Annual TEDx Manhattan Conference: Changing the Way We Eat

Written by our very own President!  |  Anne M. Valik

“What the fork are you eating?” This question, asked by Stefanie Sacks, MS, CNS, CDN, was one of many posed during March 7th’s TEDx Manhattan conference, Changing the Way We Eat… and was a valid query, considering the conference’s mission to “spark discussion and spread ideas that can help fix our broken food system.” This year’s conference did all that and more, as such varied minds as Shen Tong, a serial entrepreneur, angel investor, and organizer of the democracy movement in 1989 that occupied Tiananmen Square; Stephen Ritz, a South Bronx educator who was just named a Top Ten Finalist for the Global Teacher Prize; and Nikiko Masumoto, a farmer, artist, and creator from California’s Central Valley, took the stage to share their vision for the food system of the future.   It was an inspirational day of intellectual discussion in which the Mailman community was able to take part, as FPOP, SPIM, and SEA joined the conference via live-stream in Mailman Auditorium.

This year’s TEDx Manhattan speakers engaged with three broad themes: Sharing the Vision, Shaping our World, and Lighting the Future. During Sharing the Vision, Danny Meyer highlighted his concept of a food sector guided by “a virtuous cycle of hospitality,” while Anim Steel discussed how a just society should focus on “milk not jails,” and revitalize the dairy industry to give rural communities employment options beyond the criminal justice system. Next, Ali Partovi clarified that the majority of the so-called “Foodie Elite” who buy organic are actually representative of the average American. Partovi’s discourse was followed by an introduction to The Meatrix Relaunched, an impactful take on the truth behind factory farming. The session ended with Dr. Robert Graham reminding us that “a pill for an ill won’t work when it comes to chronic disease,” and with Stefanie Sacks specifying that healthy choices need to be made more accessible, because “we’re sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

During Shaping our World, Marcel Van Ooyen started things off by discussing effective ways to scale up local foods in order to avoid mass-produced “focal” (fake-local) produce. Joel Berg then stressed the importance of replacing charity with justice, as “five minutes contacting your elected officials will do more to end hunger in America than five years of serving soup,” while Dana Cowin taught us how the addition of “ugly fruits and vegetables” to the food supply could reduce food waste. Stephen Ritz above all brought the house to its feet with his impassioned plea toward health-minded education, because “it is easier to raise healthy children than fix broken men.” Finally, DJ CAVEM wrapped things up by sharing his motivational, hip hop-infused style of social outreach.

In Lighting the Future, Henry Hargreaves effectively used photography to remind us that during any disaster, the food system is the first one to break. Shen Tong then followed, whose striking opening salvo, “the food movement needs money,” poignantly noted “food is not a problem of food…food is a problem of poverty.” Next, Kendra Kimbirauskas bravely underscored the ills of factory farming noting, “if we raised our dogs and cats the way that animals are raised on factory farms, it would be criminal.” Last but certainly not least, Danielle Nierenberg’s advocacy for women farmers globally, who “make up nearly ½ of the worlds farm labor force but are almost universally ignored as farmers,” revealed an ongoing food system injustice that must be addressed.

As the motivational day concluded, we were treated to Nikiko Masumoto’s “vision” – her concept for the food system of the future. Masumoto’s artful and fervent dream for the creation of an “NFL – National Farming League” reminded the audience of what could beif only the food movement would use its capability to “transform the next generation of farmers.” This creative capstone to a stimulating day left all to ponder the food movement’s next steps. Changing the Way We Eat emphasized both the movement’s challenges and opportunities. Although much remains to be done, change can continue to happen as long as more and more people take action; like Stephen Ritz said, “Now that you know more, I expect you to care more, and now that you care more I expect you to do more – we are Amer-I-Cans!” So let’s get out there and show that we can do more…effort is needed, and the food movement’s future depends on us.

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