Last night, I went to the TEDxTC with my mom. It was all about food – a great topic. My only direct qualification is that I like to eat – but I also have a brother who is a serious chef. Billy went to the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) and has been warning me about genetically altered food for years. So I felt kind of prepared.
A quick primer, TED (Technololgy Education Design) is a format for quick (less than 20 minutes) lectures on ideas that are worth spreading. A TEDx is an independently organized event. TEDxTC was held at the Minnesota Science Museum. There were two showings; I went to the later event, which included dessert. It was a funny, mixed crowd. This was my mom’s first TEdx. I noted that several people seemed to be there with their moms; the topic may have brought out the generations. The food-family conenction was prominent in at least two speakers, which included LaDonna Redmond, Winona LaDuke, Kevin Ryan, and John Walden.
Formerly of Chicago, currently at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy in Minneapolis, LaDonna Redmond spoke about how her son’s allergies to just about everything got her interested in food. Apparently a handgun was easier to get in her part of Chicago than a fresh tomato when she started to really think about food. (My dad also has stories about decades earlier traveling from the near north side of Chicago to the suburban grocery store to find food with expiration dates that were not yet passed.) Redmond worked with youth in her neighborhood to plant local, community gardens and sell local produce to low income neighbors. She challenged attendees to start asking about the origin of their food by asking grocery store managers about the food. Where does it come from? Who grows it? Her point being that food should be nutritious and support fair labor. Consumers can make a difference.
I was particularly interested to hear former Vice Presidential candidate Winona LaDuke, since I actually had the honor of meeting her last fall (at the Cabooze of all places!). She spoke about food as a family matter and about the importance of wild rice to Anishinaabe peoples. How Nokomis (and maybe Nanabozho – I should have taken better notes) followed a white shell to a place where the food grows on water – such as with wild rice. How Pawnee corn wasn’t able to thrive outside it’s natural habitat and how lack of diversity in the diet has been so unhealthy. Growing food locally is good – but growing food that was intended to be grown locally is even better. It suits the crops and the people.
John Walden gave a demonstration of a new way to sanitize that uses electricity, not chemicals. It was very cool. A spritz or two of “charged water” and food, counter, body parts getting prepped for surgery were sanitized.
Finally Kevin Ryan from General Mills spoke. He’s some kind of food visionary – or other job we’d all love to have except it’s probably harder than it looks. He was a great speaker and talked about how he uses history and human nature to predict food trends. For example he spoke about how we came to think of yellow as a good color for food. The super condensed version is – the British were fighting the French, which meant no wine. Their allies, the Spanish, offered port. The British drank loads of it. Egg whites are used in making port. The huge uptick in port meant tons more eggs. But that left lots of unused yolks, which they gave to the nuns. The nuns used them to make yolky pastries, which we all love. Yellow yolks meant yellow desserts meant we like yellow. Fun food trivia but also fun approach to reasoning and predicting the future.
Both Redmond and LaDuke brought up the dangers of genetically altered food and the idea of usurping nature for some other purpose. Everyone recognized the impact that food has on health, which seems obvious but I think sometimes can’t be overstated, especially when we’re talking about choices that are made before food and consumer meet. One big lesson was the importance of getting to know your food and your food providers.