Louise Fresco, food and agriculture expert is on stage at TED2009. She's making bread as she talks. She is holding up two loaves, one in each hand: Wonder Bread, and artisanal whole meal bread. Asks audience, which do you like better. Only about two people out of thousands say they like the Wonder Bread.
Fresco says that we feel whole meal bread is more real, more honest, more authentic. Why do we feel that whole meal bread has these attributes? Because we connect it to a mythical agricultural past, of Tuscan farms.
We have mythical image of how life was in rural areas in the past. The reality is quite different. These poor farmers had hard lives.
200 years ago we had industrial revolution. It brought us power, mechanization, fertilizer, drove up yields. Horrible things like picking beans by hand is automated. All this is a great improvement. We've enveloped world in dense chain of supermarkets with global trade, we can eat food from around the world.
You may prefer the artisanal bread, but don't despise the white bread. Bread and food have become plentiful and affordable to all. It has changed the world.
As food became plentiful it also meant we were able to decrease the number of people working in agriculture. Only 1% of people are farmers. It frees us up to do other things and not worry about food. Never before have so few people been responsible for feeding the rest of the world. And we are oblivious.
Today bread is associated with obesity, which is weird. We have been making it for 10,000 years. The whiter the bread in many countries, the better it is.
How many of you can tell wheat from other cereals? Can you make bread? Do you even know how much a loaf of bread costs? We are removed from our food.
But some people are still struggling for their daily food. Wheat is getting more expensive because meat consumption in China and Asia is driving up wheat prices. Can we find a solution to help them produce more food? Yes, but we need mechanization. It is not good to have small farmer grow rice by hand and work under lousy conditions. We need clever low-scale mechanization to help these small farmers. Fish ponds and horticulture in basements and rooftops.
Ask your government for an integrated food policy.
Now she removes some bread from an over and is sharing it with people in front row.
Mark Frauenfelder is the founder of Boing Boing and the editor-in-chief of MAKE and Cool Tools. Twitter: @frauenfelder. Come and hear Mark speak at the ALA conference in Chicago on July 1.