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“Changing the Way We Eat”: Event Recap

February 9, 2012


On January 21, the Wagner Food Policy Alliance and the Columbia Society for Food Policy and Obesity Prevention co-hosted a viewing party for the TEDxManhattan’s “Changing the Way We Eat.” The event brought together leaders and innovators in the food sector dedicated to repairing our fractured food system. With speakers who touched on the environmental, economic, ethical, health and cultural impacts of food and agriculture, the program was divided into three sessions: Issues, Impact and Innovation. Although the focus was on New York City, many of the talks addressed relevant issues in domestic and international food systems as well. Here are a few of the highlights:

Local: A crowd favorite was Stephen Ritz, a public school teacher and founder of the Green Bronx Machine program. In an effort to improve health and fight childhood obesity, he and his students constructed edible food walls in their South Bronx school building. The vertical gardens allow them to grow produce indoors, giving access to Stephen’s many handicapped students. Over time, the project has expanded to include other local schools, as well as corporate offices and private residences throughout the New York City area. In addition to the income generated by these garden construction projects, the students also gain leadership skills and the tools needed to promote healthy diets and food justice in their neighborhoods.

Domestic: In a video excerpt from the 2010 TED talks, chef and TED prize winner Jamie Oliver described the effects of America’s obesity epidemic on children, families, and our health system. The protracted problems in our food’s processing, portioning, labeling, and education have amounted to $150 million in annual health care costs, and the first generation of children with a shorter life expectancy than their parents. Jamie aims to start a food revolution in America by addressing the problem at all of its sources–from supermarkets to school lunch programs to large corporations–and by encouraging healthy eating education in schools and in homes. Four days after the TEDxManhattan event, and nearly two years after Jamie gave this talk, the USDA amended its school meal standards for the first time in 15 years, requiring  more vegetables, fruits and whole grains in school feeding programs.

International: Fred Kirschenmann of Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture and the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture emphasized the importance of soil health in a sustainable food system. While certainly a concern in the US, it is also important throughout the world, especially in countries more affected by climate change and extreme weather events. A recent study by the FAO indicates that 25 percent of the world’s land is highly degraded, and to meet future food needs we must preserve and improve our soil globally. Maintaining a living community of microorganisms in the soil through sustainable agriculture practices like intercropping and composting are essential if we wish to continue feeding our planet while preserving the environment and ecosystem services.

Click here to view more videos of TEDxManhattan speakers on topics ranging from hydroponics to animal welfare.

Thanks to the CU FPOP and everyone who came out (in the snow!) to join us for this fantastic event. To stay informed on upcoming WFPA events and other NYC food news, be sure to check our blog regularly and join our listserv either on NYU home or by emailing Christina Bronsing at

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