Celebrity chef Cat Cora talks in Durham about future of food

jblack@newsobserver.comJune 12, 2014 

  • If you go

    What: “Farmland” premiere

    Where: Carolina Theatre, 309 W. Morgan St., Durham

    When: Reception at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, movie screening at 6:30 p.m.

    Tickets: $5, with all proceeds being donated to the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina.

CLARIFICATION: Some previous versions of this article stated Cat Cora would attend the North Carolina premiere screening of the documentary "Farmland," which is no longer true. Change made on Thursday, June 12, 2014.

DURHAM -- As the world’s population and the demands of the food industry continuously rise, celebrity chef Cat Cora is in Durham this week talking about the future of food and agriculture.

Cora – a restauranteur and the first female “Iron Chef” on the popular TV show – took part in the BASF Ag Media Summit panel discussion in Durham on Wednesday and is sharing details about the documentary "Farmland."

One of the biggest debates in the food industry is over the practices of small, locally owned farms versus large farms such as Smithfield Foods. Cora compared it to a David-and-Goliath situation.

“It’s a tricky area. We need to bridge the gap between those two in a way that is a happy medium for everyone,” she said. “I don’t have the solution for that, but I think that’s what everyone is working toward. The supply needs to fit the demand.’

Dialogue about the various types of farming has surged in the past few years among the general public.

“We’ve created savvy consumers who want their basic needs and want to buy luxury items – quality over quantity consumers,” she said. “We need to find a balance between niche products and commodities, because both are needed to feed the world. The beauty is farmers are starting to blend those two things.”

Some of the recent surge in more knowledgeable consumers can be attributed to networks such as the Food Network, which had a nightly average of 1.1 million viewers in 2012.

Cora owns multiple restaurants across the nation. She said they are currently buying about 60 percent of their food locally, but that amount is continuously growing.

“As a chef, mom and consumer, I’m making sure on a social, environmental and economic level that I’m doing everything I can to support sustainability,” she said. “I’m a big proponent of genetic labeling. We need to have complete transparency.”

Cora grew up in Jackson, Miss. Though her family didn’t own a farm, farmers in the area were in abundance.

“My family had a lot of small farmers around us taking care of livestock, harvesting crops and even raising small gardens,” she said. “Seeing who had very little and who had a lot, it goes back to the fact we all have to come to the middle. Extremes create an imbalance, and that’s not sustainable.”

‘Farmland’ screening

“Farmland,” which follows six young farmers and ranchers running their own agricultural businesses, will be shown at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Carolina Theatre in Durham.

“There are not enough of these documentaries that really highlight what it takes to be a small farmer in America,” Cora said. “If you had asked me five years ago about small local farmers I would have been fearful. Today, there is so much social awareness. Small farmers have gained so much momentum, and there is a place for everybody.”

More conscious

Larger farms also are becoming more aware and conscious, according to Cora.

“Because some farmers have become so conscious, it has become a ripple effect,” she said. “All it takes is one beacon to get everyone else on board.”

Bo Stone, one of the owners of the 2,300-acre P & M farm in Rowland, participated in the panel Wednesday.

“It’s our responsibility as farmers to tell consumers what we are doing,” he said. “The biggest challenge is keeping up with the global demand and listening to what kind of product and information the consumers want.”

Black: 919-829-4835

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