TEDx Manhattan Changing the Way We Eat

As a sponsor and catering partner of this year’s TEDx Manhattan: Changing the Way We Eat, Print got to be a part of the excitement from the opening night until the last glass was raised at the post-party.  Yet of course, the truly riveting  moments occurred while the talks were underway.  As this was my first time attending live TED talks, I wanted to share some aspects of the talks and topics that stirred up the most intrigue and passion in me as a first time attendee.

The talks began with analyzation of how big ideas spread and are adopted by people in their everyday lives.  Peggy Neu, the President of the Meatless Monday campaigns, explained that the reason the idea has spread globally is because of its simplistic marketing format. Making a change in your diet is easiest on Mondays, because it is the day we bring structure back to our schedules.  There is repetition to the campaign , it becomes cyclical and part of peoples routine.  And it is easy to say and the phrase has alliteration (and cute cartoon animals around it).


It was interesting to hear how Peggy’s marketing background and concepts of the an industry, usually used to sell and drive up profits, could be applied with great success towards a free public health campaign.  The following speaker, Michael Rozyne, of a local food distributor, Red Tomato, used similar industry tactics and knowledge when discussing strategy of how to make local foods sell in the context of a traditional supermarket inventory.  From working in the industry, he knew that the one thing supermarket buyers wanted to buy,  was product that would sell.  Sell because it was of good value, fresh, and is aesthetically attractive.  He has convinced supermarket buyers that local produce can be all of those things, and has helped construct display models and shelf talkers that advertise the vegetables as being straight from the field, harvested within 24 hours, at New Jersey supermarkets which have had a positive effect on sales of those local items.


These effectiveness of marketing strategies in the good food movement never let up, and extended into the following presentation on why we should eat crickets!  Meghan Miller, Founder of Bitty Foods, also came from a career in marketing and media, and has started a niche company that is looking to the future of food in the context of our global sources of protein consumption.  She has used economic data to predict that meat and especially beef will become a rare and expensive luxury protein by 2050, due to lack of natural resources and population growth.

In order to give her product a more approachable and feminine touch, Miller grinds the crickets into a flour and uses them to make cookies and other sweets.  Her samples of chocolate cardamom cookies at TEDx  were flying off the plates and truth be told they tasted great.  Exo is another company grinding up crickets, but it was started by two young male college grads and their approach is much more energy bar/ protein focused.  It will be interesting to see which area of the American market place cricket consumption will first take hold and how long it will take the trend to spread.  Watch out, cricket chips might be next. 

Andrew Gunther of Animal Welfare Approved, pointed out pivotal moments in history when farmers began to amp up animal production.  In one instance a woman received 500 chickens instead of 50 and so to raise her large flock year round she moved the chickens inside.  Indoor and cramped spaces has become the norm in the industrial meat production industry and the problems that have come with those conditions are rampant spread of diseases.  Thus the industry doses the animals with antibiotics to combat those diseases.  The danger of using antibiotics as a tool and element of meat production is that it creates superbugs (bacteria) that cannot be fought off by antibiotics and cause death in animals and humans who consume those animals.  This scary situation and the scientific research behind was detailed by Dr. Lance Price in his talk, I suggest watching it to fully grasp the threats these superbugs pose and how we need to re-think rampant use of antibiotics in meat production. Unlike cricket consumption, superbugs are something we do not want to see more of in our future.


Of course there were many presentations on the efforts across the nation to improve school lunch and food education, and all of them were inspiring.  However,  I will not go detail them here, since it is a topic I already knew a lot about and something that Print regularly supports as an ally and supporter of  Wellness in the Schools and Spoons Across America.

Art and food are coming together in new ways in the digital age, and Matt Moore attempts to do that with his real time videos of plant growth in the field of his family farm in Arizona.  When the videos were placed in grocery store produce sections, children and adults were mesmerized by their beauty and movement.  Matt believes that  images have the ability to speak louder than words, conjuring emotions and driving points across in the fair food movement. It will be fascinating to see what more comes out of the realm of digital food and farm artwork in the coming decades as video continues to expand as a more democratic art form. Below is arbor artwork of a New York State artist who had one of his grafted trees on display on the TEDx stage.

The Tree of 40 Fruit is an ongoing series of unique hybridized fruit trees by contemporary artist Sam Van Aken. Each of these trees has the capacity to grow over 40 different varieties of fruit from the family of stone fruit, which includes peach, plum, apricot, nectarine, cherry, and almond. Sculpting by way of grafting each tree is composed to blossom in variegated tones of pink and white throughout spring as they become burdened with a multitude of fruit through late summer and early fall.

 The latter talks of the day shifted to analyzing the food movement itself.  Alison Cayne , a fellow NYU Food Studies colleague of mine, also Owner of Haven’s Kitchen , and board member of Edible School Yard and Just Food, looked at the Good Food Movement, analyzed the food movement in a historical framework.  She noted that it took nearly 60 years for women to attain the right to vote, from the first suffragette gathering to the passing of the 19th amendment.  And even longer time for legislation to pass in areas of civil rights and environmental protection.  Her outlook for the food movement was hopeful.  She noted literature output and activism surrounding food issues that began in the 1960′s , nearly half a century ago.  Thus in the general historical context of social movements we have almost arrived, approaching major changes in legislation that supports our cause namely, food justice and fair food for all.

The speakers that followed Alison were there to remind us that although we are close to the pinnacle of a fair food system in America, we need to keep fighting mostly in court rooms and up on capital hill, before we truly arrive.  Saru Jayaraman, Co- Founder of Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, reminded us that we have not created a just food system for many restaurant workers in our country, and that higher minimum wages, paid sick days, and firm policies on sexual harassment in restaurants and the food service industry in general are necessary in order to truly have fair food on our plates.

Chellie Pingree , Congresswoman of Maine, talked about her background in organic farming and how she uses her first hand knowledge to fight for the good food movement and small farms in congress and in the Farm Bill.

And finally, Tom Colicchio summed it all up with his talk titled “Vote Food”.  He explained his own trajectory in the movement.  As a young Chef in New York City he went to the Greenmarket in order to get better product, to make better dishes, and to be a better Chef.  Eventually he got involved in hunger issues in the city and would help raise money for City Harvest and other groups.  Then he realized that throwing money at the problem of hunger in our country will never solve it.  He saw that we needed to focus on changing the policies and the politics which continue to create it. 

Ultimately we must hold our congress people and representatives of government at all levels responsible for which way they vote on food related issues.  For example, looking at how they voted on the Farm Bill, which had some gains, like the provision to boost farmers markets by allowing the use of SNAP benefits and giving funding towards marketing the markets in communities.   However, there also were also steps backwards in the Farm Bill , the largest being the reduction of 8 billion dollars towards SNAP benefits (food stamps) over the next 10 years.  Due to this loss and others in the bill, we are not done fighting for food justice,  and over the next five years we need to prepare for the next farm bill and meanwhile come up with local solutions for ending hunger in our communities and increasing healthy food access for all.


So, VOTE FOOD! Help fundraise or volunteer for good food projects in your community! Stay positive, motivated, and hungry….because we are nearly there: to that point in a social movement where there does not need to be more fighting, the battle will have been won, and we will have arrived at a functional and sustainable good food system for all and for our planet.