We Asked This Weekend's TedxManhattan Speakers How To Change The Way We Eat

This Saturday, February 16, TEDxManhattan takes on the weighty topic "Changing The Way We Eat." The all-day conference features an array of speakers from organizations, corporations and universities, presenting on topics from foraging to food in schools to GMO labeling and more. You can watch the whole thing Saturday from 10:30-5:45 Eastern on the live stream here.

And in the meantime, here's what many of the speakers from Saturdays TEDxManhattan had to say in response to one question we threw at each of them:

What is the advice you would give to someone who asks you, "How can I start contributing to a more sustainable food system?

Gary Hirshberg, Stonyfield Farm

If you are a consumer or a chef or anyone who buys food, the single most effective thing you can do to contribute to a more sustainable food system is to switch your purchases to organic foods. Besides the income that this provides to farmers and processors who are committed to all of the benefits of organic food production (e.g. building healthy topsoils, reducing the use of harmful and persistent toxins, promoting biodiversity, improving farmers' incomes, this sends an unmistakable market signal to the entire food system that has ripple effects far beyond your one purchase. Buying organic is the most powerful step you can take and indeed is the only hope for a truly sustainable food system.

Ann Cooper, Food Family Farming Foundation

There are so many ways that you can contribute to a sustainable food system, in fact the hardest part is deciding which one to choose. I think you need to begin by asking yourself the question: what do I care most about in the realm of food. Do you love to cook, garden, teach kids, eat at home with your family; or do you love going out to eat, shop at farmer's markets or help serve those less fortunate who are hungry.

Whichever of these foodcentric issues speaks to your heart (of course there may be more than one) is where you should start. Care about kids and food — get engaged with school food, salad bars in schools or schools gardens; do you love to cook — support farmer's markets or CSAs, cook and eat at home with family or friends at least once a week and buy more whole foods and find ways to incorporate them into your meals; care about hunger — help food pantries cook and serve more sustainable food or help them with gleaning programs; finally love to eat at great restaurants — support ones that support local/sustainable food. In essence; vote with your food, fork, heart and wallet, cook, garden and share food with those you love and help schools, food banks and other institutions feed those in need — the best possible food.

David McInerney, FreshDirect:

The simplest and fastest way to start contributing to a more sustainable food system is to start buying only "green" rated sustainable seafoods. With other foods like produce or other meats, terms like organic and local don't necessarily mean those foods are raised sustainably so you need to rely on more information about the farmer or the reputation and mission of the retailer or both. FreshDirect's mission is to find the highest quality, best tasting foods and to ensure they are as sustainably grown as possible by building direct relationships with farmers, ranchers, and fishermen so we can understand and screen their food values too. The best retailers will provide shoppers with information about the growers so that they can do their own research.

LaDonna Redmond, Institute For Agriculture and Trade Policy

You can start by paying attention to where your food comes from and dismiss the illusion that our food system is magical. Bring an awareness to your meals that others are eating with you — invisible and unknown by you.

Here are four questions to ask yourself as you approach every meal:

  1. Who grew it?
  2. How did they grow it?
  3. Whose hands prepared it?
  4. Under what conditions did they grow or process this food?

If you cannot answer any of these questions, then you must recognize that this behavior is not sustainable. Do not rely on corporations to create sustainable choices for you. We must think differently. Challenge yourself to change your behavior so that you can answer most of these questions most of the time. Commit to always ask yourself these questions, and hold your self responsible for making more fair, just and healthy food choices for all.

Steve Wing, University of North Carolina

Learn about where your food comes from and how it affects health and the environment. Work with organizations like Food and Water Watch that are promoting independence for farming communities. And, most of all, support programs and people who want everyone to be able to afford healthy, sustainable food.

Fred Bahnson, Wake Forest University School of Divinity

Localize your eating as much as possible, learn to grow at least some of your own food and support small food producers instead of big corporations, even though it costs more. If you can afford an iPhone, you can afford to buy food at your local farmer's market. Finally, support those organizations and individuals who work for food justice, so that everyone can afford healthy, nutritious food.

Simran Sethi, Author and journalist

Start asking questions about all the resources it takes to get food from the farm to your table. Many people think about food miles and energy or the personal health impacts of pesticides, but there is a lot more at stake. Who owns the seeds that result in food? (Ten multinational companies now account for about 2/3 of the global proprietary seed market.) Where were your crops grown? (Land-grabbing is happening at an alarming rate.) How were the people who raised your food treated? (This report from the Southern Poverty Law Center is really eye-opening.) And how about the animals? (Jonathan Safran Foer's book Eating Animals transformed my relationship with meat.)

I know I am throwing out a lot of information, but that is because — at every juncture — we have an opportunity to make decisions that impact the future of food and farming. These choices are tiny revolutions: buying food directly from farmers, choosing food that is healthier for farmers and the environment, growing our own food, eating meals with smaller ecological footprints, frequenting restaurants where staff are respected. We may not be able to do everything, but we can each do something. And, in aggregate, that is what will build a more sustainable food system.

AnneMarie Colbin, National Gourmet Insitute

I would say encourage your students and customers to choose, organic, non-GMO products.

Tama Matsuoka, Meadows + More

You can stop trying to stamp out weeds. At least, first take a look at them. Everywhere we grow food, from an ornamental planter to a community garden, we can find weeds. Some of the most common weeds that we spend time and $$ trying to get rid off are amazing delicious culinary vegetables in other countries. Two great ones are "gallant soldiers" a.k.a. galinsoga from Central America and chickweed (hakobe in Japan and la stellaire in France). I saw great "wild" cardamine cress (not water cress) growing just where it wanted to: out of a planter in Harlem. And if you do have a lawn area, its easy to just stop spraying and begin eating.

Note: if you are not sure of proper weed identification, please post a photo or question to our website meadowsandmore.com or consult your local agriculture cooperative, nature center or botanical garden experts.

Lindsey Lusher Shute, National Young Farmers Coalition

Cook! And purchase your ingredients through Community Supported Agriculture or farmers markets.

Anna Lappe, Small Planet Institute

"You are what you eat": You've probably all heard that phrase before, but I put a little twist on it: every choice you make about food affects the planet. Choose organic and you're reducing toxic chemical exposure to farmers and farmworkers. Choose local and you're supporting your regional food shed. So, really, You are what I eat; I am what you eat.