SHIFT-ing perspectives

By on October 8, 2014

Locals and visitors enjoy a spread of locally sourced food at the hands of valley chefs during the 2013 inaugural Shift Festival.

Sustainability the focus of expansive environmental festival

Each year as the valley swells with more residents and visitors, increasing demands are placed on the environment. To preserve what lured many of us here in the first place, conservation and sustainability efforts will have to be nudged to the forefront. After all, the caliber ofJackson Hole’s natural environment directly impacts our prosperity and pocketbooks.

It is this understanding that catalyzed the Shift Festival.

Christian Beckwith, Shift Festival director, explained how the valley’s conservation legacy presents a suitable launch pad for Shift: “Conservation lies at the core of Jackson Hole’s environment, economy and character. Over the past 140 years, the region has been the epicenter of some of North America’s seminal conservation efforts, including the formation of Yellowstone, the world’s first national park, the drafting of the Wilderness Act, and the expansion of Grand Teton National Park to its current boundaries.”

An amalgamation of food, drinks, culture, nature, film and dialogue, the festival, which saw a successful test run last year, is comprised of events occurring throughout Jackson Hole that will unite agents of eco-change, some from GEM communities: mountaineers, chefs, authors, educators, activists and visionaries who are elevating awareness about sustainability and focusing on novel ways to foster conservation efforts.

What is a GEM community?

“Throughout North America, some of our most beautiful and well-known communities – places like Bar Harbor, Moab, Sayulita and Hanalei – enjoy a similar relationship between economy, character and natural capital [to Jackson Hole],” Beckwith explained. “We call such communities Gateways to Environments of Major Significance. Each of these GEMS shares a fundamental reality: over the long term, they can be no healthier than the environments in which they reside.”

Beckwith noted that GEMS also have the unique opportunity to influence the behavior of their many visitors.
Delivering the keynote address Wednesday to open Shift is Auden Schendler, vice president of sustainability at Aspen Skiing Company. Schendler’s book, Getting Green Done: Hard Truths from the Front Lines of the Sustainability Revolution, garnered praise from NASA climatologist James Hansen, who declared the work “an antidote to greenwash.” Lauded as a global warming innovator by Time Magazine, Schendler also is the chair of the board of directors for Protect Our Winters (POW).

 Justine Wysong delivers lettuce wraps during the 2013 inaugural Shift Festival.

Justine Wysong delivers lettuce wraps during the 2013 inaugural Shift Festival.

FoodShift, what Beckwith described as a standalone-festival-within-a-festival connecting people with our local food system, encompasses culinary events and workshops for five days and nights. “To the best of our knowledge, FoodShift will be the first sustainable food festival in North America,” Beckwith said, noting why an emphasis on local foods weighs heavily here: “Jackson Hole receives more than three million visitors per year, and approximately 96 percent of the food consumed in Jackson is imported. The ‘food miles’ associated with importing these goods are detrimental to our community. In addition to the impacts to traffic, congestion, and road kill, fossil fuels are burned, carbon dioxide is emitted, and our transportation infrastructure is stressed. Imported food has an impact on health as well because it is more likely to be industrially processed—the type of food that has been linked to the epidemic of obesity, diabetes and heart disease in our country.”

A highlight of FoodShift, The People’s Banquet, happens Friday at Center for the Arts, when attendees will enjoy a cornucopia of local food from decorated valley chefs and a presentation by pioneering food activist, professor, and author Dr. Marion Nestle. Nestle penned the seminal book Food Politics, among others, and has dedicated her career to exposing the politics entwined in our food system and advocating healthy living. She and her colleagues spearheaded the first food studies programs at New York University.

Other fest highlights include the Shift Summit, Wednesday to Friday, honoring leaders of GEM communities who have dreamed up unique ways to bolster the environmental health of their neighborhoods and will be recipients of the 2014 Shift Sustainability Awards. “The awards recognize the most effective, innovative sustainability initiatives currently under way in North American GEMS,” Beckwith said.

Through a flurry of panels and interactive events, three elements of conservation will be under the microscope during the Shift Summit: nature, culture and adventure.

The roster of Shift Festival speakers also includes renowned nature writer and winner of the National Book Award, Barry Lopez, who speaks on Sunday at National Museum of Wildlife Art. Acclaimed snowboard mountaineer and Protect Our Winters founder Jeremy Jones makes an appearance at Center for the Arts on Saturday during the screening of his new Teton Gravity Research film, Higher.
To become better acquainted with a few of the guest speakers, Planet Jackson Hole Weekly tracked down Nestle, Schendler and Jones.
For a full schedule of events and information on tickets, visit

100814shift.marionDr. Marion Nestle

Planet Jackson Hole: What did you learn while working as a nutrition policy advisor for the Department of Health and Human Services?

Dr. Marion Nestle: I learned things working for the government – during the Reagan administration no less – that I didn’t even know I didn’t know. Working there was all I needed to know that I belonged at a university where I can freely say what I think and not get into trouble over partisan comments. In Washington, it really matters whether you are a Republican or a Democrat. Jobs depend on political affiliation, regardless of qualifications or competence. I learned more than I thought possible about how the political system really works and how to find people who can accomplish what needs to be done. I consider the experience invaluable.

PJH: For your final column for the San Francisco Chronicle in December 2013 you pointed out the need for “the creation of a stronger and more compassionate safety net for the poor and unemployed.” Are you referring to how prohibitively expensive it is for low-income people to buy organic, healthful food?

Nestle: When poor people say that healthy foods are too expensive, they are right. The relative cost of fruits and vegetables has increased enormously since the early 1980s in comparison to that for junk foods and drinks. This is a matter of policies that make the cost of junk foods low. We don’t subsidize fruits and vegetables – the USDA considers them specialty crops unworthy of taxpayer support.

PJH: Even when consumers buy organic often times they’re supporting food giants that are lobbying against labeling GMOs, for example. General Mills just bought Annie’s Mac and Cheese and Kellogg’s owns Kashi. What do people need to know about buying corporate organic brands?

Nestle: If a product is labeled ‘USDA Organic,’ it must meet the USDA’s organic standards and undergo inspection to make sure it does. The same rules apply to all food companies whether they are big and small. At issue is how good the organic standards are. The big companies have more political power to press for weakening the standards to make it easier to use potentially harmful pesticides and herbicides or cut corners on production practices. That’s the big worry.

PJH: Let’s talk sugar and the FDA’s proposal to include “added sugars” on nutrition labels. One expert likened this to when trans fat was added to nutrition labels. Now, consumers see markedly less trans fat in their food. How important could this labeling be?

Nestle: Very, and for exactly that reason. That’s why food companies are so dug in on opposing the proposal. People would be shocked if they knew how much sugar is added to foods and drinks. Labeling will be a big incentive to food product makers to reduce the amounts.

PJH: Tell me about the food studies program at NYU. How many other schools have modeled curriculum after what you and your colleagues spearheaded there? And what are some of the most popular classes in the program?

Nestle: Hard as it is to imagine now, we started our food studies programs (undergrad, master’s, and doctorate) in 1996. At the time, Boston University had a continuing education master’s in gastronomy and Penn had a doctoral specialization in food anthropology. Now, every college and university that I’ve visited in the past few years has food programs, student food clubs, farm to cafeteria programs, and organic gardens. The growth of these programs happened so fast that I can’t keep up with them. This is the most amazing development, and I’m totally thrilled by it. Our students take classes in contemporary issues, food and culture, and food systems. I’m teaching a master’s class in food policy and politics this semester to 90 students.

PJH: What is encouraging about the current state of the food industry?

Nestle: Food companies are at last recognizing that they have some responsibility for the health of their customers, and that if they make a profit at the expense of health they will have to answer for it. This is a huge step forward and holds much hope for creating a healthier food system, one in which the healthy choice is the easy choice.

Dr. Marion Nestle speaks 6 p.m., Friday at The People’s Banquet at Center for the Arts. The talk is free and tickets are available in St. John’s Medical Center Wellness Department.

100814shift.audenAuden Schendler

Planet Jackson Hole: I recently read something you wrote in Outside Magazine that struck a chord:
“We’re going to have to give up some of the craziness of the last half century: the growth, the doing way better than our parents (by faulty metrics), the me, the now, the constant movement, impatience, time poverty.”Can you elaborate on how some of these things have taken us away from understanding our natural world?

Auden Schendler: I think we’ve lost ourselves in the modern world. I think we’ve turned inward, to a large extent, in America, spurred along by the pathological narcissism of social media and our incredible ambition. We’ve lost some of the collective values – the core religious values – that ask for an outward view of the world. And I think the frenetic pace of our lives means we’re not able to grok the miracle of just being alive on a beautiful planet and what obligations follow. I think the natural world can provide that needed perspective, even in the most understated ways – the sky in October in Wyoming, for example. A short walk in a park when it’s 60 degrees out. So that’s partly why I work at a ski area. It’s not enough to be a policy wonk, you need to offer up the natural world to people in a way that it can reach them.

PJH: You’ve been at Aspen Skiing Company for 15 years. Did your title there exist before you arrived?

Schendler: I was the second guy hired in the Environmental Affairs department at Aspen Skiing Company. There was no such position, or department, in the ski industry before this.

PJH: What are some accomplishments of ASC that you’re most proud of?

Schendler: Our vision is that we want to use the snow sports industry to seed a social movement on climate change, and we want to use Aspen’s biggest leverage on this issue, not do what people think we ought to be doing. So, while we have done enormous amounts of lighting retrofits (we’ve changed every bulb in the company), boiler retrofits, green building (we’ve built 5 LEED buildings, most of them Gold or higher) snowmaking efficiency and clean energy development, that’s just bidniss. We’re most interested in how to lever big change at scale. Some of those projects include our work with Protect Our Winters to mobilize the winter sports community as climate activists, in D.C. and at the state level. Another is a three-megawatt coal mine methane to electricity project that creates as much clean power as our resort uses while destroying three times our carbon footprint annually. And another would be our support, in 2007, in the Supreme Court, of a lawsuit called Mass. V. EPA, which is now the basis of U.S. climate policy. Nobody told us this would be the most important and meaningful work we should be doing, but it is, by far, and we’re always looking for other big levers.

PJH: Give me some examples of POW’s biggest achievements.

Schendler: POW fundamentally practices asymmetric warfare. We use our shoestring budget to do cheap things that have huge impact. One example: we commissioned a study of the economic impacts of low snow years, what we’d expect to see in a warming world. That cost us $5,000. We partnered with NRDC to release it. It got 350 hits internationally, including every single major media outlet. It was tens of millions of dollars in press for climate action. Another example: we’re teamed up with Teton Gravity Research for a series of national premieres of the beautiful, and poignant film Higher (screening in Jackson on Saturday). And at the beginning of the film, we screen a public service announcement about POW and climate, and we have Jeremy Jones, the subject of the film, speak. We’re reaching tens of thousands of incredibly passionate people on climate. These people are the seeds of a major social movement on climate. And they are the perfect people to lead the charge.

PJH: How is California’s drought affecting the rest of the country?

Schendler: A recent Bloomberg article argues that the CA drought is going to have profound impacts on the global food market, from the price of milk in China to where we get our cherries. This is based on this idea that the state will have to move away from commodity crops and towards high-profit crops to wring more profit from the water they use. But the bigger way California is affecting the rest of the country and the world is that they are becoming a warning and a case study on the impacts of climate change.

PJH: People are still breaking the law to water their lawns there. Is it going to take folks waking up to dry faucets before their behavior changes?

Schendler: It’s important to realize that we don’t need everyone to get this to solve the problem. Look, I just read a poll that showed 42 percent of Americans don’t believe in evolution. But we’ve still somehow managed to progress in medical science and put a man on the moon, even though many of those same people think we didn’t do that. The reality of history is that there will always be people on the wrong side of history, but they get left behind, they are irrelevant. We are on the cusp of having critical mass here on climate. Think about it: for all the denial and silliness in the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page and on Fox News, we now have strong national climate policy. We have cap and trade in California, Oregon and Washington. We have the auto industry on board for extremely aggressive efficiency standards. And we have a street movement that brought 400,000 people to the streets of New York. If you don’t agree that climate is a problem and that we need to act, that’s not going to stop the march of history. There were people who didn’t think we should free the slaves, too.

PJH: What is the most discouraging news about climate change?

Schendler: Most reports by really staid, third party groups like Pricewaterhousecoopers, the World Bank, and the International Energy Agency say it’s going to be really hard, perhaps not possible, to keep the planet from warming less than 2 degrees Celsius over preindustrial times. That’s considered the threshold between “manageable” warming and catastrophic warming. That means we’re in for some serious impacts – like sea level rise, droughts, fires, big storms, big floods, crop failures – even if we do eventually solve this problem. So the best scenario is that we solve this thing, but because we’ve been so slow to act, we’re going to suffer some consequences over the next several hundred years.

PJH: What’s encouraging?

Schendler: The price of renewables, particularly wind and solar, has been consistently plummeting over the last 20 years, to the point now that in many cases, new wind is cheaper than coal or gas, and solar is just about there in some states. A new study showed that renewables like wind and solar now produce 22 percent of the world’s electricity, and will likely rise to 26 percent by 2020. And of the new energy installed in major OECD nations, 80 percent of that was renewable versus fossil. In the U.S. the EPA rules on coal plants will achieve 70 percent of what a comprehensive climate bill would have, and they are moving forward. China is starting to cap carbon emissions, is crushing deployment of renewables, and is cutting back on coal plants. Most importantly, a global social movement on climate seems to be taking root and exploding, as the New York Climate Change March showed.

Auden Schendler delivers his talk, ‘Great fear, great hope: Meaningful action in a climate change world,’ 7 p.m., Wednesday at the Center for the Arts. The event is free.



About Robyn Vincent

Robyn is the editor of Planet Jackson Hole and Jackson Hole Snowboarder Magazine. When she's not sweating deadlines, she likes to travel the world with her notebook and camera in hand. Follow her on Twitter @TheNomadicHeart

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