This little piggy should not go to markets

An independently organized TEDx talk entitled “Changing the Way We Eat” was broadcast live from NYC to UVM students on Jan. 21 to teach about the concerns and advances surrounding the U.S. food system today. The day began at 10:30 a.m. and was broken into three sections: Issues, Impacts and Innovations. Topics of discussion included food sustainability, meat consumption and health and factory farming. Leading TEDx Manhattan into full swing was a video presentation by 11 year-old Birke Beahr. “What’s wrong with our food system and what can we do to change it?” he asked. By uncovering the dark side of industrialized farming, he encouraged his audience to buy local organic fruits and vegetables to support small farms. Dr. David Wallinga, of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, spoke next explaining that the resistance to antibiotic and synthetic fertilizers of insects often found in crops is increasing. The bacteria are getting smarter and becoming immune to the chemicals — if they infect us, we will not be able to fight infection, according to Wallinga. By increasing the dosages of antibiotics over the years, “we will have worked our way into a pickle,” Wallinga said. The meat industry is a nasty multibillion dollar business, according to Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, who presented next. Hauter works extensively on food, water, environmental and energy issues at the national, state and local level. The use of antibiotics and inhumane practices land at the meat industry’s core, Wallinga said. Of all of the antibiotics distributed in the U.S., eighty percent of them, or 29 million pounds, go to animals on industrial farms, according to data provided by Dr. Wallinga. Seventy-four percent of this number or 21.5 million pounds is administered through food. It may be unclear to some as to why so many antibiotics and synthetic hormones are used, but, according to Wallinga, conventional living quarters for animals are breeding grounds for filth and disease. Sickness and disease would run rampant if not for the antibiotics. In the same case as vegetables, the harmful bacteria of E. coli, MRSA and salmonella are becomming immune, according to Wallinga. Hauter describes the living condition of chickens as a “dark, filthy warehouse packed with 35,000 chickens.” There is not room enough for them to stand, let alone walk around or move their legs, according to the documentary “Food Inc.” Packed deep in feces, feathers and feed, these chickens never get outside to breathe fresh air or even see daylight. In a study described by Wallinga, a team of experts uncovered the truth of supermarket pork and disease. The selected pork was tested for the bacteria MRSA, which is no longer a bacterium we can kill, according to the study. Of the pork sampled, 6.5 percent tested positive for MRSA, according to Wallinga. Urvashi Rangan, leader and director of the Consumer Safety and Sustainability Group for Consumer Reports magazine, spoke about the confusion surrounding food labels. The food labeling system in the U.S. misleads the consumer daily, Rangan said. She insisted that food labels must be truthful and trusted, although they tend to seem vague to the consumers who read them. By uncovering the meanings of labels, Rangan stressed that the power is ours as consumers to change the way we eat because “consumer demands are powerful.” Celebrity chef and food revolution advocate Jamie Oliver presented on the impacts of our current food system. Diet-related diseases such as type II diabetes and heart disease are the number one killers in the U.S., according to Oliver. All diet-related diseases are 100 percent preventable, he said. He urged that children be taught about food, where it comes from and how to prepare it, so they are able to make informed food choices later in life. Although there are many issues concerning the health and well-being of this nation and its people, there is still hope, said TEDx speaker Patty Cantrell. New and exciting initiatives such as Slow Food USA, Slow Food UVM and the Localvore movement are well underway and have a strong following, she said. In addition, urban school classrooms are growing their own gardens. Steven Ritz of Bronx, New York is a teacher helping his students find inner strengths that are hiding. Popping up in cities across the U.S. are Green Carts. Leading this motion is Kerry McClean, director of community development at WHEDco, a non-pro???t organization working to create a more vibrant Bronx, New York. The small stands of fresh fruits and vegetables help to provide less fortunate sections of the town, coined as “food deserts,” with fresh and healthy options to feed their families, while offering steady jobs to those who would otherwise be unemployed. Recirculating farms, which incorporate both aquaculture of fish and hydroponics of vegetables, are the new alternatives to farm-raising fish. Marianne Cufone, the executive director of the Recirculating Farms Coalition, states that these innovative farms “can be located anywhere in any community.” They are space efficient and can even be catered to in urban areas, Cufone said. Meanwhile, water is not wasted, but it is recycled to house the fish and keep plants fresh and healthy. Paul Lightfoot, CEO of Bright Farms, is redefining where the produce in supermarkets hails from. Instead of shipping produce across borders, the objective of Bright Farms is to limit the amount of travel of produce. To do this, gardens are being built on top of the grocery stores in which the vegetables will be bought. A greenhouse equipped for all seasons is built on the roof, and a farmer is paid to grow and supply the vegetables to the people of the very same community. In the case of reforming our food system, it will not happen overnight. “We won’t change the way people eat by judging them — we have to excite them,” cofounder of Cara Rosean said.