Food As A Religion | Adam Melonas | TEDxCambridge

Translator: Tanya Cushman
Reviewer: Peter van de Ven So it all started with a very,
seemingly innocent little phrase: an apple a day keeps the doctor away. This little phrase,
it marked the beginning of one of the greatest takedowns
in marketing history. With this one phrase, we nullified the greatness
of Adam and Eve in the apple orchard and Newton’s theory of gravitational law. You could say the moment
you bite into an amazing apple, “It’s an explosion of texture and flavor. Sweet yet indulgent. Tart yet refreshing. Something crunchy that turns into a mouthful
of sweet, refreshing juice.” You could say that an apple would rival the greatest of any type
or category of junk food there is today. And yet, somehow,
we overlook this experience because we perceive it as health food. But we’re not here to talk about apples. For me, this embodies the notion
and the understanding of our internal battle
between health food and junk food. What if we reframed the question? What if it’s actually
not health food versus junk food? What if it’s actually food
versus everything else? Food has become one of the most socially acceptable
extremist religions in our society today, being practiced in neighborhoods,
wealthy neighborhoods, across the country. We have jihad being declared in every unassuming playground
and play date in America. Somehow, along the way,
we’ve become confused as to experts in specific fields versus “I consume,
so therefore, I must be an expert.” Imagine if we took the same approach
in the medicine industry. Imagine if we had dentists
performing open-heart surgeries simply because they have
a beating heart in their chest. According to this theory,
they’re an expert, right? There was a time
I took my son to the park, probably about a year ago, and I witnessed
food religion at its worst. There was a poor mother, came into that playground
with her children. She pulled out some snacks
for her children. What happened next
completely blew my mind. She pulled out Cheetos
and a bottle of soda, and all the other mothers
in the playground started whispering and pointing, like she’d just pulled out heroin
and a bottle of whiskey. (Laughter) Now, although I would never feed this
or dream to feed this to my own children, I also understand the battle
is won through education not shame, [which] will, basically,
drive this underground, encourage solitary consumption
and eating disorders. Now, this feels like
somebody else’s problem – right? – extremist religion. Let’s actually see how many people are following their own
extremist religion. Let’s see a show of hands. How many people are or were vegetarian? Paleo? Gluten-free? Raw? Vegaquarian? Whatever that means. And my own personal favorite as a chef: vegans. Do we have any vegans? As I suspected. So you can see, this extremist religion
is not so far from our own backyard. As human beings, it’s normal. We’re social creatures. We want to enlist and encourage
as many people as possible to our version of our religion. What if our definition of healthy
is just completely screwed up? What would you say if I told you that not only is
all health food truly healthy, but it could actually be
slowly killing you in the process, and not only do you feel good about it, you feel completely empowered
by your choices? How many times have you been to the supermarket
and watched people ponder, Which bag of potato chips
am I going to purchase today? only to land on
those organic potato chips? Well, being a little strange myself, I typically ask the question why: Why did you purchase that? And the answer will typically
go along the lines of, “Look, it says it’s organic. It means it’s healthy, right?” Or “Look, the potatoes, they come
from a small town outside of Kansas, and the sea salt is harvested by hands,
by virgins in the Greek islands, (Laughter) and the olive oil is squeezed
one olive at a time. All of this means it’s healthy, right? I’m here to tell you,
it’s not some magical form of junk. Junk is junk. Food is food. Makes it even more simple, right? Imagine a world where you make your choices
based off, Which flavor do I want? versus going to
the supermarket store shelves and having to scour the shelves
to try to find the flavor of something because it’s hidden behind
all of the seals and the non-GMOs and the Fair Trades
and the organics and this and that before you can actually understand
what you’re actually buying. Now, we’re in this Utopian world. I imagine and I predict – it’s not rocket science,
but I predict in 50 years from now, we’re going to have children
coming to us, saying, “Hey, I can’t believe
you used to eat that crap.” Right? Exactly the same way we feel
about the war of tobacco. Imagine trying to explain to them the down and dirty battle
between lobbyists and politicians about trying to declassify
pizza as a vegetable simply because it has tomato sauce. It’s absurd. So, many people feel protected
by policy, right? Everyone feels like
if it’s on a store shelf, there must be some kind of legislation, somebody must have put their rules
on that thing in order for it to be there, so therefore it’s safe. The way that policy typically goes: Someone writes a study. The consumers go out and they try to find a product
that matches that study. The consumer asks, the manufacturer answers by scrambling to get something
that answers that particular need, and then policymakers,
they try to catch up to assert their worth
in that particular field. We can all remember
the New York City soda ban, or the failed soda ban, right? When a politician tries to say, “You don’t need a soda
that takes two hands to carry.” Everyone said, “Don’t touch my soda.” Feared in any state,
he said, “But it’s okay. Take two giant ones
and put them in each hand. It’s okay.” Right? But yet we still feel protected
by that same policy that we’ve been fighting against. A little notion – sugar is sugar is sugar. Right? That sugar you just paid
10 times more for? It’s not magical. It’s still sugar. A couple of entrepreneurs
came to me and said, “Adam, we’ve struck gold. We’ve done it: a healthy cupcake.” I said, “Wow. First of all, that sounds
like an oxymoron, but give me one – I need to try it.” I tasted it and I said,
“Wow, this thing is so sweet. Show me the nutritional label.” I looked at it, and I said, “35 grams of sugar? How is this healthy?” They said, “No, no, no. It’s not sugar. It’s agave.” (Laughter) So, at the end of the day, we need
to get beyond the marketing messages, we need to get beyond the hype, and we need to understand that in your body, yes, there may be
a difference from one to the other, ever so slight, but at the end of the day, it’s all about monitoring
your consumption of sugar: eat less – the quality of it is obviously secondary;
it’s still important – but eat less sugar. Now, we seem to have become
very comfortable living our life in sound bites –
the Twitter generation. We seem comfortable if we can read it
in 140 characters or less, we know, or proclaim to know,
all there is to know. We seem to have become
very, very comfortable touching the surface
of many different things and proclaiming to the world, “I know something about that.” Food is a very complicated topic, made even more complicated
by the lobbyists who profit from their ability
for you to believe their study versus the other study that tells you that that product
is actually going to kill you. Let’s revert to some ancient wisdom. Let’s do something revolutionary. We eat something; we feel something. It’s kept us alive for millions of years. So, let’s connect ourselves with food. Let’s understand the difference between feeling great
because we’re being nourished and feeling great because
we’re feeding an addiction. That’s, obviously –
that’s what drugs are for. Let’s understand the role
that food plays in our lives. It’s supposed to nourish and inspire, not excite us and distract us
while slowly killing us. Thank you. (Applause)

  1. I agree to most of what you say, although there is a huge difference between different qualities of food. Just compare a fresh orange juice to a bottled one from the supermarket. They actually shouldn't be called the same word – absolutely incomparable. The same goes for microwave and precooked stuff. One part of your food must consist of something fresh that had been in contact with the sun. And I also think that it's necessary to stop the meat industry – horrible and disgusting. Everybody who wants meat should either go hunting or raise and kill the animals themselves. If this would become law, most people would instantly stop eating meat. But I absolutely agree that this extremist gluten-free bullshit is absolutely idiotic. And I also hate the organic market. If organic stuff is growing naturally and needs no chemicals, why is it five times more expensive? The worst thing is that they pretend to be conscious world savers, but instead of selling their veggies to a price that can afford everybody, they turn it into an eliterian thing and then throw half of it away!

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