The Power on Your Plate

You think your dinner doesn’t matter? Think again.

“The new normal” is here, and we’re learning to live in its grasp in the best way we know how. For many of us, being stripped of control in life is the most difficult part—the urge to know more about the disease, to understand when life will fully return to normal, the yearning for physical connection and wondering endlessly when we’ll be able to enjoy it again.

While it appears that we’ll be suspended in this state of inertia for the foreseeable future, there is a problem that we can control: the dwindling food supply juxtaposed with the ever-growing population. 

You’re just one person, but it takes just one to begin a domino effect of change. We’ve got three voices from the TEDx Universe to help demonstrate how, even on a small scale, the time is now to begin making small adjustments for big impacts in the long run.

We’ll admit it, some of these propositions seem daunting, especially in the midst of a global crisis with no end in sight. Paying more for a cut of beef, being stringent about what goes onto your plate, or a future where we’re describing steak and chocolate to our grandchildren rather than sharing these foods with them doesn’t exactly sound like a mood booster. 

But while overhauling our relationship to food does seem intimidating…what’s the alternative in a few generations if we don’t act now?

Charles C. Mann: How will we survive when the population hits 10 billion?

Charles C. Mann has good news and bad news. Let’s get the bad news out of the way first—it’s that we, Homo sapiens, are not special. Though we may feel elite, we’re not that different from single-cell organisms in a petri dish, reproducing endlessly until the bounds of natural selection clobber us. The good news, though, is that maybe we can shift that narrative for the good of our species. We just have to do something unprecedented: work together.

“Is there any evidence that we’re actually using our accumulated, shared knowledge to guarantee our long-term prosperity? It’s pretty easy to say no.”

-Charles C. Mann

Mr. Mann delves into two schools of thought in his 2018 TED talk, outlining what he calls “wizards” and “prophets.” Though their methods often clash against one another, what’s striking is how wizards and prophets both, in the long run, are working toward the same goal: the continued abundance of resources and well-being for inhabitants of Planet Earth. And what’s more, as Mr. Mann explains, is that not only have wizards and prophets wanted the same things for so long and not managed to achieve them; they’ve actually expended more effort to argue with each other than join forces to cultivate real change. 

Putting aside differences, Mr. Mann asserts, is the first step forward in humankind solving its burgeoning food, water, and energy shortage. With these two powerhouse ways of problem-solving, we can use time and intellect to our advantage and beat the odds that have taken out simpler species. We can prove that we’ve got more brain power than protozoa. However, nothing kills this potential faster than our own stubbornness, or a refusal to see another side of things.

Marc Buckley: The time is now for a sustainable food revolution

After Marc Buckley made the move to Germany from the USA, he started to notice things about his home country that were previously hidden in plain sight. On a trip with his family through California, Marc counted an alarming number of additives in the food products that comprised a “sustainable foods” expo. He saw sharps containers in public bathrooms—biohazard receptacles for people with obesity-related disorders to safely dispose of syringes and medical waste on the go. He was hit with the revolting stench of cows stewing in manure and methane alongside the highway.

“We have a simultaneous epidemic of obesity and starvation. I don’t know if anyone has put the two together, but if anyone has the solution or can tell me why, I would sure like to know.”

-Marc Buckley

As Marc goes on the illustrate in his 2015 talk at TEDxTUM, “The time is now for a sustainable food revolution,” we’re throwing a staggering amount of resources into our food production. The “cost” of cultivating our crops, our cattle, our grains and seeds, and even brewing a simple cup of coffee must drastically change if we want to be able to not only balance the scales of food equity in the short term, but keep up with the ever-growing demand of the next few decades.

But Marc’s message isn’t all doom and gloom. By curbing food waste, consciously using resources to make them count, making use of renewable energy and emerging technologies, we can reshape the future of our food production system.

Vincent Fricke: What you need to do to keep eating meat in the future

Vincent Fricke isn’t here to tell you to convert to a strict vegan diet. He’s not a vegetarian; he’ll tell you straight-up that he loves meat. And it’s because of this love of meat—preparing it as an esteemed chef in Munich as well as eating it—that he wants to keep it around for future generations.

“So, I invite you to enjoy meat like a good bottle of red wine. You don’t open it on any day, you do it consciously, and celebrate the privilege to be able to enjoy it—ideally in good company.”

-Vincent Fricke

Vincent lays out some hard facts during his 2019 TEDxTUM talk, “What you need to do to keep eating meat in the future,” namely that privileged societies simply eat too much meat to remain on track with future demands. This isn’t conscious overconsumption, Vincent is quick to point out, but rather a depiction of our society’s current viewpoints and relationships with meat. 

Vincent’s idea of sustainable, lasting meat supply for our children and grandchildren doesn’t involve a strict, cold-turkey suppression effort. Instead, he proposes a gradual action plan that elevates meat in one’s diet to a “special occasion” food—urging us to view this as a delicacy to be shared rather than an everyday occurrence. Because for our grandkids, this might just be the reality.