UP had the opportunity to attend TEDxManhattan this past weekend, and interact with some of the most influential global thought leaders in food system sustainability. This incredible event has been engaging the question of how our world must "Change the Way We Eat," for the past three years. TEDxMan continues to bring together innovative and driven people who not only share a passion for food, but a belief that food and its origins can and should be a vehicle for social, economic, and environmental change. What was so special about TEDxMan was the scope and diverse backgrounds of all of the speakers and attendees. There were scientists, photojournalists, chefs, farmers, doctors, political activists, investors, students, restaurateurs, and musicians; all from vastly different fields, but all sharing the common thread of food. This global conversation facilitated by TEDxMan, illustrates how food permeates through all facets of society, and how we all, no matter what vocational or social distinction, must take responsibility in restoring health and sustainability.
The conference began with opening remarks from celebrity chef, and food activist, Tom Colicchio, on how food policy must be at the forefront of political action. He explained how it is his mission to have stances on food policy as major debates carrying tremendous influence on election day. Food impacts all, and it cannot be a side issue. He challenged the audience to leverage our collective voices to have an impact on Washington.
Colicchio then introduced arguably the most successful restauranteur in the U.S., Danny Meyer. Starting with one small cafe in Union Square, Danny Meyer built a global food empire including iconic brands such as Shake Shack, Gramercy Tavern, and Union Square Hospitality Group. Over the past 35 years Meyer opened dozens of successful concepts, won James Beard Awards, and published renowned books. However, with success and scale, Meyer has not compromised his mission of transforming his restaurants into extensions of the community. As a restauranteur he stressed that he has a greater responsibility than profits. Restaurants provide a sense of place making in the community.
Meyer reminisced about traveling throughout different regions in France and Italy saying "what you ate tasted like where you were." The flavors and atmosphere of a restaurant must be drawn from the environment that surrounds them. Without this connection a restaurant becomes an empty shell, and its food has no deeper meaning. Meyer closed with a symbolic anecdote on the origin of restaurants. He explained how the word restaurant, is a french term meaning to restore. This notion of restoration must not be lost.
The role of women in food and farming was also a major theme that drew tremendous engagement at TEDxMan. Michele Merkel, lawyer, food system sustainability activist, and Director of Food & Water Justice, gave an emotionally charged talk on her battle with Big Ag over the detrimental pollution caused by concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), from the industrial meat and dairy industry. She explained that with the power that Big Ag has over the industry, many people feel powerless or have a sense of emotional disconnect with food. However she emphasized that every consumer makes an impact. Merkel expressed that "people must be transformed from passive eaters to informed shoppers," and that " eating is a moral act." It was this sense of individual responsibility and call to action that really resonated throughout this incredible day.
TEDxMan was a very charging experience for the UP team, because it illustrates that we are not alone in our mission. In fact, it demonstrates that we are apart of a burgeoning global movement led by bright, multidisciplinary minds that will redefine the way food is produced and consumed. This food revolution can be seen from all corners of the globe, and we see it here in Baltimore everyday. Whether it is activists protecting the Chesapeake, restauranteurs showcasing local ingredients, or the local government creating legislation to support urban agriculture, change is happening all around us. We hope to be one of many that will help rebuild our community through good honest food.