npr | Food Connection

Original broadcast date: September 3, 2021

Food is one of life's greatest pleasures, yet many of our food systems are flawed. This hour, TED speakers look to the past to reconnect with what we eat, and the present to reimagine our food future.

Guests include forager Alexis Nikole Nelson, chef Sean Sherman, social entrepreneur Jasmine Crowe, and environmental journalist Amanda Little.

This episode of the TED Radio Hour was produced by Katie Monteleone, Rachel Faulkner, Diba Mohtasham, Sylvie Douglis, and Fiona Geiran. It was edited by Sanaz Meshkinpour and James Delahoussayee.

Our production staff also includes Matthew Cloutier and Margaret Cirino. Our audio engineer is Daniel Shukhin.

Hey it's Manoush. And I know some people love to cook, I just love to eat which is partly why I loved making the episode that we've got for you today. It is called the food connection and we visit with a forager who is huge on Instagram you may know her, a chef who only uses ingredients indigenous to North America and a farmer who thinks of his hi-tech organic farm as his own agricultural Wakanda. We also talked to lots of other people it is an awesome episode that first aired back in September. So I hope you enjoy it again or for the first time and I will be back next week with an all new episode. Until then take care. Thanks for being here.

I'm Manoush Zomorodi. And today we are starting the show outside foraging for food.

I have been searching this whole city and I finally found them.

This is Alexis Nikole Nelson.

And I am a forager “..., Let's go make next.” which is a fun way to say I eat plants that do not belong to me and I teach people how do the same thing.

Coolest job title ever.

Eat more batteries in Central Park.

Alexis is best known on tick tock where she has over 2000000 followers.

We are making ... coffee.

And it's kind of a foraging legend.

... Your neighbors will probably thank you.

For those who haven't seen Alexis's work, her videos are all about her foraging adventures, finding cool plants teaching people all about them and then using them to cook amazingly delicious dishes.

Yeah. There's a lot of. Little dating. There's a lot of it could be fun facts and little jokes for years very a lot of yelling about plants and flowers.

You see yelling but actually it was more just like hyped up enthusiasm right?

Thank you those are my time there were. So sweet. Happy foraging. Don't die.

So when you forage Alexis like you walk into your backyard or into a forest and what do you see the gas most of us don't it's like a supermarket basically for you.

It's like Disney world, but plants and full of much cheaper. You walk in and you see this very vibrance ecosystem but like we are a part of and there's something soulful felling about it right? you're just like I pulled this out of the ground and now it's. Yeah. Food is a way to connect with other people; food is a way to express love; food as a way to express creativity I think I look into natural spaces and I just see wonder.

Food, it's a basic need and one of life's greatest pleasures, but for many accessing nutritious and affordable food isn't always easy.

We have nearly 50000000 people that are living food insecure which means they never know when or where their next meal is coming from.

And on top of that the ways we produce and consume food are harming the planet.

Human population has doubled in the last 50 years and meat consumption has tripled.

How can we produce enough good food for a growing global population.

I think that was the best place to start was just opening up my eyes and starting to see the world around me for what I have to offer.

we need solutions to secure our food for the future and reconnect with the land that feeds us. So today on the show the food connection. Ideas from people who are taking lessons from the past and others who are experimenting with new technologies to change the way we eat. For Alexis Nikole Nelson collecting ingredients out in nature has helped her reconnect to her food she first discovered foraging when she was just 5 years old.

I remember gardening with my mother at the house I grew up in, and this one day stands out in my mind. When asked me probably not helping at all and we speak out some grass in our yard that looks different than all of the other grass which until she pointed out to me I had never noticed so my mom tells me to go and bring some for her. I break it and suddenly it's the like perfumed with garlic and she's like that is onion grass you know how we sometimes cook with like green onions you can cook with that too. And warning if you tell a 5 year old that they will just start breaking plants in her yard and seeing if a magical smells emanate from them

And eating them yes okay so your mom was very into plants clearly did you get your love of food and gardening and the outdoors from your parents do you think?

Oh absolutely. So on my dad's side of the family his mom is also have indigenous ancestry Iroquois ancestry so he was just being exposed to food way is that some of his peers work necessarily while he was a kid while he was a teenager and my dad's excellent in the kitchen and it was really this kind of coming together of the 2 things that I enjoyed doing with my parents the most as a kid and I'm very lucky to be a black kid who grew up with 2 black parents who were also very outdoorsy, because not all of us get it there really is kind of like a there's been this cultural separation between a lot of black folks and the outdoors

but historically there was no separation right and you have been studying just what happened can you explain?

Yeah, absolutely, 100%. So back especially in the south while a lot of black folks were still enslaved there was a whole lot of kind of knowledge training between black folks in indigenous folks and and a lot of the southern states and a lot of like the midwestern and northern states to and for a lot of people who were enslaved the way that you beefed up like the meager meals or the scraps but you were given was often by supplementing with foraging with trapping with fashion so that was the knowledge that was a huge part of like only black culture here in the Americas. After they were emancipated suddenly laws were getting put in place very rapidly about only being able to kind of reap the benefits of land that you owned. And if you were newly freed, odds are you do not own land. so if you can hunt you forage on public property and don't yet have private property to your name. Boom! That is a part of your life that you are not partaking in anymore and it doesn't take a whole lot of generations past saying for that knowledge to just kind of fall away completely.

Huh. And is this true than that like when there was an opportunity to go foraging it was kind of like well I don't have the handed down knowledge and anyway only poor people would do that.

Yeah I then you got this really weird thing happened on the twentieth century it where everyone is like wanting to show off well so then foraging kind of became taboo even if you did have the knowledge and that was regardless of race. Foraging very much got looked down upon because why would you be you know heading down to the creek together pop because when you can go to the grocery store and get a banana. And in the 1950s and 1960s being a black person out in nature out in the woods out in predominately white spaces like a very scary thing to do. For the sake of your safety that like that's not a space that you would want to necessarily be. And it was kind of like a 3 combo punch to us culturally moving away. From getting to know our natural spaces, and I am one of a myriad of people who's actively trying to combat that.

And do you feel like it's working like what kind of feedback do you get from your followers

yeah I. One of the best days I think I've ever had in my life I was out forging and a girl who also happens to be black probably teenager. She runs up to me and she's like you are that girl from tiktok. I was like oh my god. Yes and she was so excited when I got to like take her and show her what I was there harvesting I got to give her and her mom like a cut leaf to thwart leave so they can taste like the spicy brassica emails from it. And the wave of her and like her friends and her mom's like face lit up. I went home and I cried. I cried for like a solid 20 minutes because that's ... Oh my gosh it's almost overwhelming in. And the thing that stuck with me was she was just like you're doing this for the culture. I'm starting to tear up just thinking about it now.

In some ways through forging you are helping people reconnect with their own history and the ways that people use to eat off the land like in a seasonal sustainable way.

Yeah. So many of us have such a fraught relationship with food. And a lot of that is due in part to like societal pressures a lot of that is due to how processed food is and I personally I have had a historically very fraught relationship with food I grew up very over weights and so I was always being pressured to eat last cut last I. Our full disclosure like dealt with an eating disorder and my early in my mid twenties and which food was like very much the enemy in which I had to like train myself to stop thinking about this subject that I had loved thinking about and dreaming about my entire childhood and in a way diving back into foraging. Was the way that I fell back. “... Also known as the June.” It was not on purpose I was super poor after college. Living in a house with 5 of my friends and wanting to eat things other than Raman and canned vegetables. And sounds like a well you know let me turn to some of that like beard. Knowledge. But I've just been amassing for no reason as a kid. And it just brought me this show Wayne. And that's like connection to place. But I didn't have at that point in time. So much so that I went out and I sought out more information and I got more balls with my cooking and you know started being willing to put like flour and bread to my food again you know I was willing to make sweet things again I just... there's something soul nourishing about caring about what you're nourishing your body with.

That's forger Alexis Nikole Nelson you can find her on tick tock at Alexis Nicole and on Instagram and Twitter at black forager. On the show today the food connection. I'm a new summer roadie and you're listening to the Ted radio hour from NPR. Stay with us.

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It's the Ted radio hour from NPR I'm Manoush Zomorodi. On the show today, the food connection. If you visited Sean Sherman's restaurant Awani in Minneapolis you will find a pretty unique menu.

So we've got a lot of documenting keys pheasant venison and elk things like that.

Dishes like preserved rabbit bison tartare.

Lots of wonderful lake fish from across this region and around the Great Lakes.

Grilled root vegetables with dandelion pesto and hand harvested wild rice.

We have many varietals of corn beans lots of wild berries lots of wild foods in general says a lot of cedar there's a lot of burger month things like that.

But what you won't find anything that isn't native to North America.

We cut out colonial ingredients and things that didn't exist here before so we don't use any Terry any wheat flour and cane sugar and we're not using beef pork or chicken for protein choices so we just try to cook and make food taste like where we are and get people to think about the history of the land that they're standing on.

Sean is a restaurant owner chef and the founder and CEO of the company the SIOUX chef

as an S. I. O. U. accents I'm a part of the Ogallala Lakota Sioux tribe.

when I called John on a Monday the restaurant was closed but he was prepping for the weekend. Okay so what are you doing what are you cooking right now.

so we've got a big pot of choke cherries today that my mom brought to the restaurant and she was just in the black hills and I was probably cooking about 20 pounds a choke cherries not that smell of wild choke cherries cooking just to something that I always just shoots me back to being a young kid in my grandmother's kitchen.

Sean ... sounds unlike any restaurant I have ever been to and that is kind of the point right?

It is you know can that's kind of unfortunate that we're now one of the only restaurants of this kind out there it opens up a lot of conversation you know it opens up that question why aren't there more native restaurants out there. And it does start with history I mean it's just the relations of indigenous peoples and primarily the United States government you know it's going to be important overall to know these pieces of history that have happened to us and have really kept us down for a long time.

Here's more from Sean Sherman on the Ted stage.

I think what's most damaging for us and why we don't have a lot of indigenous restaurants out there was a loss of our education because this whole generation like my great grandfather's generation my grandfather's generation they should have been learning everything their ancestors intended them to learn you know how to fish how to hunt how to gather how to identify plants how to live sustainably utilizing plants and animals around us. But instead we went through a really intense assimilation period the boarding school systems stripped this whole generation of all that knowledge and education and we're still reeling from that and our communities today because of this direct link to the trauma that happened there. And being indigenous in the 19 hundreds of the much better my grandparents were born before they're even citizens which doesn't happen to 1924 we couldn't vote in 1965 we can celebrate religions until 78 you know. so what does it look like for me growing up in the city like I was born in the mid seventies and growing up in post colonial America like what kind of foods was I eating people in the media is like your native like what kind of food you grew up with 7 here cool story like I'd get up in the morning take down an elk with a sling shot I made it have a big family feast you know. But that wasn't the reality you know because like I grew up with a commodity food program because we're poor like a lot of people on the reservation, and it's just the way it was and we didn't have the pretty cans when I was growing up we just had these like black and white Kansas beef and uses that's dinner you know and that sucks. We could do better than this is so much more to learn and more to offer with indigenous foods.

Sean just one that emphasizes this point that as you say indigenous foods like the ones you are serving today in your restaurant they weren't really around when you were growing up on the Pine Ridge reservation.

Yep, we did harvest things like this wild prairie turn up a call that we called him so and choke cherries and there were some elders that have held on to some recipes but a lot of it was colonized I remember my mom giving me of cookbooks like we already have a cookbook featuring all the Lakota foods and it just kind of read like a Lutheran cookbook so it's just like no mom looking for recipes without cream of mushroom soup you know. So I wanted to know like what kind of wild foods were utilizing so it just was a long path of self study to try and figure it out because they're you know was no joy of native American cooking out there for me.

So so where did you turn to is the your sources for information about this it was it people was it I don't know, archives

Yeah a little bit of everything you know because I would just talk to people some of their memories try to filter what might've been indigenous and what was up obviously brought on later spent a lot of time outdoors and really just trying to understand what are the purpose of all these plants are my ancestors would have known you know the food is that medicine can craft with it or can you do all 3 and I think that was the best place to start was just opening up my eyes and starting to see the world around me for what I had to offer.

So you run the restaurant but you also founded something called the indigenous food lab where your goal is to teach people the fundamentals of indigenous food education what are those fundamentals?

So I think the first thing that you do is just identify what does the term indigenous education means, so to break down that first off indigenous education was thousands of generations of knowledge being handed down family member after family member community after community giving people the basically the blueprint to live sustainably utilizing plants and animals of your region and all the tradition that goes along with it. And understand the immense amount of diversity out there because indigenous peoples obviously isn't one group you know they're still 576 tribes federally recognized the U.S. 6 or 22 in Canada 20 percent Mexico identifying as indigenous. So when we're breaking down indigenous knowledge were looking at the wild foods permaculture agriculture seed saving regional histories medicines food preservation fermentation nutrition health spirituality and sustainability cooking techniques like it just goes on and on like it's a whole education because that's what all of our educations were, and you know we have a community garden that we do our selves are growing a lot of heirloom seed varietals whether they're corns beans squash amaranth tobacco Chiles and our goal is really utilizing our food lab as a place where tribal communities especially around us can work with us so we can help them develop healthy indigenous Connery projects for the community and share a lot of this knowledge base and education with their own community too and just help grow.

That's why we should have made American food restaurants all over the nation run by indigenous peoples right? and for us we just want to get this food back into tribal communities especially make people healthy and happy and break a lot of the cycle of you know government reliance on food and huge rates of type 2 diabetes and obesity and heart disease because of this low nutritional food based at the government's been beating us for too long. Indigenous diet is really kind of the most ideal diet of healthy fats its diverse proteins as low carbs low salt it's a ton of plant diversity and a seasonal you know this is really good it's like what the paleo diet wishes it was really when it comes to it I think because it just makes sense you know if we can control our food we can control our future and for us it's an exciting time to be indigenous because we are taking all of these lessons from our ancestors that should have been passed down to us re-learning them and utilizing the world today with everything it has to offer and becoming something different you know. This is an indigenous evolution and revolution at the same time.

You have said, Sean, in the past that sharing culture through food is healing. What do you mean by that?

I think that you know again like it just opens up people so if you think of the first time you maybe have experienced a sushi or Ethiopian food or something like that and how that affected you the flavors and you know the thoughts and how it changed your perception of that country or that culture of whatever it might be and it creates curiosity and you want to know more and you want to learn more and I think that for indigenous peoples with such a rough time especially with the US government and we've had so much stripped away from us that is really important to experience some of these players that are true representation of where we are. If you can taste these foods and have places to taste them and understand it's gonna open up a lot more people for compassion understanding and you know we can live in a better world.

That's Sean Sherman, co-owner of a whiny in Minneapolis and founder of the sous chef you can see his full talk at On the show today ideas on reconnecting to what we eat. And solutions for some of our biggest food problems which includes hunger.

There's a lot that has to do with just access which is why I have always said that hunger is not an issue of scarcity there's more than enough food.

This is social entrepreneur jasmine Crowe for the last 4 years she's been trying to figure out how to re direct healthy food that might be wasted to the people who need it. Ever since she visited a food bank in 2017 and saw what was on offer.

I always remember the biggest thing is they were giving away a gallon of barbecue sauce. I just think like a whole gallon of milk but it's filled with barbecue sauce, and they know me. They had weight watchers Johnson's belvita breakfast biscuits they're really super hero shaped macaroni noodles. Love can get like a very small can of corn can of peas cantor refried beans and cattle potato chips French fries green onions that's what they were given people that was it. Nothing was fresh, nothing made sense I connect think that someone would be able to take those items home and actually make a meal of them. I learned that it was ultimately the case from lack of food banks and a lot of food pantries they would receive donations of whatever it was gonna be that week and that's what it was and what I saw that that was doing it it made people have to go to a lot of different food banks because they never knew what they were thinking. It to me was a real eye opening experience and there being a huge difference in this country between access to food and access to meals.

So jasmine started to investigate why food banks weren't solving the US's hunger problem. She continues from the Ted stage.

And almost every major US city the food bank is viewed as a beloved community institution. Co-operations and volunteers down on a weekly basis to sort through food items and make boxes of food for the needy. Can't drive they warm the hearts of schools and office buildings that participate in fill the shelves of food banks and food pantries across the nation. This is how it works and hunger and what I've come to realize is that we are doing hunger off. We've created a cycle that keeps people dependent on food banks and pantries on a monthly basis for food that is often not well balance is certainly doesn't provide them with a healthy now yeah we're wasting more food than ever before more than 80 billion pounds a year to be exact and as this food 6 he gradually rocks introduces harmful methane gas a leading contributor to global climate change yep the waste of the food itself the waste of all the money associated with producing this now wasted food and a waste of labor with all of the above all of this made me realize that hunger was not an issue a security. But rather a matter of logistics.

I mean Jasmine that is staggering I can't even picture how much 80 billion pounds of food like what does that even look like we are asking so much every year.

And I want to stress that this is not food that's also coming from our households could if you factor that number and it's even greater but for a consumer facing businesses every year 80000000000 pounds a perfectly good food goes to waste. So these are the restaurants these at the grocery store she go to the hotels all that food gets thrown away while at the same time we have nearly 50 million people that are living food insecure which means they never know when or where their next meal is coming from. I just couldn't believe that we were living in a society that was allowing that to happen all those things combined ultimately led me to start this company. So in 2017 I created an app that would inventory of a thing it is a business house and make it super easy for them to donate this excess food that would typically go to waste at the end of the night. All the end user has to do now is click on an item tell us how many they have to donate and I platform calculates the weight in the tax value of those items at time of donation within connect with local drivers in the shared economy to get this food picked up and delivered directly to the door of the nonprofit organizations and people in need. I provided the data and analytics to help businesses reduce food waste at the source and even save millions of dollars our mission was simple: feed more waste less. And by 2018 our clients include the world's busiest airport Atlanta's Hartsfield Jackson core mount chick fillet in Papa Johns who worked with over 200 business is to divert more than 2000000 pounds of edible food from landfills into the hands of people that need it most.

So you create this company, you build an app and you do well for a few years but as we've seen the pandemic up and did all kinds of supply chains and particularly magnified the vulnerabilities in our food systems. Did you need to change how you run your business as a result?

So the apps still exists but what we did in TNTN is we made a picnic a lot of the businesses that we were serving have closed their doors airports convention centers stadiums and arenas colleges and universities so when I started thinking is how can we be the helpers? Our first big customer was actually won the public school districts in Atlanta where they were somewhere near 50000 students that were the bus to school everyday again logistics and at school they receive breakfast and lunch so that's where they were eating and now when schools are closing how are these kids going to get access to their food and so we're good came in and did is we started delivering food directly to the students homes within took that same concept and we start working directly with food distributors and manufacturers purchasing food at cost and then delivering a involved to seniors across the city.

So rather than take excess food or wasted food and make sure it gets to people who need it you are actually buying the food that people need.

In one segment of our business yes, but we are also buying food from distributors and manufacturers that would otherwise go to waste or that they can no longer sell. We're really helping to make sure that food doesn't go to waste at the manufacturer and distributor side we're also still helping businesses address food waste and at the end of the day we're making sure that people have access to food at no cost to them. In 2016 France became the first country to ban supermarkets from throwing away unused food instead they must donate it and are fine if they don't. Denmark now has a mandated food waste grocery store its name Wefood they recover excess food from local grocery stores and sell it up to a 50 percent off discount dating is all the proceeds and donated to emergency aid programs and social media she is for the people in need and last year the world got its first pay what you can grocery store what did it for an open in Toronto their shelves remained stocked recovering excess food from major supermarkets in allowing families to simply pay what they can at the grocery store. This innovation we need more of them.

Hearing you give examples from other countries makes me wonder where the U. S. government is in all of this like why isn't this systemic solution our city officials reaching out to you and saying jasmine how can we put you out of business I mean why do you have to start a company to solve what it sounds like we need laws for?

I agree she I think 100 percent it should be a systemic solution acting last year should have lifted the veil off of everybody's eyes of the plight of hunger in this country and just how close to being hungry a lot of people are. when you asked me how many people and and policy decision makers have reached out to me and asked how can they help the reality is none. I've been waiting for one city they say let's make sure that we have food hubs that exists where Manley's know they can go and get meals for their family if they're missing a little bit of money we need less food dancers we need more affordable grocery stores; we need more people to have access to snap we have to understand inflation is happening right until we get CD's and more governments involved in actually trying to solve these problems we're going to continue to have a hunger problem.

That's social entrepreneur Jasmine Crowe she is the founder and CEO of glitter and you can see her full talk at on the show today the food connection I'm Manoush Zomorodi and you're listening to the Ted radio hour from NPR.

It's the Ted radio hour from NPR I'm Manoush Zomorodi. On the show today the food connection we've heard about a tiktok influencer making a personal change to her diet and indigenous chef bringing the old ways of eating back to the dinner table and an entrepreneur who wants to make sure good food isn't wasted. but with so many people and the planet that so maxed out how will we be able to produce enough food in decades to come on a global scale what is the future of our food.

We have a growing global population we have growing demand for meat we also have a decreasing arable land we have increasingly brittle and antiquated food supply chains and all of this is combined with these increasing climate pressures and there has to be a new approach.

This is journalist Amanda Little and like a lot of us she's trying to make ethical food choices for herself

I live in Nashville Tennessee land of barbecues I am a shark in charmed waters and it has been very hard for me to remove meat from my diet

and that's just 1 reason why Amanda wrote a book called the feet of food it's an investigation into what needs to happen to prevent future food emergencies the international panel on climate change he said that by mid century the world may reach a threshold of global warming beyond which current agricultural practices will no longer support large human civilizations and I've committed that to memory it's an actual quote from a 2014 IPCC report because it's just such a staggering. Statement

When you put it like this I mean a like part of me is like oh my gosh it's enough to want to turn off the radio and cry but I don't want people to do that because you you know you've spent all these years traveling and talking to people who are trying to fix it.

Yeah this is a deeply troubling story how do you feed the world this is a question that has propelled and troubled civilization for the better part of 13000 years right and you have one side saying let's go back to the way things were industrial farming screwed everything up. You know we we need to D. in fact our food supply and go back to sort of pre industrial agriculture.

Those are folks who are composting and sort of going back to the land and no pesticides those sorts of things?

Yes so they want to return to this sort of pre green revolution organic biodynamic regenerative farming practices and then you have on the other side of the techno optimists who are saying food is right for reinvention right? Let's let's throw technology at this problem and then you have this other side to saying oh no no no I'd like my food de-invented thank you very much we've seen how technology has caused this problem why would we bring more technology to bear

So you've got the techno optimists on one side and then opposing them is a kind of back to the land camp

yes and I as a sort of detached observer of all this and not someone who had a dog in either fight was really perplexed like why is it one or the other. The rift between the reinvention Campa de invention campus existed for decades but now it's a raging battle.

Amanda little continues in her Ted talk.

One side covers the past the other side covers the future and if someone observing this from the outside I began to wonder why must it be so binary. Can't there be a synthesis of the 2 approaches our challenge is to borrow from the wisdom of the ages and from our most advanced science to forge this third way one that allows us to improve and scale our harvests while restoring rather than degrading the underlying web of life. I belong to neither camp. I'm a failed vegan and allow for the tarian and a terrible backyard farmer if I'm honest I will keep trying at this but I may fail. But I'm hellbent on hope and if my travels have taught me anything it's that there's good reason for hope. Farmers and entrepreneurs and academics are radically rethinking national and global food systems they're marrying principles of Old World agroecology and state of the art technologies to create what I call a third way toward food future.

So what is the sort of third way this this middle ground.

The middle ground is to find a synthesis of the traditional and the radically new the answer to food security is not technology alone and it's not traditionalism alone but its technology combined with the wisdom of a country right its technology in cooperation not competition with the natural world it is kind of theoretical as that sounds there were so many examples of innovators who really bearing this out.

One of those innovators who is a farmer named Chris. When we called Chris he just corralled some of his run away house.

Rains crazy things happen all right special it hasn't rained for a while so they wanted and nice to get the model wrote share finds out

So Chris and his partner Anne Newman are to farmers in the northern neck of Virginia.

We farmed the land at Stratford hall which gets its claim to fame is being the the press plays Robert E. Lee which is about a place for a black party farming but we have an opportunity to be on this landscape and to pursue black and indigenous led to sovereignty from here.

I first encountered Chris through his writing, he's been chronicling his own adventures as a new entrepreneurial farmer who has come up against a lot of that profound hypocrisies in a sustainable food production. And he wrote this manifesto clean food if you want to save the world get over yourself.

By get over yourself Chris means that organic farmers need to be less precious about their methods they need to embrace new ways of growing healthy food that everyone can afford.

I grew up around poverty and grew up around people who were food insecure and who were financially secure in this movement is never going to gain traction or take off or become a mass movement if we're not appealing beyond people who are in the luxury sector.

To make his food more affordable Chris uses old and new tools to farm.

His farm is really fascinating blend of traditional of approaches to farming and technology and the more time I spent with Chris and Annie the more I began to see what you know they describe is this kind of personal Wakanda this this rich forest ecosystem that he imagines will be managed intended by intelligent machines by robotic harvesters. A police where technology exists to serve and elevate nature he has you know drones and electrical fences for managed grazing and cameras and software. But what he really envisions is weaving together on these old forms of agroecology of food forests of crop production of livestock production in harmony with the natural world in harmony with ecosystems along side technologies that can help him scale his enterprise and make it possible for him to produce his food for more people more affordably.

Amanda traveled the country and the world meeting dozens of pioneers working toward this third way approach in Arkansas she witnessed the maiden voyage of an army of weed destroying robot.

I had the sense that this robot was going to look like C-3PO like some glittering gold battalion of C-3PO's to see marching out of the fields and have little pincers and it'd be plucking weeds from the ground but in fact it was this big sort of hoop skirt on the back of a tractor under which there was a bank of 24 cameras using computer vision, and the computers could distinguish between the crops and the weeds. And in a fraction of the time it takes you to blink these computers deployed with a tiny little jet a squirt of concentrated fertilizer that's too strong for a baby we to tolerate, but spare the plant itself. And so this intelligent reader has the potential to cut the use of agricultural chemicals by up to 90 percent or more.

I mean you mentioned in your book that in 2017 the guy who develop these robots gore Hey Harad that he sold his company to the tractor company John Deere the bad deal raise some eyebrows?

Yeah my question to him was your you know a paradigm shift you're a disruptor why are you selling out to the old guys? And he said because we need to scale because we need to get these things out into the field because they're great at building really good machines and we have no time to waste. Harada is the embodiment of third way thinking right? Robots he told me don't have to remove us from nature they can bring us closer to it they can restore it. Increasing crop diversity will be crucial to building resilient food systems and so will the centralizing agriculture so that when farmers in one region are disrupted the others around you can keep growing here again we see innovators borrowing from and perhaps even elevating the wisdom of natural ecosystems development in plant based and alternative meats are also profoundly hopeful. boom of the lady fed me my first plate of lab grown duck breast harvested fresh from a bioreactor. It even grown from a small sampling of cells taken from muscle tissue and fat and connective tissues which is exactly what we eat when we eat meat. This lab grown herbs Celebes duck meat has very little threat of bacterial contamination it's about 85 percent lower CO2 emissions associated with it eventually could be grown in decentralized facilities that are vulnerable to supply chain disruptions the lady started out as a cardiologist who understood the doctors have been developing human and animal tissues and laboratories for decades he was inspired as much by that is he was born in 1931 quote from Winston Churchill that says we shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast of the wing. by rolling them separately insurable mediums. like corrode Valenti is a quintessential third way thinker he's re imagine an old idea using new technologie to usher in a solution whose time has come.

This is some futuristic meet Amanda okay just to be clear though they take cells from animals they culture them and then grow these cells in a lab into meat that you got to taste.

I did I tasted it duck breast which had just been produced in a bioreactor and a bioreactor is like a giant to sophisticated crock pot it basically creates a sort of warm environment in which these growing cells can can replicate and they pulled it out and their company shaft put a little salt and pepper and a little oil in a pan and mash the thing into a little meatball and sizzle that in the frying pan and it smelled like meats and and I'm going oh my gosh what have I got myself into in part because I had just signed a document that said this is an experimental product is not the the eggs that is not been approved by the FDA and what you're after yeah but what was so moving was that the lady said to me as I was sort of bit digging into this bioreactor meatball. He said you are participating in history we are working on this to change the lives of billions of humans and trillions of animals. welcome to a paradigm shift and then I said thank you thank you I can't think of a better a better grace. This feels very but you know profound and moving. And I write as I was digging into this thing with my knife and he said no no no pick it up and pry it apart with your fingers you can see the the the texture of this which I thought was so interesting I mean it I've never been encouraged to you know pick up my meat and rip it apart and what was it like well at first it was a little bit like a sort of rubber ball and I was it was kind of thinking I'm not sure what you're getting at here the but as I pulled it apart I saw the striated layers of muscle that clung to each other and pulled apart just as you pull apart the meat on a chicken breast so I pull off this little chunk and start chewing it and it was a whole different experience than an impossible burger or a beyond meat burger or certainly a black bean burger. it was meat.

You write in the book that you keep wondering what will be on the table when you hopefully visit your grand kids for thanksgiving dinner in the year 2050. What do you think that meal might look like?

Yeah I you know I spent all this time roaming around the world trying to find an answer to this question, and I arrived at. I think I probably inappropriate request which was to spend it with Chris and Annie Newman.

I would love for Amanda to to be able to come to our thanksgiving and it's like a week long thing where people who participate in the eating part of thanksgiving also participate in the vision part. You know, lots of nontraditional foods are prepared by all the hands that are at that table and I would love to be a real real big dance able

I love the possibility of eating at christen Anne's table because they want their farm to be honoring and producing the full spectrum of foods that are a part of his in Anne's family tradition Turkey and doc heirloom varieties of corn and green beans and potato grown at the margins of their food forests sauces of cranberry and elderberry and the plants of Chriss Piscopo in ancestors pawpaw persimmon chestnuts but every element will have been made possible by the next level technologies that he plans to bring into his farm you know it's not so much that the foods of the future will be unrecognizable to us, but the means by which they are grown will be potentially totally different from the way that foods have been grown in our lifetimes.

That's Amanda Little author of the book the fate of food what will eat in a bigger hotter smarter world you can watch her full talk at Thank you so much for listening to our show today called the food connection to learn more about the people who were on this episode go to and to see hundreds more Ted talks check out or the Ted app. If you've been enjoying the show we would be so grateful if you left us a review on apple podcasts it is the best way for us to reach new listeners which we are really trying to do. This episode was produced by Katie Monteleone, Fiona Geiran and Rachel Faulkner, Diba Mohtasham, and Sylvie Douglis. It was edited by Sanaz Meshkinpour and James Delahoussayee. Our production staff at NPR also includes Jeff Rogers Matthew crewTA and Harrison Vijay Troy our audio engineer is Daniel shook in. our theme music was written by Ron teen Arab Louis our partners at Ted are Chris Anderson Colin Helms Anna Phelan Michelle Clint and hiking. I'm Manoush Zomorodi and you've been listening to the Ted radio hour from NPR.