Frequently asked questions

Why should I come to this dinner?

The Sustainable Gastronomy dinner is intended as part provocation and part conversation. We’ll appreciate the miracle that agriculture has always already been. Along with harnessing fire, it is without question the greatest human technological achievement. And we will ask hard questions about what makes food sustainable and what makes it taste great. More specifically, you’ll get to experience and learn about:
  • The new culinary possibilities that technological foods are making possible.
  • The surprising environmental benefits of conventionally grown and raised food.
  • How technological foods and precision agriculture could transform modern food and farming systems.

What is the Breakthrough Institute?

The Breakthrough Institute is an environmental think tank headquartered in Oakland, California, that promotes technological solutions to environmental problems. Breakthrough’s mission is to accelerate the transition to a future where all the world’s inhabitants can enjoy secure, free, prosperous, and fulfilling lives on an ecologically vibrant planet. The Breakthrough Institute has a history and reputation for driving new conversations about the environment, technology, and human development and is best known as a leading advocate for greater public support for energy innovation to meet rising global energy demand with low carbon energy. In recent years, the Institute has turned it’s attention to agriculture and conservation, advocating technological innovation and agricultural modernization as the keys to decoupling food production from environmental impacts while leaving more room for nature. Breakthrough is dedicated to the public interest and as such only accepts charitable contributions from any person or institution without a financial interest in its work. Sustainable Gastronomy has been made possible thanks to generous support from the Pritzker Innovation Fund, John and Kathe Dyson, Matt Winkler, and the Rodel Foundation.

Are you philosophically opposed to farm to table?

Not at all. All food is farm to table. All food is also mediated by people, technology, and infrastructure. The heirloom tomato that seems as if it was plucked from the field and placed on your plate has usually been transported and transformed to one degree or another. Depending on when it’s been picked, how its been transported, and how it’s been transformed, it may taste better or worse and may have more or less substantial environmental impacts associated with its production and provision. But its environmental impacts are not, in many cases, well correlated with how long the supply chain is nor are its culinary qualities necessarily a product of how it was grown. Our interest in hosting this dinner is to demonstrate some of the dynamics and trade-offs that haven’t been much accounted for in discussions about sustainable food.

Is this a pro-GMO dinner?

We will serve some GMO foods. And we think there is an important role for biotechnology in agriculture. But we are interested in having a broader conversation about what we want from our food and agriculture system. How can we make agriculture more equitable and environmentally sustainable? What is gained when we transition to higher productivity agricultural systems and what is lost? Too often, GMO’s are fetishized by both opponents and supporters without considering the broader context in which food and agriculture systems exist. That broader conversation is the one we are interested in having.

What about pesticides?

Toxic pesticides are widely used in both organic and conventional agriculture. Those used in organic agriculture are simply not produced synthetically. The objective in all agriculture should be to minimize pesticide use, but always with an eye to environmental and social costs as well as benefits. Modest pesticide use that raises yields, for instance, may spare valuable natural landscapes that might otherwise be converted for agriculture. BT corn and soybeans, to take another example, when combined with no till farming and integrated pest management, can largely obviate the need for pesticide use while raising yields. The best food production system will use the best practices from conventional and organic agriculture to minimize total environmental impacts.

Why is the Breakthrough Institute hosting these dinners?

Convening cross-cutting conversations that disrupt highly polarized debates is a key part of our mission. By asking hard questions about food and sustainability, our hope is to start a different conversation about how agriculture can contribute to better outcomes for people and the environment.

What will I be eating?

Guests will have an opportunity to taste high yield fruits and vegetables, meats produced with cutting-edge technology, synthetic wine, and genetically engineered foods — all prepared deliciously.

How do I request an invite?

Request an invite by sending an email to