TED is a non-profit devoted to broadcasting innovative ideas spoken by persuasive thinkers. Its website spreads information through “TED talks,” a video component that spans a wide range of topics. Here is a selection of TED videos focusing on issues from the political food world—child obesity, industrial meat production, school nutrition programs, ecologically safe fish farming, food access within an urban landscape, re-envisioned permaculture—presented by some of the top enthusiasts and specialists.
Jamie Oliver is a chef who is intent on inspiring families to reintegrate cooking into their lifestyles while empowering children to learn the importance of healthful eating. His TED talk examines the epidemic of child obesity in Huntington, West Virginia, a city that was voted the most unhealthy place in the US in 2008. The “tipping point,” as Oliver explains, is a triangular trap of Home, School and Modern Day Life (dubbed Main Street). Home is no longer about cooking; school lunch programs are centered on corporate gain rather than nutrition; modern day life is riddled with fast foods and deceptive food labeling. As we spend increasingly more money on health bills related to heart disease and obesity—a number that will double in the next ten years—Oliver delivers an urgent call for action.
The New York Times writer and cookbook author, Mark Bittman, writes accessible recipes, often with locally sourced ingredients. He is also a mindful eater who sees an imbalance in the Western diet, one that has been heavily reliant on meat, dairy and carbohydrates, since the advent of highway expansion in the 1930’s. Now our industrialized meat industry (with the emergence of CAFOs in the mid-20th century), emits the second largest amount of greenhouse gases, behind energy production only. Bittman argues that we can find other ways to get our protein. His recommendation: eat ½ lb of meat, or less, a week; eat more plants and in doing so, encourage change in our dietary and lifestyle choices.
How do we reform childrens’ image of food? This question fuels the work of chef Ann Cooper. who has committed herself to restructuring our nation’s school lunch program. Cooper’s fight for an increase in federal funding for the National School Lunch Program is discussed in light of an imperfect social justice issue. She begs that teachers, administrators, government officials–people in power–teach children that food is a real, unprocessed, tangible resource. If we start seeing food as a form of health, then the value attributed to consuming it grows. Much like Oliver, she proposes educational programs—hands-on cooking and gardening duties, an academic curriculum tied to land work, nutritious cafeteria foods, a school compost and recycling program—and public and private spending for the sake of the betterment of our childrens’ health.
It isn’t atypical for aquafarmed fish to be fed chicken in their fishmeal. Dan Barber, the executive chef at Blue Hill, probes this reality by examining a farming system that rejects practices like this, in favor of an “extensive” system. In the south of Spain, Veta la Palma boasts a landscape that includes a 27,000 acre fish farm, where biologist Miguel Medialdea produces 1,200 tonnes of sea bass, bream, red mullet and shrimp each year. The restored wetlands are home to many aquatic species but also over 600,000 birds—the largest private bird sanctuary in Europe. While flamingos flock there to eat shrimp, shrimp in turn eat photoplankton. As Barber suggests, the health of predators and an organic food chain makes this ecological balance possible. His proposal for a restorative farm system in which communities around the world could feed themselves is presented through a symbiotic relationship with the land.
Carolyn Steel notes that in most cities, one’s interaction with food involves an intricate relationship with its production, transportation, purchase and sale, preparation, consumption and disposal. In ancient times, cities mapped their layout according to access to food. People were aware of where their food came from and the farmers and butchers who sold it to them. With the introduction of trains and cars, food became separated from the city-view; it became “anonymous.” Steel envisions a re-conceptualization of city planning—a “Sitopia,” or a renewed way of seeing food as central to a city—through nutritional education, local consumerism and a reinvigorated organic framework, in touch with the land.
The farther we drift away from the land that reaps our food, the more we view ourselves as a competitor against nature. Michael Pollan explains our superiority complex through the rising influence of industrial agriculture; our mentality is that “we are winning against nature.” He also offers a counter world-view through the eyes of plants and animals that manipulate nature for their benefit as well. Pollan argues that if we focus on Darwinian evolution, we can begin to see our world as a cooperative mechanism, where plants, animals and humans harmoniously act within an ecologically-sound system of production and consumption.