It's a first of its kind in the District: an event where farmers, ranchers, restaurant managers and a Hollywood filmmaker hooked up to talk all-natural foods in the city marketplace. "State of the Plate D.C.," held Monday at George Washington University, was sponsored by the organization Animal Welfare Approved. Headlining the event was Robert Kenner, director of the Oscar-nominated documentary, Food Inc.
"I'm not a food expert, but I think it's really important what's going on," said Kenner. "We need changes in our food system."
He was trying to convince the group gathered there, which included businessmen and people in the D.C. food industry, to work together on an issue that many in the room are already concerned with. A small, but growing, number of consumers are asking for grass-fed, hormone-free meat at area restaurants.
This type of food is more expensive, says Kenner, but it's worth it in the long run. To drive home his point, he recalls his experience visiting a commercial chicken farm near the Chesapeake Bay while filming Food, Inc.
"It just smelled terrible. I was having to step over dead chickens," Kenner recalls. "Their bodies grew so quickly -- which makes for cheap chicken -- but many of these chickens couldn't sort of support their weight on their legs," recalls Kenner.
Since his visit some four years ago, Kenner says, the farmer has left the commercial farming business and is now raising free-range hens. But that is just one operation, with many more that need work, he adds. "I saw it as I traveled around the country," he says. "I saw the waste that was associated with this system that we have; with the environmental damage."
By contrast, Alec Bradford of Leaping Waters Farm in Virginia outlines his farm's sustainable practices. "We raise heritage breed animals on pasture and grass," says Bradford, who was among about a dozen or so sustainable meat farmers at the conference. "We grass feed these animals until they become the weight that we desire for slaughter."
He sells meat to about six high-end restaurants in D.C., but says it's harder to reach individual consumers. If people want to find farmers like him, they need to do their research, he says.
"So, people going to websites, actually seeking out producers hopefully close to where you live," says Bradford. "Lots of us have buying clubs or groups of people where you can come and buy in a larger group, reducing the price of the meat."
The conference wrapped up with a tasting of grass-fed and natural meat.