From Bangladesh to Brazil, or what photojournalism can reveal about food and cultural context.
By Maria Popova
In 2009, photographers Peter Menzel and Faith D’Alusio’s presented Hungry Planet — a grounding portrait of what the world eats, from the $376.45 an Australian family spends on food per week to the $1.23 weekly budget of a same-sized family in Chad’s poorest refugee camp. Now comes their follow-up, What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets (public library) — a fascinating project telling the global story of our relationship with sustenance and pleasure through portraits of 80 people from 30 countries and the food they eat in one day.
I want people to understand their own diets better — and their own chemistry and their own biology. And make better decisions for themselves.
From a Japanese sumo wrestler to an American competitive eater to a Massai herdswoman, the book offers an exploration of demography through photography, contextualized by compelling essays from some of today’s leading food activists and thinkers, including indispensible voices on the issue like Brain Pickings favorite Michael Pollan.
Alongside each of Menzel’s photographs, text by D’Alusio outlines the specifics of the daily diet depicted and places it in a cultural context that explains why, for instance, a Brazilian fisherman of average build can consume 5,200 calories per day and an American truck driver who consumes a comparable amount is clinically obese. Ultimately, the project aims to illuminate the relationship between food and where we are, in life and in the world.
Oceans, omnivores, and what babies have to do with design manifestos.
By Maria Popova
It’s Earth Day, so what better time to spotlight some of the smartest, most compelling thinking in sustainability from the past few years, and what better place for these ideas to manifest themselves than the TED stage? Today, we’re curating our five favorite sustainability-related TED talks of the past five years — from eye-opening revelations to ideological landmarks.
We’re longtimefans of photographic artist Chris Jordan, whose work captures otherwise alienating and thus meaningless numbers and statistics in incredibly powerful and emotionally impactful collages. His first TED talk is compelling introduction to his extraordinary work and the vision behind it.
Jordan’s most recent work focuses specifically on marine sustainability, which is a nice segue to…
Winner of the 2009 TED Prize, legendary ocean researcher Sylvia Earle reveals a gripping look at what we’ve lost in the last 50 years and why that matters.
Last week, Earle’s TED Prize Wish came to life in the form of Mission Blue Voyage, the world’s first seaborne conference aboard the National Geographic Endeavor, focusing exclusively on water sustainability through a speaker lineup featuring the world’s most renowned ocean experts — marine scientists, deep sea explorers, technology innovators, policy makers, business leaders, environmentalists, activists and artists.
Many of the Mission Blue talks have been made available in the past week — we highly recommend all of them.
A few months ago, we raved about AskNature, a new biomimicry portal harnessing the power of this discipline as a potent cross-pollinator of design, engineering and science. This TED talk by founder Janine Benyus makes a strong and bold case for what biomimicry can do and where it is going.
Be sure to also watch Benyus’s first TED talk, if only to trace the incredible evolution of this sub-science over the past three years as more and more companies and inventors are embracing biomimicry as a real-world design solution and efficiency booster.
The notion of cradle-to-cradle design may be staple of every industrial designer’s manifesto today, but it wasn’t always a must-have catchphrase. Five years ago, it was more likely to raise an eyebrow than a fist. It was eco-minded architect and designer William McDonough that first coined the phrase and began . His 2005 TED talk laid the groundwork for what has become one of the most essential cultural conversations of our time.
For me, design is the first signal of human intentions. So what are our intentions? ~ William McDonough
In early 2007, when the relationship between food and sustainability was as evident to mainstream America as that between particle energy and the velocity of light was to early humans, Michael Pollan began a conversation that was to shape our common understanding of health — in the broadest sense, human and environmental — for years to come. A few months before his Omnivore’s Dilemma became a national bestseller, Pollan gave a groundbreaking TED talk that launched the issue into the public conversation. Though the talk’s central arguments are common sense to anyone even marginally socially attuned today, it’s still worth watching if only for its status as a historical landmark of cultural dialogue, one that made an entire generation never look at food the same way again.
Pollan’s name has since become synonymous with sustainable agriculture, unleashing a slew of books, documentaries and other social commentary on the subject, including the excellent PBS series The Botany of Desire, starring Pollan himself.
Just how stupid we really are, or what James Earl Jones and a giant humpback whale have in common.
By Teddy Zareva
It’s Earth Day, and instead of engaging in questionable eco initiatives, like watching Philly’s fountains turn green, why not call a few friends over for some essential viewing that will disturb, move, outrage and inspire you in that bitter-sweet way that An Inconvenient Truth did in 2006.
Here’s some help, with our selection of 5 new must-see films that explore our environmental sensibility.
2009 Sundance Audience Award Winner The Cove is a mixture of action, adventure, mystery and, as the tagline goes, “oh, and it’s a documentary”. The movie tells the story of a group of filmmakers, activists and free-divers, led by director Louie Psihoyos, who penetrate a hidden cove in Japan uncovering a terrible secret.
No spoilers here — you’ll only know the secret after seeing the movie, but let’s just say that given the filmmakers are wanted by the Japanese authorities, it’s going to be be good.
THE AGE OF STUPID
Director Franny Armstrong takes the scare approach to instill in us some eco sensibility. Half-fiction, half-documentary, The Age of Stupid shows Oscar-nominated Pete Postlethwaite living alone on a devastated Earth in 2055. In this barren habitat, the only type of entertainment available to the poor guy is “old” documentary footage of us trashing the planet in the present day.
Troubled by questions like why we didn’t stop climate change when we had the chance, Pete suggests that the answer might simply be that we were really, really stupid. And he may have a point.
Fuel is last year’s Sundance Best Documentary Award Winner, and covers a topic painfully familiar by now — America’s addiction to oil.
Director Josh Tickell drills the history behind the rising domination of the petrochemical industry — which may seem like a regurgitated discussion to some, but we believe these things simply need to be said until there is no longer a need for them to be.
Plus, there’s a cameo by one of our heroes — Sir Richard Branson — as well as other fascinating instigators like Josh Tickell himself and Robert Kennedy Jr.
Sure, it may be unoriginally titled. But earth, out in the U.S. today, is a piece of remarkable visual storytelling about three animal families and their amazing journeys across the planet we all call home.
The film comes from directors Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield, the acclaimed creative team behind the Emmy-Award-winning Planet Earth. It also doesn’t hurt that it’s narrated by the one and only James Earl Jones.
It’s a story told through incredible action taking place on unimaginable scale at impossible locations. Full of mystery and intimacy and magic as we glimpse inside the worlds of our planet’s most elusive creatures, the film is an epic call for appreciation of the fragile world we inhabit, a moving plea for a new self-conception as actors in an intricate and brilliantly orchestrated system beyond our own existence.
You can catch the filmmakers hosting a special episode over at Current for a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at their phenomenal adventure and creative process.
By now, you know we’re big proponents of sustainable agriculture and permaculture. So it comes as no surprise that we find Robert Kenner‘s FOOD, INC. to be a compelling must-see. A merciless exposé on America’s food industry, it reveals all the hidden workings and often shocking truths of the government’s regulatory agencies, USDA and FDA, lurking behind the consumer’s scope of vision.
The film features social entrepreneurs and sustainability visionaries like Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma), Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation), Stonyfield Farm’s Gary Hirshberg and Polyface Farms‘ Joel Salatin, who together paint a grim picture of what we eat and how it ended up on our plates, brimming with an urgency to change what we eat in order to change where we end up.
For 13 more Earth-conscious must-sees, we highly recommend the selections in Yale’s Environmental Film Festival, as well as the two incredible forthcoming films presented at this year’s TED Conference and TEDPrize winner Sylvia Earle’s compelling talk on why blue is the real green.
What sheep have to do with high-rises and Obama first oversight.
By Maria Popova
We’re big on sustainability. The real, policy-changing, culture-redefining kind, not the I-Heart-Recycling graphic tee kind. Which is why we think agriculture, the literal lifeline to our vitality, is a tremendously potent tool for ensuring a sustainable future. Here are 5 innovative projects that propagate progress through smart, sustainable food initiatives.
The days of making small talk with the milkman may be long gone, but the relationship doesn’t have to be.
Australian startup Herdshare is building a platform that enables farmers and their shareholders to form and manage their herd share arrangements, essentially cutting out the middleman and making the relationship delightfully personal.
For the un-initiated, a heardshare is coop of people who buy a small herd and pay a farmer to take care of their animals, milk them, and deliver the goods. Herdshareis founded on principles of fair pricing, food quality, landcare, better animal husbandry and, above all, simplicity.
The site itself is still being built, but we have high hopes for the project. In the meantime, you can read their brochure to find out more.
Farmers markets have long been the scene of the grassroots eco-eating movement, especially with the recent emphasis on local over organic as the more sustainable consumer choice. (Ideally, of course, we take ours local AND organic.)
Unfortunately, not every city is as lucky as Philly, with its legendary Reading Terminal Market, North America’s first and largest indoor farmers market. Enter startup Foodzie — an online farmers market where small growers and artisan producers can get their foodstuffs to the hungry and socially conscious masses.
Foodzie also carries occasion-specific treats, like the curret selection of editorially-curated Easter products — so grab yourself a sheepie-shaped sugar cookie and tell your favorite local farmer about the site. It’s a grassroots movement, after all, so your individual word-of-mouth may have more power than you suspect.
You know we’re talking grassroots when there’s a hideously designed yet brilliantly conceived site in question.
Which is exactly what LocalHarvest is — an online tool for finding local, organic food across nearby CSA (community-supported agriculture) initiatives, farmers markets and family farms.
We’ve mentioned the project before, but it’s worth a revisit since it’s constantly adding new farmers markets as well as new site features — you can do anything from finding a CSA subscription to reading the blogs of the actual farmers whose food is on your table.
Food really doesn’t get more personal than that, and we love how LocalHarvest marries the old-timey relationship between the spinach-eater and his spinach-growing neighbor with the tools of today’s web-centric culture.
We’ve sung the praises of Polyface Farms before — extensively — so we won’t over-elaborate. But we will say that when agricultural activist Michael Pollan puts his seal of approval on something, there’s good reason. (Which is a shame, since Obama recently shot down The Sustainable Dozen, Pollan’s recommendation for head of the Department of Agriculture — a big mistake by Obama, in our generally Obama-loving opinion.)
Polyface founder Joel Salatin has a vision far broader than the food itself:
We are in the redemption business: healing the land, healing the food, healing the economy, and healing the culture.
What’s unique about Polyface Farms is the uniquely designed permaculture system that the six different animal species inhabit. They’re all engaged in a fascinating ecological dance, brilliantly orchestrated by the farm to maximize the symbiotic relationship the animals have with one another and with the land.
Polyface is a hopeful exemplar in sustainable agriculture, a model we hope will be replicated on a scale large enough to truly impact the entire industry’s business model and thus its cultural and ethical footprint.
VERTICAL FARMING PROJECT
We had the fortune of seeing TED 2009 live, where urban farming pioneer Dickson Despommier presented his brilliant Vertical Farm Project, an urban agriculture initiative that takes indoor farming to a new level — literally.
The project aims to increase our ecosystem’s food efficiency by using urban space — high-rises in particular — to start a new movement of city farming for today’s urbanites. Vertical Farming offers so many rationally indisputable benefits we have to wonder why it hasn’t been considered seriously until now — you get year-round crop production, maximize space (1 acre indoor is equivalent to 4-30 acres outdoors, depending on the crop), it’s weather-controlled, so no crop loss due to droughts, floods or pests (unless you count your roommate in the latter), and you can grow fully organically, without pesticides or herbicides.
These are just a few of the multitude of benefits — and now it’s over to the design side, with a number of architectural plans already proposed.
To find out more about the brilliant rationale of vertical farming, take a look at the library of concept presentations. And stay tuned for when the Despommier talk becomes available on TED — this is an idea worth spreading, if we ever saw one.