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An Interview with Erik Wolf of FoodWorx

We asked FoodWorx founder Erik Wolf to share some insights about the upcoming conference on February 4. Slow Food Portland is helping promote this event that brings together a diverse array of speakers tackling the food questions of the day. Slow Food members receive 10% off ticket and exhibitor prices (see our event page). Erik is executive director of World Food Travel Association that puts on this non-profit event.

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To distill it down to one thing, I would say,
is the opportunity that food represents to bring people together.

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SF: This the second FoodWorx conference, correct? Can you share some insights about the last event and how it might differ from the one coming up? Has the topic of food changed since last year?

EW: That’s right, this is our second year. Well, the topic of food hasn’t changed, but FoodWorx itself is more focused. First-year events need to happen so planners can see what works and what doesn’t. This year we embraced the four branches of topics: Health, Environment, Society and Economics. So whereas last year we had a variety of great subjects, this year, we’ve focused the topics into these categories. It’s easier for people to grasp what FoodWorx is all about.

SFWhat excites you most about this event? Any new approaches or types of speakers?

EW: Where to begin—and where to end? I’m really excited about all of our speakers this year. I’m particularly looking forward to hearing the Royal Blues from Grant High School, who will be singing a variety of food songs. That entertainment segment is new for us, but the rest of FoodWorx is TED-style talks. We will also continue to close the day with the Cascadian Cuisine reception, which was wildly popular last year.

 SFYour topic groupings—society, health, environment, economics—really help frame the vast issue of food. Do you think this will give people a new way to think and talk about the subject?

EW: You’ve grasped onto what we were hoping, that’s great! Our hope is to get people thinking about food issues in new ways, and to understand how food intersects every aspect of our life today. We ask how much do you care about your food? And how much do you know about your food? That includes everyone—consumers, trade, media, students—everyone.

SFYou asked Slow Food to be a partner. What does that connection mean to you?

EW: Slow Food is important to us because it attracts a more concerned kind of consumer. I’ve been a Slow Food member for many years and I know that fellow Slow Food members would want to know about an event like FoodWorx, and more importantly, to act on the information they learn there.

SF: You have a great lineup of speakers that really spans the spectrum. Your organization promotes culture through food and travel. But you are also trying to address social issues. Can you talk about how you put together this list of speakers?

EW: Our parent organization, the World Food Travel Association, has historically been a little more aligned with the travel and hospitality industry. Yet “food travel” inherently spans another industry, namely food and drink. FoodWorx ties the two industries together a bit more. Food is something that affects everyone on the planet. It is part of all cultures. Food also permeates every aspect of our lives. Our list of speakers represents how food touches every aspect of our lives, and every industry.

SFTell us a little about who attends FoodWorx. Would people mildly curious about food find a lot to chew on (sorry)? Or is it more geared towards industry professionals?

EW: I said above that the event is for everyone—consumers, trade, media, students—everyone who cares about their food. Sure, there are some people who don’t care much about what they consume, and they probably wouldn’t be interested in FoodWorx. The process to initiate change has to start somewhere. The more people that hear about these issues and talk about them, the more people they can influence in turn.

SF: What are your personal thoughts about food? A huge topic, I know, but what concerns you the most? What delights you the most?

EW: I just love food, everything about it. To distill it down to one thing, I would say, is the opportunity that food represents to bring people together. I always say that restaurants should serve a memory and not a meal—regardless of the pricepoint or type of restaurant. Sharing food with people you love, or care about, or are interested in is probably one of the oldest behaviors on the planet. It’s human—it’s who we are. We have a chapter in our upcoming Have Fork Will Travel book about Food and Communication, and how food can foster cross-cultural understanding. It’s a fascinating story.

SF: How does your global perspective of food inform your thinking? What do you think we, as Americans, might be missing?

EW: We have a lot to learn from other cultures, just as they have things to learn from us. Unfortunately, more elements of the American culture are exported to more people than we import form other cultures. In other words, the American cultural influence is dominant on the planet.

To sum up what we might be missing makes me think of a trip late last year to Ecuador, where we’re thinking about holding a future World Food Travel Summit. There, food is homemade and handmade—everywhere in the country. It’s pure and honest food. Foodservice delivery is less formalized and the personal touch, the attention to detail are still there. Or watching a family in Singapore share a meal together at a hawker stand. There is something so nice about seeing people in other cultures slow down a bit more to enjoy their food. But I’m speaking to a group who already knows a lot about Slow!

 

Learn more about the sessions and speakers or register for the conference. Remember, Slow Food members receive 10% off. Just use the code: SLOPDX2014. Early bird registration ends January 24.

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Jane Pellicciotto is a Slow Food Portland steering committee member. She designs brand and communication tools for positive-change enterprises, as well as jewelry. She heard somewhere that chopping vegetables releases endorphins, so she keeps chopping.

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