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Meet An 11-year-old Food Activist

It's been three years since Birke Baehr, then 11 years old, gave a talk called "What's Wrong With Our Food System" at the TEDx conference in Asheville, North Carolina. It became one of TED's most-watched talks, an Internet sensation with close to 2 million views.

In five jam-packed minutes, Birke combines the passion of a child with the authority of a grown-up food activist to talk about how:

  • flashy advertising and cheap plastic toys lure kids to beg their parents to buy food that isn't good for their health or the environment.
  • genetically modified tomatoes—injected with the DNA of fish—cause cancer.
  • runoff from pesticides and herbicides is poisoning the earth.
  • he decided to trade in his dream of becoming an NFL football player to pursue organic farming – so he could have  greater impact on the world.
  • he and his brother and sister actually like to eat baked kale chips.

Birke became interested in organic food after a newspaper story about mercury in high fructose corn syrup inspired him to learn more about industrialized agriculture. At the time, his parents thought organic food was too expensive. The family ate conventional foods, packaged foods, fast foods. No soda at home, but they did drink it at restaurants. Birke told them, "It seems to me, we can either pay the farmer or we can pay the hospital..."

Now 14, Birke has convinced his parents to buy local, sustainable organic foods whenever possible. He's written a book, Birke on the Farm – A Boy's Quest for Real Food; appeared in two documentaries, Choice Point and Bite Size, exploring issues of childhood obesity. Birke speaks frequently about agriculture and food safety at conferences, including one in Rome, where they nicknamed him, in Italian, "the little organic farmer."

Birke's message to other kids: "You shouldn't wait to speak your mind. I wanted to be an organic farmer when I grow up, but I'm learning I can be one right now."

Check out the Influence Decoder in Wellbody Academy's Wellbody Hall to explore how advertising influences your food decisions. Did you know every year the food industry spends more than $1.7 billion marketing to adolescents and children? Most food industry advertising is used to promote carbonated beverages, breakfast cereals and fast food restaurants.

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Guest Saturday, 25 October 2014