Christian Long

Carolyn Steel: How Food Shapes Our Cities

In TED Talks on May 4, 2010 at 9:44 pm

Reflection by KRISTEN K.

Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:

Carolyn Steel:  How Food Shapes Our Cities

Carolyn Steel explores how interconnected food and urbanization are–and should be–and how modern society has disrupted arguably the most important relationship humans can have, between themselves and nature.

It is a troubling idea that we have become disconnected from nature. But has this not been our goal since the advent of cities? Isn’t the purpose of a city to allow for the removal of society from nature?

Cars prevent us from getting the natural exercise of walking in addition to destroying nature itself in the process. Air conditioning prevents us from having to be at the mercy of the harsh heat of the sun–harsh heat that we have in fact increased ourselves with global warming. Electricity has made the night hours much more productive because we do not have to stop progress as the sun sets–yet our natural sleeping habits have been distorted. Factory farms prevent us from having to grow our own food or even having to know where our food comes from and how it is cultivated.

Perhaps in an effort to distinguish ourselves from animals who do not have the ability to ‘reason’, we have built a society so unnatural that we go to a concrete building twice the size of a football field to purchase apples that were once sold in an outdoor market by the farmer who had harvested them.

Clearly, we as a human race have gotten off track.

Steel offers a way to get us back on track, drawing from Utopian ideals. In these images, a small group of cities are surrounded by large expanses of arable land and are joined together by railway. In this imaginary community, it would be difficult for the residents to be oblivious as to where their food came from. In fact, it is likely that the citizens would know the farmer that grew the potatoes on their table.

While this community is an idealistic goal, and perhaps not a realistic one, Steel does provide realistic ways to get humans back in touch with nature. She emphasizes the need for someone in the family to plan meals and to cook. And really cook–that is, not add water or zap a frozen meal in the microwave. She also stresses the need for families to shop at farmers markets and to educate children about food.

If we want our natural world to survive, we need to get back in touch with it. We can’t survive long in an artificial environment, and the first step to reconnecting with nature is to reconnect with natural foods. Our health, our planet, and our society will all benefit from the reestablishment of a relationship with nature.


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