As TEDxManhattan approaches, we've asked this year's speakers to introduce themselves by answering a few questions. Today we feature Myra Goodman, Co-Founder of Earthbound Farm.
What's the topic you'll be speaking about?
My talk is called "In Praise of Big Organic." I think people need to be reminded about the tangible benefits we all reap when large farms transition to organic methods. A lot of the criticism of large organic operations is based on misinformation, and an unexamined "Big is bad, small is beautiful" prejudice. The healthy food movement has been so focused on the vital task of exposing the problems with the industrial food system and garnering support for small, local farms, that the importance of supporting organic growers of all sizes often slips right off the agenda.
Why is this important?
More than 99% of the farmland in this country is farmed conventionally. Almost all of these growers are using petroleum-based toxic pesticides and synthetic fertilizers to grow their crops. These chemicals end up in our food, damage the environment, and are unhealthy for the farmworkers and wildlife exposed to them.
I believe that if we want to preserve the health of our families and protect the soil and water we rely on to grow our food, transitioning land to organic practices has to be at the top of the agenda of the healthy food movement.
The proliferation of genetically modified crops is also alarming, because the long-term effects on human health and the environment are unknown. According to the USDA, the use of soybeans genetically modified to be herbicide tolerant in this country grew from 17% in 1997 to 93% in 2013. Corn is now up to 85%. These crops are using more pesticides that ever before, and we've seen the rise of herbicide-resistant weeds. GMOs are prohibited in organic agriculture, which is another reason we want more organic farmers.
I believe that if we want to preserve the health of our families and protect the soil and water we rely on to grow our food, transitioning land to organic practices has to be at the top of the agenda of the healthy food movement. We need organic food in both our supermarkets and at our farmer's markets. And this means supporting all sizes of organic farms—from the smallest local farm, to the largest growers out there.
Are there other projects you're also passionate about right now – either yours or someone else's?
I am passionate about inspiring people to eat less animal products and more plant-based foods. Eating lower on the food chain is a simple, powerful way to improve personal health, avoid factory-farmed animal products, protect the environment, and give fisheries a break.
I have a new cookbook coming out on March 1, 2014 that I'm very excited about. It's called Straight from the Earth – Irresistible Vegan Recipes for Everyone, and it was written in collaboration with my daughter, Marea. We share our favorite vegan dishes because we want to make eating more plant-based meals a pleasure, not a sacrifice. Our book showcases a broad range of delicious vegan recipes – all omnivore tested and approved.
Being 100% vegan is not something the average consumer will embrace, but it's very easy for all of us to cut down on the amount of animal products we consume. So much of our consumption is purely habitual, and many of the reasons people cite for eating so much meat are based on falsehoods, for instance, that it's hard to get enough protein and calcium on a purely plant-based diet. This simply isn't true.
I believe the time is ripe for even the mainstream to embrace a shift toward a more plant-based diet, just as organic food has received mainstream acceptance over the past decade. And I want to be a part of the plant-based eating revolution.
Which other 2014 TEDxManhattan speakers are you excited about hearing?
All the speakers sound amazing, and I'm eager to hear everyone's talks. I'm especially curious about what educator and poet Clint Smith will have to say. It sounds as if he's figured out how to use poetry as an effective tool to address some very serious and sensitive issues, and I hope that he will perform for us. Peggy Neu's Meatless Monday intrigues me. I want to learn how she developed such a successful, impactful initiative, and I want to hear David Binkle speak about improving school lunches. It sounds like Alison Cayne and I have a shared passion for where cooking and sustainable agriculture intersect, so I hope to glean some new ideas from her.
Past talks that have been especially memorable for me are Ken Cook from Environmental Working Group explaining the farm bill in a way I found easy to understand. And who could ever forget chef Ann Cooper's pantomime of spoon-feeding every American child a five-pound bag of pesticides?
Where can more information about your project be found?
The Earthbound Farm website, http://www.ebfarm.com/, has a lot of information about organic farming, and its recipe database includes many of my recipes, and I am also one of their blog contributors.
TEDxManhattan, "Changing the Way We Eat," will take place March 1, 2014 at the TimesCenter in New York City. Interested in joining the day? You can apply to attend, or host or attend a viewing party. For more information, please visit http://www.tedxmanhattan.org/.