The Best TED Talks on Food Systems, Nutrition, and Public Health

Surely a sign of progress, there are now an abundance of TED talks that explore food, nutrition, and public health. Below are my very favorites — a collection of videos that I consider informative, important, and incredibly fascinating! If you have a favorite TED talk that’s not listed here, send me a link in the comments below.

PART I: PUBLIC HEALTH AND HEALTHY FOOD ENVIRONMENTS

How an Obese Town Lost a Million Pounds (Mick Cornett)

I just got back from OKC this week after visiting a college roommate, so this Midwestern town is fresh on my mind. Regardless of whether or not you’ve ever been to the Sooner state, you’ll definitely be inspired by this talk from current mayor Mick Cornett. Equal parts entertaining and inspiring, this story highlights how city planners and public health professionals can play an important role in fighting the obesity epidemic, and shows how important a walkable environment is in promoting health.

Teach Every Child about Food (Jamie Oliver)

Oliver has gained a well-deserved reputation as a tireless advocate for childhood obesity prevention. In this talk, Oliver explains just how important improving nutrition is to our children, and just how serious of a problem the American food environment has become. Our kids deserve better than this, and Oliver explains why.

How We Can Eat Our Landscapes (Pam Warhurst)

In this delightful and motivational story, Warhurst describes how a grassroots volunteer gardening movement is creating a supportive framework for the local food economy. Her talk celebrates the small actions of the community, and highlights the importance of edible landscapes.

PART II: WHY ORGANICS ARE IMPORTANT

From Fabels to Labels (Urvashi Rangan)

Identifying healthy products at the supermarket can be a challenge, especially when packages tout a variety of health claims and nutrition buzzwords. In this talk, Rangan explains which food claims and labels are more credible than others, and also makes an excellent case for supporting organics.

Why is Organic Food so *#@! Expensive? (Ali Partovi)

If the previous talk didn’t convince you of the importance of organic farming systems, this one surely will. Tech giant Partovi dispels a lot of myths surrounding organic food and industrial agriculture. This talk is a must for anyone that thinks that organic farming is expensive and inefficient, and that industrial agriculture is necessary to feed the world.

PART III: SUSTAINABLE FOOD SYSTEMS AND FOOD POLICY

How I Fell in Love with a Fish (Dan Barber)

Sustainable food enthusiasts and seafood lovers alike will enjoy this engaging talk from Chef Dan Barber, which explores the sustainability of farmed fish. If you enjoyed Barber, be sure to check out his other TED talk about ethical foi gras. Or, if you’d like to learn more about sustainable seafood, be sure to check out this TED talk from chef and National Geographic Fellow Barton Seaver.

Turning the Farm Bill into a Food Bill (Ken Cook)

A new farm bill has passed since this 2011 talk first aired, but many of the points remain relevant. Cook explains how, despite the growing demand for responsibly produced food, government programs and legislation still favor industrial agriculture and the profits of a few food giants over family farms and public health.

Hungry for more? Check out the line-up from the TedxManhattan conferences (here are 2015 and 2014 to get you started) which are focused on “Changing the Way We Eat,” and are the sources of many of the videos above. The TED website also has a “What’s Wrong with What We Eat?” video playlist, a “Talks for Foodies” video playlist, and a “Plantastic!” video playlist. Additionally, Netflix offers a bundle of food related TED talks, in a collection called “Chew on This.”

– Kelly

The Link Between Hunger and Obesity

When most people imagine what hunger looks like, they imagine emaciated children with protruding bones and bare feet, likely to be found somewhere in war-torn Africa. But what if you saw a child that was overweight, or even obese. Could that child possibly be hungry? If they are obese, surely they are getting enough to eat, right?

This is one of the problems with identifying hunger in America. Although these problems appear to be contradictory, hunger and obesity are actually very closely related. How so? People experience hunger for many reasons, but almost all of them can be traced back to poverty. Some people simply cannot afford food, or have budgets so tight that they do not know where there next meal is coming from. When they do buy food, they are looking to fill themselves up. Junk foods are cheap, easy, and offer immediate gratification. This explains the paradox of why many people shopping at food pantries appear overweight, rather than emaciated.

In addition to financial access to food, some people lack physical and geographic access. While not incredibly common, a population of America’s poor lives trapped in what is known as a food desert. For these people, there is no accessible supermarket. Fresh produce (and often frozen produce) is out of the question. While canned vegetables, dried beans and whole grains may be available; many of America’s poor don’t know what to do with these foods, or how to combine them into a satisfying meal. Processed snack foods are cheap and have extremely long shelf lives, making them attractive choices to people that suffer from hunger or food insecurity. Simply put, empty calories are much easier to come by.

Looking for more information on this topic? I highly recommend A Place at the Table, the new documentary film that came out about a month or two ago. The film explores problems of poverty and food security across America, and gives excellent examples of how obesity and hunger are so closely related. Another resource regarding the paradox of hunger and obesity is the book Stuffed and Starved, by Raj Patel. I haven’t read it yet, but it is definitely on my list. Lastly, here is a USDA interactive map to find food deserts in America.

Images via GristMagnolia Pictures

– Kelly