by Erin Powell
It was a windy, snowy day in Boston for the BU viewing party of TEDx Manhattan 2012: Changing the Way We Eat, but a hearty group of brave souls made it to campus. Led by Visiting Professor Carole Counihan and Assistant Professor Rachel Black, students and fellow Bostonians alike discussed important issues surrounding our food system in between streaming video sessions.
Though we watched the opening performance by in-house band, ETHEL, in silence due to sound problems, volume returned for the first session addressing Issues. Urvashi Rangan of Consumer Reports proved to be one of the most interesting speakers of the session. Rangan discussed the controversy surrounding food labeling regulations, contending that consumers can hardly rely on labels like natural, free-range, and fresh. She argued that consumers must seek truth, transparency, and trust in how our food gets labeled so that we can know what we’re buying.
After lunch, we returned to what was arguably the most interesting of the three sessions: Impact. Jamie Oliver’s video started the session on a troubling, but inspirational note with the charge – school food has got to change! Notable speakers in this session included Fred Kirschenmann who talked about the importance of soil in our food system; Howard Hinterthuer who started a veteran’s garden therapy program to help those with post-war trauma; and Stephen Ritz, whose breathless story (literally!) of how his edible food walls have changed the lives of kids in the South Bronx left the crows inspired, amazed, and on its feet.
We ended the day with Innovation, hearing from leaders in the field who have embarked upon novel solutions to food problems. Cara Rosaen solved the problem of knowing where food comes from with her website, Real Time Farms, which tracks where restaurants source their local food. Through her grandmother’s inspiration, Kavita Shukla discovered natural food packaging paper, which keeps produce fresh longer, reducing food waste. The final speaker of the day, Gary Oppenheimer, ended on a humbling note. He shared the Ample Harvest program, where gardeners can donate excess produce to soup kitchens so that they can enjoy fresh foods, as well as non-perishables.
Despite the snow blowing outside, the energy of the TEDx Manhattan event left me feeling inspired as I returned to the cold. Hearing about the ways in which people are working to fix the kinks in the food system gives me hope, but I also realize there is much progress to be made.