That was the question on everyone’s mind as we waited for nearly the end of this year’s Sustainable Food Institute put on by Monterey Bay Aquarium.

When the hour arrived, Isabella Rossellini, dressed in a suit with tennis shoes, and Susan Young, President of the Television Critics Association (who conducted the interview) took their seats. After some introductory conversation, and a quip about whether or not Rossellini would be back to 30 Rock as Jack Donaghy’s ex-wife, we got to the meat of the conversation.

It turns out that Rossellini is fascinated by animals. Her critically acclaimed and provocative online series, GREEN PORNO, features Rossellini as she acts out the reproductive habits of marine animals and insects, both scientifically accurate yet extremely entertaining. A few in particular, GREEN PORNO Bon Appetit, are devoted to seafood sustainability. Here’s a hilarious one on shrimp.

The conference was not all levity though. Over the two days we heard from experts about the value of eco-labels (ultimately the goal is to be sure that meaningless claims do not exist), what’s new from Seafood Watch (there is way more detailed info on their website for chefs than on the wallet cards, which are just a snapshot), and about Ted Turner’s frustration that so much money is going to fund the wars and not a sustainable food system (his talk was funny but he made many serious points), and many more important topics.

I’d like to share two of the major takeaways for me:

“Workers rights should be integral to sustainability,” was the main point made by Raj Patel, author of Stuffed and Starved, during an interview conducted by Barry Estabrook, of Politics of the Plate. (Estabrook also makes the case for workers rights in his James Beard award winning article, The Price of Tomatoes, which appeared in Gourmet in 2010, and in his book, Tomatoland.) It’s not sustainable if workers who are harvesting our food are not getting paid a livable wage, are being exploited, and are exposed to harmful pesticides.

“Taxpayers are spending on things [in the Farm Bill] that don’t benefit the public,” said Susan Prolman, executive director of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. Thomas Dobbs, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Economics at South Dakota University, who spoke about the farm bill more clearly than I’ve ever heard, said: “The media needs to focus on bio fuels…it’s the elephant in the room.” “If everyone ate the USDA recommended amount of fruits and vegetables, we’re not growing enough,” said one of the speakers in perhaps one of the most telling comments.

—The two-day conference, attended mostly by members of the media, concluded with the Cooking for Solutions gala, featuring about 65 sustainability-minded chefs from around the country cooking for an extremely large crowd of aquarium supporters. Board members John Ash and Seth Caswell were among this esteemed group. Rick Moonen, of rm seafood in Las Vegas, was named 2011 Honored Chef of the Year. Thanks Monterey Bay Aquarium for your great work!

Chefs Collaborative has been following developments related to the farm bill and will continue to do so. I invite you to check out a recent post and give us your feedback.

—Melissa Kogut, executive director, Chefs Collaborative