Birke Baehr: What's wrong with our food system

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About the speaker

Birke Baehr
Birke Baehr wants us to know how our food is made, where it comes from, and what's in it. At age 11, he's planning a career as an organic farmer

About this talk

11-year-old Birke Baehr presents his take on a major source of our food -- far-away and less-than-picturesque industrial farms. Keeping farms out of sight promotes a rosy, unreal picture of big-box agriculture, he argues, as he outlines the case to green and localize food production.


Birke Baehr: What's wrong with our food system

Hello. My name is Birke Baehr, and I'm 11 years old. I came here today to talk about what's wrong with our food system. First of all, I would like to say that I'm really amazed at how easily kids are led to believe all the marketing and advertising on TV, at public schools and pretty much everywhere else you look. It seems to me like corporations are always trying to get kids like me to get their parents to buy stuff that really isn't good for us or the planet. Little kids, especially, are attracted by colorful packaging and plastic toys. I must admit, I used to be one of them. I also used to think that all of our food came from these happy, little farms where pigs rolled in mud and cows grazed on grass all day. What I discovered was this is not true. I began to look into this stuff on the internet, in books and in documentary films, in my travels with my family. I discovered the dark side of the industrialized food system.

First there's genetically engineered seeds and organisms. That is when a seed is manipulated in a laboratory to do something not intended by nature -- like taking the DNA of a fish and putting it into the DNA of a tomato -- yuck. Don't get me wrong, I like fish and tomatoes, but this is just creepy. (Laughter) The seeds are then planted, then grow. The food they produce have been proven to cause cancer and other problems in lab animals. And people have been eating food produced this way since the 1990's. And most folks don't even know they exist. Did you know rats that ate genetically engineered corn had developed signs of liver and kidney toxicity? These include kidney inflammation and lesions and increased kidney weight. Yet almost all the corn we eat is altered genetically in some way. And let me tell you, corn is in everything. And don't even get me started on the confined animal feeding operations. called CAFOS.

Conventional farmers use chemical fertilizers made from fossil fuels that they mix with the dirt to make plants grow. They do this because they've stripped the soil of all nutrients from growing the same crop over and over again.

Next, more harmful chemicals are sprayed on fruits and vegetables, like pesticides and herbicides, to kill weeds and bugs. When it rains, these chemicals seep into the ground, or run off into our waterways, poisoning our water too. Then they irradiate our food, trying to make it last longer, so it can travel thousands of miles from where it's grown to the supermarkets.

So I ask myself, how can I change? How can I change these things? This is what I found out. I discovered that there's a movement for a better way. Now a while back, I wanted to be an NFL football player. I decided that I'd rather be an organic farmer instead. (Applause) Thank you. And that way I can have a greater impact on the world. This man, Joel Salatin, they call him a lunatic farmer because he grows against the system. Since I'm home schooled, I went to go hear him speak one day. This man, this lunatic farmer, doesn't use any pesticides, herbicides, or genetically modified seeds. And so for that, he's called crazy by the system.

I want you to know that we can all make a difference by making different choices, by buying our food directly from local farmers, or our neighbors who we've known all our lives. Some people say organic or local food is more expensive, but is it really? With all these things I've been learning about the food system, it seems to me that we either pay the farmer, or we can pay the hospital. (Applause) Now I know definitely what one I would choose. I want you to know that there are farms out there -- like Bill Keener in Sequachie Cove Farm in Tennessee -- whose cows do eat grass and whose pigs do roll in the mud, just like I thought.

Sometimes I go to Bill's farm and volunteer, so I can see up close and personal where the meat I eat comes from. I want you to know that I believe kids will eat fresh vegetables and good food if they know more about it and where it really comes from. I want you to know that there are farmers' markets in every community, popping up. I want you to know that me, my brother and sister actually like eating baked kale chips. I try to share this everywhere I go.

Not too long ago, my uncle said that he offered my six year-old cousin cereal. He asked if he wanted organic Toasted O's or the sugar-coated flakes -- you know, the one with the big striped cartoon character on the front. My little cousin told his dad that he would rather have the organic Toasted O's cereal, because, Birke said, he shouldn't eat sparkly cereal. And that, my friends, is how we can make a difference one kid at a time.

So next time you're at the grocery store, think local, choose organic, know your farmer and know your food. Thank you.

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