisdom of ancient plants that have lived through ecological traumas and see how they adapted? So they're studying ancient strains of those plants. Then they're also trying to use modern breeding tools like crisper and GMO, and finding ways to adapt, quickly adapt genomes of heirloom plants, to survive drought pressure, heat pressure, new kinds of pests, new kinds of humidity. It's a very different discussion. I don't know if we want to get into this scary thing.
Kerry Diamond: Yeah, I was going to say I know GMO, you started talking about GMOs and you can just go off in a different direction, a million different directions. But what I got from your book was that GMO is not a dirty word.
Amanda Little: It's so tricky because I was concerned about GMOs and the way their technology has been applied, as you are and your listeners are. I went into my research on GMOs with that irrepressible guide reflex when you think, oh my gosh, more than 70% of the crops produced in the U.S. are GMO. I've been eating GMO crops, most of us have since, for the better part of 20 plus years. I think I was 19 when the first GMO corn crop was introduced and I've been blindly eating GMOs ever since.
Amanda Little: The way that GMOs have been applied so far, is designing plants essentially to tolerate chemicals. The GMO crop that is most abundant is a Roundup Ready Corn and other serial grains. And that is a really scary application of a technology. It's so that we can broadcast spray meaning dump herbicides indiscriminately, on fields. So that they soak into the plants that we eat and also, they hit the weeds that are growing up around those plants and the plants will survive those chemicals and the weeds will die. We've taught the plants using this ... genetically, we have bred plants to survive the onslaught of these chemicals.
Amanda Little: Which means we end up eating a lot of those chemicals. Glyphosate is what Roundup is and Roundup is the herbicide that's been used for a long time. In small doses, Roundup is perfectly benign. Actually glyphosate is not ... doesn't have serious human health consequences. The problem is that we're not using it in small doses anymore. We're using it in massive doses because the plants and the weeds have become resistant to that-
Kerry Diamond: Again if this information is freaking out our listeners. What can you do about that, and what you eat and what you feed your family.
Amanda Little: There is a good reason. All of that was to say, there's a good reason why we are concerned about that application of GMOs. Using a breeding platform to teach plants to tolerate chemicals so that we can spray weeds. That's one application. We can also teach plants though, to do things that they may need to do in this era of much more complexity in the climate change era. If a breeder needs to have a plant that can grow through a drought, or that can grow and resist a fungus or can resist a new insect, conventional breeding methods may not work. It takes them a lot longer, eight years or so, to breed a new variety of a crop using conventional breeding methods. This is why I reported this in Western Kenya, where they're dealing with, again, serious drought, serious insect infestations and they can't wait eight years to get their crops back online.
Amanda Little: Can you use these kinds of advanced breeding tools in a way that helps farmers adapt to problems, but also preserves the heirloom qualities and the nutrition of the food? This is a platform for breeding. So just as you know, an iPad as a platform for apps, there are great apps and are bad apps. You can use an iPad in a way that destroys your attention span, and you can use an iPad in a way that really enhances and enriches your experience of the world. Same thing with television. Some people would say TV is bad, and some people would say there are great shows on television and they're terrible shows on television.
Kerry Diamond: So it's like life.
Amanda Little: It's like life. So yeah, are GMOs bad? Some of them are really bad. Can there be some good applications of GMOs? Very possibly. Will the use of advanced or sophisticated breeding methods, meaning, I'm not saying ... I'm saying technologically sophisticated, not ethically sophisticated. Will those kinds of tools be necessary for adapting to these new realities? Very possibly.
Kerry Diamond: All right. How the hell do we navigate supermarkets today?
Amanda Little: I have a hard time with that. As I said-
Kerry Diamond: And you know more than any of us at this point.
Amanda Little: I live right down the road from Kroger supermarket in Nashville, Tennessee.
Kerry Diamond: What do you put in your cart and what don't you put in your cart?
Amanda Little: I, as I said, struggle to be a purely local craft food eater. I can tell you that the way to do it is do it right, is the way a lot of us are already choosing to do it right. Which is support local farms support local food networks, eat plant forward diets, plant based diets. When you eat meat, know that chicken is much less carbon intensive than beef and lamb. The input per unit of meat produced goes like this. One pound of feed for one pound of fish, two pounds of feed for one pound of chicken, seven pounds of feed for one pound of beef. So, you have a seven x times larger impact and the feed of producing the feed, and the water that raises these animals is what causes all the environmental impact.
Amanda Little: From a purely climate standpoint, eating fish and chicken is a lot less carbon intensive than eating beef and lamb. All of those things are true. Now we have to be careful though, food waste is the single biggest problem. Probably, if you look at the entire food system-
Kerry Diamond: 30% of what we buy, we throw away.
Amanda Little: Yeah, up to 40% in the U.S., of what we buy, either rots in the fields or is thrown out. Interestingly, the natural resources defense council go to their website, nrdc.org, they have done a lot of research on food waste, and they've analyzed household waste streams and in three different cities, and they found that actually a lot of food waste is from households. There are certainly, some at the grocery store level and restaurant level in terms of and on the farm. But there's a huge amount of food wastes. I think it's at least a third of all the food waste that isn't at the household level.
Kerry Diamond: I will say after reading your book, I've gotten a lot better. I took a look at how much I personally was throwing out and I didn't think it was that much, but because I compost, so I was like, oh, I'm composting it. But I realized I still wasn't eating this food, I was buying.
Amanda Little: This is what was so interesting about this NRDC research, is that the households that were wasting the most, are also the households that are eating the most high nutrient perishable foods. Because, if you're eating spam and Twinkies, you're not going to waste a lot of food because it's shelf stable for 20 years. The waste happens when you buy that too much kale or you buy the giant glossy bunch of Swiss chard, and then you hope to use it and you never do. So-
Kerry Diamond: I don't know if you have the same thing but I'll go to a farmer's market and I fall into this rapturous state-
Amanda Little: Oh, totally.
Kerry Diamond: ... and you see all this gorgeous seasonal produce and you, if you're lucky, you can buy these beautiful things and sometimes you'll buy more than you can possibly eat.
Amanda Little: I am guilty as charged.
Kerry Diamond: But I've been meal prepping. Like the past two months.
Amanda Little: And there're so many cool tips on how, for example, you can freeze-
Kerry Diamond: Yeah, and I'm freezing. If I don't use it, I freeze it.
Amanda Little: And even buying frozen fresh fruit and produce that it's you don't actually even get into this stage of having to freeze it, can be a great way to get fairly high nutrient foods that don't just decline in nutrition. Because usually those foods are frozen right after they're harvested, and so the nutrient decline you get from the freezing process is actually less than the nutrient decline you get from the long distance shipping process when the fruits and vegetables travel in a fresh state over to your market. So-
Kerry Diamond: Do meal prep.
Amanda Little: I've been trying, I barely have time these days to take a shower-
Kerry Diamond: I know.
Amanda Little: ... with this thing-
Kerry Diamond: But I have way less food waste now, because of it.
Amanda Little: I will say as someone who ... as absolutely an advocate of composting at the municipal level, at the institutional schools and restaurants level, and then at the household level, emotionally and intellectually, we feel a lot better about about throwing out a fresh foods when we're composting it. Some of the research has shown that actually it's households that do compost, that end up wasting a lot of the food.
Amanda Little: And we have to remember that the real environmental benefit, and even the nutritional benefit, is not wasting it in the first place, not buying it in the first place if we're not going to eat it. Because that head of kale or lettuce or peach or whatever that we looked so great, but we ended up just returning to soil, is a lot. That's a lot of water and fertilizer and time and effort and miles traveled by that food, to get to the place where you're then going to just throw it in the compost. So, that perspective shift is essential I think to just our daily habits.
Kerry Diamond: We'll be right back with Amanda after this quick break.
Kerry Diamond: If you're a serious foodie, you need to know about Traeger wood-fired grills. You can do things you never thought possible on a grill, like baking. You can bake some smokey chocolate brownies, a classic cherry pie or a stone fruit galette. And if you're on the Bombesquad, you know it's all about the galette this season. Of course you can grill, barbecue roasts and smoke, your favorite meats, veggies and fruit, yes, fruit. If you haven't grilled a pineapple. You don't know what you're missing.
Kerry Diamond: Before I learned about trigger, I was never that intrigued by grilling. I had only ever been around charcoal grills and gas grills, with those annoying propane tanks you have to return. I just wasn't that into it. But with a trigger, you get signature wood-fired flavor and more heat control, so you can do some high quality cooking. If the aesthetics of your backyard are important to you, these are some seriously beautiful pieces of equipment. So when it comes to your next grilling adventure, try it on a Traeger. Visit traegergrills.com to learn more.
Kerry Diamond: I need to ask you about what I think is kind of gross term, to say out loud, but cellular meat or lab meat.
Amanda Little: Yes. I tasted-
Kerry Diamond: And fried Frankenstein.
Amanda Little: Yes I did. I went to the Memphis meats laboratories in Berkeley, California. They are one of the leading brands and cultured meats. Cell-based meats is another name for it. Lab meats is another name for it, and I had a little lump of freshly harvested duck breast, that had been grown in a bioreactor, which is basically a sophisticated Crock-Pot, with some fluids in it that support cell growth. It's actually a fairly natural process believe it or not, even though it sounds so crazy and kooky, and the cells come from a biopsy. They can come from a live animal or a dead animal.
Kerry Diamond: How did it taste?
Amanda Little: Decent duck. It was a little chewy, chewier than I remember the duck that I've had, but it ... I had to put my jaw onto it a little bit, but it tasted a lot more like meat than any of the meat alternatives I'd ever tasted.
Kerry Diamond: How far away are we from cellular meat hitting supermarkets?
Amanda Little: So they're anywhere between two and 10 years is the range that you hear in. By the way, Memphis meats is one of dozens of other startups, in mostly in the U.S. and Israel. Israel is working very quickly and on this same area of focus. The idea is this, the argument from the producers is this, and the way a lot of investment is going in, from conventional meats, meat industry and also from people like Bill Gates and Richard Branson and the Silicon Valley tech folks who want to see low carbon meat become a reality.
Amanda Little: The argument is when we raise cattle or even chickens or whatever, usually less than about half of that animal is edible. The rest of it is used for other much lower value products or is just thrown out, it's waste basically. But you're putting so much energy, and so much water and so many resources and so much crops into growing the whole rest of the animal. The brain, the far, the hooves, the bones and all the sentients associated with that animal. So, you think about, it's like, if you can just grow the meat without the animal, why not do that? It's much better from a humanitarian standpoint, it's much better from a resources standpoint, you save a huge amount in terms of carbon emissions, and you can also control how much saturated fat is in this product.
Amanda Little: This company was actually developed by Uma Valeti who, an Indian born cardiologist, who moved to the U.S. for Med school, and was really concerned about how meat eating was affecting cardiovascular disease. Then he was working with cultured tissues for heart repair. And he thought like, "Hey, if we can grow. Because we've been growing cultured tissues for medical reasons for long time. If you can do this to grow a part of a human heart or why not do it to grow animal meats that we eat." Then since then the whole thing has exploded and there's all this research going into it.
Amanda Little: But the point is there's also a food safety benefit because you're not harvesting the meat in a slaughterhouse where it gets mixed in with feces and other bacteria and then causes all these food safety problems.
Kerry Diamond: We don't have time to talk about this, but the whole UTI situation that's going on right now where you can't treat some of these UTIs with antibiotics anymore and they're tracing it to our food system.
Amanda Little: Exactly. So, if you think-
Kerry Diamond: And that directly affects young women.
Amanda Little: It does. And there's so much from the standpoint of both bacterial contamination and antibiotic use, and they'd be an industry to say nothing of the actual slaughterhouse process and what happens and the question of what we do with sentient beings, there's so much that's more disturbing about that. Then eating the duck meat that I ate in a laboratory, that I actually came out of it going like, “If this thing can work, if we can bring down the cost of it, if they can improve some of the textures and so on, it is identical at the cellular level to the meat we consume. There is nothing from a human health standpoint that's going, oh my gosh, you're eating some radioactive thing.” It's exactly the same cellular product. It's just produced without all the environmental and ethical baggage.
Amanda Little: And so, why wouldn't I do that? Why wouldn't I feed this to my kids? Obviously I did not grow feathers and start quacking after I ate this stuff. It was fine. My body knew how to adjust it, just, it is a concept that's hard for us to accept. But when you start looking at the context around us and the major shifts that we're going through as a planet and as a country, these are the things that we need to start talking about in real terms.
Amanda Little: The same goes for AI in robotics. I looked at how we're using robotics to improve precision agriculture to get chemicals out of the food system. I looked at vertical farming and when it's appropriate to be growing food indoors, what that does to the flavors and textures of our fruits and vegetables, and there's real promise there too. Again-
Kerry Diamond: Well, I hope it's clear to everybody that you need to read this damn book. I know we have limited time with you, Amanda. One of the things you and I talked about for is most of the people interviewed in your book are men.
Amanda Little: Yes, they are.
Kerry Diamond: And that there are not a lot of women working in this space. Why do you think that is?
Amanda Little: That was one of the most frustrating things for me about reporting this book, and why when I first saw Cherry Bombe, I just lit up hugely. My amygdala was firing, I was like, “Women and food. Oh my gosh, I love this.” Because in the world of science and tech, we know that the overwhelmingly it's dominated by a lot of male engineers and executives and software programmers and so on. And that's changing and that's wonderful. But for the moment, most of the scientists and agronomists and farmers and engineers that I interviewed were men.
Amanda Little: I actually found myself trying to at some point, create chapters because I found a really interesting female character and I really wanted to tell her story, but it didn't really fit into the bigger picture and it was skewing what I was after, which is what are really viable solutions that draw from food traditions and that also draw from the most promising technologies. And basically I ended up with probably three or four out of 13 of my central characters and their stories were women, and it felt to me like a real failure, that I couldn't find better leadership and pioneering characters in these different fields.
Amanda Little: I looked at aquaculture, I looked at food and vegetable production. I know that there are many women farmers and practitioners in the food space who are women and that the growing force, there's a growing leadership force among women. But in the areas that I was looking at, it was hard to find those characters who I could focus on. And so, again like AI robotics or ... I really did, day after day feel like I am a failure as a journalist that I cannot find these, central figures-
Kerry Diamond: Well, we are not calling you a failure. You're being hard on yourself. It's amazing that wrote this book.
Amanda Little: But Kerry, I'm saying this because I know you and I have discussed this, because I felt like I can't find these figures and therefore it's some shortfall in my reporting. Well, the reality is that it's a shortfall in this broader culture, and these industries that are now remaking food and remaking agriculture. And so there is a major shift happening. A lot of these new companies and new growers and new food practitioners, are increasingly young women coming into the space and that's so exciting to me to see that. So, I think that what I was observing was just a reality that now needs to change. It wasn't that like I wasn't able to find the people such that they didn't yet exist.
Amanda Little: And so, I really encourage you, I tell my daughter who's 10 all the time like, “There is such an opportunity to participate in this new generation of female leadership, whether it's in food production, engineering, technology, agriculture, storytelling, and highlighting the important role of women in building these networks of sustainable food production. Whether it's at the grassroots level, small farms or whether it's at the tech and science focused levels, there's so much opportunity there.”
Kerry Diamond: It's a revolution and we're all part of it. Then if you're listening, you're part of it too. All right. I have one more question for you before we get to the speed round, if the United nations named you foodzara, what's the first thing you would do?
Amanda Little: Well, first of all, this is the single most important thing we can do to protect our food future and food security is serious climate legislation, both in this country and internationally, and really respect international climate agreements, adhere to them, elevate them and strengthen them, improve the targets. We're making some headway obviously, we've done a lot of backsliding in the United States. But figuring out how to manage, how to mitigate and how to adapt to climate change is crucial and essential to our food future.
Amanda Little: In the U.S., we need to identify and actually globally, but in the U.S. we have a really important opportunity to identify unused or poorly used agricultural lands, and to reforest them and to bring back carbon absorbing forests to agricultural areas that have been cleared, and could be carbon sinks. We need to incentivize farmers to create carbon storage on their farms and there are lots of different ways to do that. In the soil in cover crops and grassland crops, but farmers need to be encouraged and rewarded for becoming a part of carbon storage and mitigating that.
Amanda Little: There are practices like no till farming that need to be again, supported and incentivized. We need to really explore, oh gosh, water efficiency on farms and get really serious about Smart Water Networks and reusing and recycling water that goes to farms, and being extremely precise about how we use water in farming and inputs like fertilizers. Last thing is fertilizer management. So important to decrease the amount of fertilizer that we're using because unused fertilizer, the excess fertilizer, not only wastes all the energy and chemicals that go into it, it evaporates or atomizes into the air and becomes nitrous oxide, which is the most potent greenhouse gas.
Kerry Diamond: Oh wow. I didn't even know that.
Amanda Little: So, fertilizer management is a crucial part of this. All these things can be done. And the technologies are out there. So I want to leave us on this note that, there is amazing promise and progress that's going on, both in restoring and elevating traditional farming practices, using technologies that can support and elevate those. There's a binary discussion right now in the food world. Either it's time to, as the technologists say, to reinvent food, to throw technology, the problem ... and the other side is I want to de-invent food. Thank you very much. I want you to take your technology out of my food. I want to go back to preindustrial farming. Neither one of those on its own is going to work.
Amanda Little: We have to find ways to think about this in a more dynamic and rational way. We need to draw from the best practices, the best new technology solutions, but use them only to support and elevate principles of sustainable agriculture. By doing so, I think we can also heal and repair a lot of the existing problems with industrial agriculture.
Amanda Little: So, the book will get into that in much more detail. I don't know that I've given listeners a sense of what really the opportunities are here. But there is this great common ground between sustainable and traditional food practices and really great innovation that I think can do this amazing thing, which is restore and repair the existing food systems and prepare for the pressures ahead.
Kerry Diamond: Well, the fact that you are optimistic, I think bodes well for all of us because I don't know anyone who knows more about the subject than you. All right. We're going to take it down a notch, and we are going to do a speed round.
Amanda Little: All right.
Kerry Diamond: Okay. First question we'd love to ask, coffee or tea.
Amanda Little: Coffee. I love tea too. I just love all caffeinated drinks.
Kerry Diamond: I need to note that Amanda is our first guest to bring two reusable vessels-
Amanda Little: I have.
Kerry Diamond: ... one for her coffee and one for her water. We don't have an award for that, but we might have to start one because, if you're a regular listener I love nothing more than a reusable coffee cup. Song that makes you smile.
Amanda Little: Buck by Nina Simone. I love that song.
Kerry Diamond: Favorite kitchen tool or implement.
Amanda Little: It must be the Vitamix. I'm sorry. I know that's so predictable but I really do take a lot of pleasure from my very powerful blender.
Kerry Diamond: I love the smoothie. One of your most treasured cookbooks.
Amanda Little: The Joy of Cooking. I recently, if you go to my Instagram, which is @amandalittletrip, you'll see I posted this cover of the book that I had a friend, this graphic designer friend create that was based on the joy of cooking, and it was The Fate of Food, nice four-word title. Then it says the all purpose guy defeating humanity. But it was cookbook that had been passed down from to my mother. My mom did a lot of pretty standard American fair cooking, but it's that she was very-
Kerry Diamond: So, it's your mom's copy?
Amanda Little: Yeah, it's actually my grandmother's copy I believe. And my daughter now flip through it and just randomly make baked goods out of it and she's really into baking. So yeah, it feels like something that connects me to the previous generations.
Kerry Diamond: Now I'm dying to hear this answer, but something you would never eat.
Amanda Little: I can't do veal. I eat, will eat almost anything, I have eaten crickets, I think I've eaten testicles, I think I've eaten brain, I've eaten lots of organ meats. I've eaten boiled grass, I've eaten snake, I've eaten so much. I'm really actually someone who, there's almost no food I don't like, but the veal and the processes behind veal, I just can't do it.
Kerry Diamond: Okay, good to know. Since we know you consider meat a condiment, I don't know what answer you're going to give us for this, but what is the oldest thing in your fridge?
Amanda Little: Actually interesting, because I would say a mango chutney. I love a chutney, I love all kinds of chutneys, but I tend to stick with those really don't go bad, I find.
Kerry Diamond: If you had to be trapped on a desert Island with one food celebrity, who would it be?
Amanda Little: Anthony Bourdain. Oh my gosh, never a dull moment. If I was trapped, I can't imagine the conversations we would have. Probably it would get acrimonious, but I prefer a good fight to boredom.
Kerry Diamond: I would want to be a fly on that Caribbean Island wall. Anyway, Amanda Little, I love you and your big brain. Thank you.
Amanda Little: Than you, I love you and your big brain. Thank you. I'm so grateful to be here and be pulled into the Cherry Bombe Jubilee love. It's so good.
Kerry Diamond: Well, thank you so much. It's a remarkable book. If you don't know about or you haven't read it, you've got to get it, The Fate of Food: What We'll Eat in a Bigger, Hotter, Smarter World. That's it for today's show. Thank you so much to Amanda for speaking with me. Her book, The Fate of Food, is out now and it's truly a must read for those of you who care about food and climate change, and that is pretty much everybody in the Bombesquad. Thank you to today's sponsors, Traeger Wood Fired Grills and Le Cordon Bleu culinary schools.
Kerry Diamond: Don't forget, we'd love if you could support, the hunger doesn't take a break initiative from the Food Bank for New York City. Visit foodbanknyc.org for more. Radio Cherry Bombe is a production of Cherry Bombe media. Our show is edited, engineered, and produced by Jess Zeidman. Thanks Jess. Cherry Bombe is powered by Lauren Goldstein, Audrey Payne, Maria Sanchez, Kia Damon, Donna Yen and our publisher Kate Miller Spencer. Our theme song is All fired up by the band Chiwawa. For those of you coming to our Asheville event, I will see you this weekend. Thanks for listening everybody. You're the bombe.
When Harry Met Sally Clip: I'll have what she's having.
Amy Brandwein: Hi, my name is Amy Brandwein and I am the chef and owner of Picolina and Centrolina in Washington, DC. Who I think is the bombe, Jody Williams and Rita Sodi of Via Carota, is my absolute favorite place to eat besides my own restaurant, and I love their approach to Italian. It's super delicious, approachable, and always innovative.