Thursday Jul 10, 2008

TED Talk : What's wrong with what we eat

I just watched the best TED talk I've seen in a long long time, Mark Bittman : What's wrong with what we eat. It the most engaging talk on food I've seen since I originally saw "Diet for a New America" on PBS in 1992. "Diet" was shown on New Years day as part of a "make a healthy resolution" initiative and though I didn't intend to watch it I ended up getting sucked in part way through and then staying up until 11pm that night to catch the beginning when it repeated.

I didn't agree with everything that John Robbins said in "Diet for a New America" but it taught me to be thoughtful and respectful about the meat in my diet ever since. The most compelling part of John Robbins' message was/is the environmental implications of the industrial agri-business approach to food production. I now eat far less meat than I did growing up and I am much more sensitive to how my food is produced and where it comes from.

Yes, before you ask, I do know about Michael Pollan. I've enjoyed his books and his work does speak to many of the same themes, messages and statistics as Mark Bittman but I believe that Mark frames his core message more succinctly and it's a more direct call to action.

The most compelling part for me of Mark Bittman's talk is that he does nothing more than ask you to think about what you eat. He also provides a useful frame of reference with some important considerations for how you should evaluate your choices. That's it. If you want you delve deeper into the individual choices and possibly make better choices specific to your location and situation. For example, I currently live in Berkeley, California where living the "100 mile diet" would not be much a challenge nor would it have much of an impact on the way I eat or the effort required to feed myself. If I still lived in Peace River, Alberta where I grew up, living the 100 mile diet would require a significant change to my life style. The best food choices for any individual are dependent upon the context and the amount of effort available.

I'll tell a story because it's vaguely relevant. A lot of the kids in the junior high school I attended didn't get to eat much "store meat". The bulk of the meat that their families got was from hunting or fishing, moose, deer, goose, duck, pike, etc. I remember trading my crappy ol' baloney or boiled ham (barf!) sandwiches on white bread for delicious home smoked fish. Both I and my trading partner undoubtedly thought we were getting the best of the deal. We were each getting a special treat and unloading some boring mundane food on an unsuspecting dupe. Turns out we were both right.

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