The new food economy | Robyn O’Brien | TEDxFrontRange

By Adem Lewis / in , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , /

Translator: Rhonda Jacobs
Reviewer: Denise RQ Thanks, you guys, for being here. If anybody would have suggested
15 years ago that I would be here
talking about a new food system, I would have said they were nuts. I was a financial analyst
on a team of all guys. I was the only woman on the team, and they said, “You’re going
to cover the food industry.” What they didn’t know
was that I couldn’t cook, I burnt noodles, and I really wasn’t very interested
in covering the food industry, but I was the new guy
on the totem pole and so I did. And I quickly fell in love with the job,
it was fascinating to learn the models, to learn how they were
designing the system. So for me to be here today,
I am such an unlikely crusader. It’s a job that I loved, and it’s one
that I always thought I would go back to after we had had our kids. But eight years ago, everything changed when our youngest child
had an allergic reaction over breakfast. And that morning,
as her face was swelling shut, everything I had ever done,
business school on a full scholarship, graduating the top of my class,
it didn’t matter. I didn’t know what to do, and I raced her
to the pediatrician’s office. And she starts rattling off
these statistics about food allergies, how from 1997 to 2002, there’d been
a doubling of the peanut allergy. And she started asking me
what I’d fed the kids for breakfast, and that morning, it had been
tubes of blue yogurt, L’Eggo my Eggo waffles,
and scrambled eggs. And as I was listening to her
talk about food allergies, all I could think was, since when? Since when had so many little kids
become so allergic? And that day, a question entered my mind
that still has not been answered. Are we allergic to food
or what’s been done to it? From 1997 until 2007
there was a 265% increase in the rate of hospitalizations
related to food-allergic reactions. The National Association of School Nurses
now says that 19% of school kids have a food allergy. It wasn’t like that when we were kids. We all had PB & Js
and cartons of milk, those weren’t loaded weapons
on a lunchroom table. And it begged the question,
what has changed? And as I was reading labels,
I was forced to read those labels, I didn’t want to read those labels,
I couldn’t cook. And I was reading these labels,
and I was looking at all these ingredients and I knew exactly why
we had put them in there, I’d studied it as an analyst. You swap out the real stuff,
you put the fake stuff in, it drives profitability,
it preserves shelf life; I got it. But the question I had never asked
as an analyst, was how much of this stuff is safe? And what’s it doing to our kids? And as I started looking at the health
of this generation of children, it was absolutely stunning. One out of three kids has allergies,
autism, ADHD, or asthma. One in 68 kids today now has autism,
a 30% increase in the last two years. And one in 13 now has food allergies. According to the CDC, cancer
is the leading cause of death by disease in American children under the age of 15. And all I could think was,
I have four kids. What are my odds? And I couldn’t unlearn that, and I was trying to figure out
what I could do to protect my children. And in the fall of 2006, as I was literally doing everything
I could to learn about food allergies, a headline came across my screen: “Are genetically engineered foods
triggering allergic reactions?” I had no idea what
a genetically engineered food was. We’d had four kids in five years. I hadn’t been
paying attention to the food. (Laughter) And so I did a deep dive into these
genetically engineered ingredients, and I learned, after learning
about the rates of cancer in children, the rates of cancer in adults, how one in two men
are expected to get cancer, and one in three women. The President’s Cancer Panel
was telling us 41% of us are expected
to get cancer in our lifetime. [What Has Changed?] But in 1996, we introduced
these new ingredients into our food. [New Ingredients In Food] And they weren’t labeled,
these genetically engineered ingredients. They had never existed
in the food supply before. And I went totally analytical on it. I saw the business model right away. You genetically engineer
these new ingredients, you put it into the seed, it enables you
to routinely spray these seeds with chemicals and weed killers
to drive profitability, and it made a lot of sense. There were two kinds
at that point in time. One was genetically engineered to withstand increasing
doses of these chemicals. The other was genetically engineered
to produce its own insecticide, internally in the plant. That one was so new, and because the plant
produced that insecticide internally, those foods were now regulated
by the EPA as a pesticide. And I thought, why weren’t we told this? This is a fundamental change. It’s patented by
the US Patent and Trademark Office, it’s regulated by the EPA as a pesticide,
how can they tell us this is the same? And as I looked at the business
model, sure enough, it drove the sale of the chemicals
being applied to the crops. That red line is 1996
when the products were introduced. The massive increase in the first 13 years
was 527 million pounds of chemical applications
going onto our food. And as a mom, all I could think was,
why weren’t we told this? Sixty percent of the world’s
population was told this. The long-term human health
studies didn’t exist. And they exercised
that level of precaution. And we hadn’t been told. And as I though about it, I thought, is it a food system,
or is this a chemical system? Because when I had been an analyst
that covered the food industry, never once did we meet with these
chemical companies making our food. I also knew as an analyst
that correlation was not causation, and just because we had a 265% increase
in the rate of hospitalizations related to food-allergic reactions, that did not mean that just because
we were inserting all these new things into our food, that that’s
what we were reacting to. But the correlation was so strong
that it merited investigation. And it was one of the reasons
that countries around the world exercised that level of precaution because they were concerned
about the allergenicity of these foods. And so I thought, what’s going on
in these other countries where they either
didn’t allow these ingredients, or they labeled them? And one of the first things I learned
absolutely, fundamentally changed how I viewed things. Here in the United States,
our American companies had introduced all of these ingredients, artificial dyes,
artificial growth hormones, genetically engineered ingredients. They had put all this stuff into our food
and I got it as an analyst, it drives profitability. At the same time,
our own American corporations were formulating their products
differently for eaters in other countries, without them. [Science Based Double Standards] And I thought, why have
they placed a different value on the lives of Americans? If they’re using all of these
artificial ingredients here, and they’re using real ones
in other countries, we’re not asking them
to re-invent the wheel, we’re simply asking for those
same products for our families too. [Allergic Reaction
Food’s Erin Brockovich] And when I said that, the food industry
kind of had an allergic reaction to me. (Laughter) I got called a lot of names. This was one of the nice ones. But I couldn’t unlearn what I had learned. And I moved on the faith
that these conditions were affecting all of our families. One in three kids now has autism,
allergies, ADHD, or asthma. Cancer doesn’t care where we work. The President’s Cancer Panel says
41% of us are expected to get cancer. And as I though about the impact
that was having on our economy, I realized, again,
government-sourced data, the United States spends
two and a half times more on healthcare and disease management,
on average, than any other country. [Health Care Spending Per Capita] [Economic Impact of Disease Management] Eighteen cents of every dollar
that we spend in this economy is spent on healthcare
and managing disease. According to CNN and Time, if you have
a little one with food allergies, that’s an extra $4,200 a year. [CIA: Life Expectancy at Birth] I turned to the CIA, I wanted to see
how we stacked up, life expectancy at birth,
again, it was a comparative analysis, what we had done versus
countries around the world, and this fiercely patriotic American in me
wanted to see us at the top of the list. And a I started scrolling down that list, we’re at 42, just ahead of countries like Bahrain. And I thought,
we’re so much better than this. We need a new prototype. And suddenly I had to re-thnk organic. Here was this adjective, “organic;”
it is so loaded. I didn’t want to spend
the money on that food. And as I started to truly understand
what was happening to the food supply, I realized that what
“organic” actually meant was that it was produced without
all of these ingredients. So what our grandparents
had just called “food,” we had to give the adjective “organic” to. And here it was costing
us all so much money, and that was because,
as a big national family with our taxpayer resources, the monies that we were putting in were going towards growing
the food with all these chemicals, while the farmers that were growing
without the chemicals were charged fees to prove
that they were safe, and then fees to prove
that they had to label them. And on top of that,
organic was growing at 14% a year, and only 1% of our farm land
was dedicated to organic farming. So that meant we were outsourcing
any of the organic food that we did want to other countries like China. And I thought,
we need to bring this home, support our own economy,
support our own farmers, and build this better food system so that clean and safe food
can be affordable to all Americans. Thankfully, venture capital firms,
private equity firms have stepped up, and they’ve started
investing in clean food, they’ve started investing in farmland. Wall Street, when Annie’s, they make
Mac and Cheese without the junk, they did their IPO in March of 2012. It had the biggest opening day gain
of any IPO in almost a year. Which meant that of all the technology,
all of it, that Wall Street saw that year, they got the most excited
over a bowl of Mac and Cheese that didn’t have any junk in it. (Laughter) It was obvious we needed
a new operating system for all of us. This isn’t “Lifestyles
of the Rich and Famous.” Clean and safe food should
be affordable to all Americans. And thankfully, certain companies
are hearing us, they recognize it, and they’re listening. They know that none of us would
have chosen these conditions. None of us would have
chosen these conditions. Chipotle has started to dump
the junk out of their food, their share price is soaring. White Wave is another company. They recognize that as much
as we all grew up on milk in our fridge, that’s not the case any more, so they’ve got all these different
alternatives to milk. And Wall Street is responding. I think probably
one of the most fascinating is to compare one
of these chemical companies with a company that’s producing
food without chemicals. And the one without chemicals
is on top by a lot. Because they know
that’s where we’re going. And they know that this is not a fad. Because cancer and autism
and food allergies are not fads. So what do we do? This is all of us. The first thing we’ve got to do is get
these American companies to standardize. We’re not asking them
to re-invent the wheel, they already formulate it
differently overseas. We just want those same things
on our grocery store shelves for our families. And each and every one of us,
we can do one thing. You can do one thing. I have four kids, and I thought,
I can’t do everything. I’ll do one thing. And the first thing, was just
to try to get these GMOs out, these genetically engineered ingredients. Maybe for another family,
it’s getting the artificial colors out. Just pick one thing,
you can do one thing. And focus on progress, not perfection. Do not make the perfect
the enemy of the good, and then you can create
this incredible change. And probably most importantly
is to find a friend. Because if you have a kid with autism,
or a parent with cancer, or a little one with food allergies, it hurts the same way. And find somebody that feels that with you
who you can lean into, so that you can
create the change together. Because none of us can do everything, but all of us can do something. And as we invest in us, in our families,
in our economy, we will create a better food system, one that meets the needs
of the 21st century. And I truly believe that there is nothing
more important that we could be doing. Thank you. (Applause, cheers)

5 thoughts on “The new food economy | Robyn O’Brien | TEDxFrontRange

  1. Thank you Robyn!  Before cancer at 38, I had no idea about America's highly processed, genetically engineered, artificially flavored, preservative poured, chemically designed, steroid injected, antibiotic administered, arsenic feed, sugar flavored, artificially sweetened, fat-free food supply – and I thought I was eating healthy.

    How scary!   Much of our "food" is regulated by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) because it's a pesticide and the "manufacturers" don't have to label it.  Meanwhile, America (and her children) have never been fatter or sicker and strangely we can't seem to figure out why. 

    Just yesterday I read that over 500 school children in Kansas City, MO have a rare and serious respiratory illness.  Curious how many of these sick school children live or attend schools near GMO crops in the midwest.

    Best health always,

  2. grow food at home deliver it close , you cant close mcdonalds nor kfc down however you can provide a lower cost healthier alternative , buy a lemonade at your local lemonade stall simple lemons water and oranges

  3. if you look for a lemonade stall you are likely to find a good juice for five cents a glass right next door to you in fact so much so you can see the flies eating your neighbours dropped fruit on the ground ? why is it so ?

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