It's not every day that you come upon a food video that stops you in your tracks. One that makes you sit up and take notice, that doesn't turn you off or shut you down.
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Recently, the social media food world has been abuzz with a Chipotle commercial that includes a song by Willie Nelson urging us to go "back to the start". The premise is that agriculture is no longer what we want it to be with too many toxic inputs, externalized costs and unintended consequences.
Anyone who knows me knows that I have real concern over the way that our current agricultural system is structured: farmers are contractually obligated to buy certain products, while using seeds that have not been tested for their long-term performance and then have to be licensed for use due to their patents, and are obligated to a system in which at any time, fuel, fertilizer or licensing fees can suddenly spike, impacting their incomes, their livelihoods, their debt levels and so much more.
And yet at the same time, modern day farming has brought tremendous advances. Having spent time with farmers in Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Washington state and other parts of our amazing country, I am in awe of what farming looks like today. I have listened and learned about tractors outfitted with computers that enable things their grandfathers could never have dreamt of. A recent post, highlighted by Monsanto on Twitter and seen on America's Farmers blog (written by a farmer's wife who is also a mother of four) shares that insight and paints the picture of what farming looks like today for those who haven't been able to get there themselves. She writes:
"Today, a farmer feeds 155 people. In 1960, one farmer fed only 26. Today, our tractors and combines are mostly run off of computers...dropping one seed every six inches for proper placing of a corn plant. Our sprayers and manure spreaders are also monitored by computers to spread correct amounts of nutrients over our precious soils..."
And as I reflect on all of it, of the passion, the dedication and the love on display, including Bill Gates recent public relations tour to rebrand farming as 'high-tech agriculture," I can't help but think that what we need isn't a rebranding campaign or a food fight but a food education, one in which there is an honest dialogue, with experts brought to the table, from all parts of the food continuum.
A dialogue that educates, revealing the limits and constraints we have not yet seen because of the lack of open science due to the patents that protect the changes in our food supply as intellectual property of chemical giants.
A dialogue that informs not just to farmers, but also livestock breeders and consumers, one that brings truth and transparency to the table, that isn't afraid of labels that are so descriptive and informative that farmers and consumers are given the freedom of choice on which our country was founded.
A dialogue that through its revelations, lowers the barriers to entry so that rather than a monopolized food supply that does not allow for the best, most efficient, effective and affordable products to be brought to market, we can create a food system that gives farmers financial flexibility to choose the best practices, consumers the information they need to make an informed choice when it comes to feeding their families, and data required to build a food system that is embraced around the world, so that once again, American farmers are restored to their place of admiration.
We're not there yet. Not close, so until we are, I'll keep working on it, and I hope that you will, too. Lend your voice to the food dialogues, lend your talents to creating a healthy food system, and remember, that the most important thing that you could do before doing anything is to listen.
Over the last few years, so many people have reached out to share their stories and their passion to protect the health of our country and have asked, "What did it take to get started?"
As I've reflected on this, it took me back to the beginning of my story. And in all candor, that is not a place that I like to visit much. Because in the beginning, it was isolating. Organizations that were supposed to be looking out for the best interests of our children were having allergic reactions to me, I had been absolutely buried in the research, not sleeping, not eating, consumed by concern for the health of the American children and the health of our food supply, and any pictures of me taken from that time reflect it. I looked like a skeleton, as I'd been swallowed by the work and what seemed like everything that I'd believed in was stripped bare.
But along the way, I learned one of the most valuable lessons in all of this. You can not go it alone.
You have to find a friend to stand beside you to cheer you on. And about a year into my work, I connected with a bestselling author and film producer. In February 2007, he filmed my story. A few months later, I connected with an extraordinary woman, Deborah Koons Garcia, who produced the predecessor to Food Inc., a ground-breaking and life-changing film called The Future of Food. To this day, both remain friends. And then, because of these friendships, I appeared on the CBS Early Show before a national audience. And suddenly people knew my story.
Because in that appearance in the fall of 2007 that I found the courage to share my work, my concerns over the rate at which we had introduced artificial colors, preservatives and genetically engineered ingredients into our food supply while other countries around the world were preserving theirs for the sake of their children. To love more and to fear less and to put my face on on an issue, not knowing what people might say. My husband stood beside me in that first broadcast, and you could literally see the toll it the work had taken on me physically. To watch some of those early interviews or to look at some of the pictures almost hurts, as I was a skeletal version of the person that I am today.
And as that appearance hit, I began to hear from countless others whose stories were the same. Those whose children suffered from food allergies, those writing books, those battling cancer. And I realized that there is far more that unites us than divides us, and that together, we can create the changes we want to see in the health of our families and food systems.
And as I reflected on the stripping away of old beliefs and the building of new ones, it reminded me that despite what can seem like insurmountable odds, we have more strength and courage that we are ever aware of, and love that can serve as a rocket fuel. But that we need friends standing beside us.
So for those of you who have asked, "Where do I start?" "How do I begin to make changes in my community, school, state...?" The first thing that you must do is to find a friend. If your spouse is on board, take it for the gift that it is. If not, look (and don't stop) until you find someone who shares your passion and concern.
Food is an intimate and loaded issue, and people can become incredibly defensive and say extraordinary things (I've been accused of just about everything!).
But the love that you have for your friends and family will serve as a rocket fuel. And as you begin to express your concern over the state of the health of our families (on Facebook, on a blog, in your community, to your local Congressmen), you will quickly learn that your concern is shared by countless others (like the 900,000 Americans that have sent comments to the FDA), and it is together, that we can change the dialogue and create a food system that will define our families, farmers and future in a way that makes all of us, every American, both healthy and proud.
Last year, I was asked to give a presentation. I was totally intimidated before I took the stage, and the week prior I had wanted to call the group organizing the event and cancel, telling them that my kids needed me, my husband needed me, anything to get me out of having to head out of town to speak before what was going to be the biggest audience I'd seen.
But I leaned into it.
Because I have learned over the last several years that when fear hits, that is exactly where you should probably be, because it is leaning into that fear, inspired by love, that you will grow.
And so rather than quit, I practiced. I couldn't screw up the words, it was my story, we had lived every moment of it. So I set the timer in the kitchen on the microwave oven for 18 minutes - the time I'd been allotted for the talk - and I practiced.
And when the morning of the presentation came, I said a little prayer, "Let my heart speak" and took the stage. And in doing so, let love conquer fear.
So when I recently read an article about ten tips you can take to be an effective public speaker, I laughed. It was about 365 days too late.
I got some of it right, some of it wrong, but in the end, I did something. And I invite you to do the same. Dare to find your voice, to change the dialogue, to start a conversation, to believe in your ability to affect change, because what you may realize is that it will inspire others to do the same.
Since it's never too late to get started, here is a list of the Top Ten Secrets of Today's Most Successful Speakers:
1. Research — Prepare carefully by doing your research before you even attempt to write your speech. Who is your audience? What are your “take aways” — the most important things you want them to walk away having learned from you? The more you know about your audience as well as your subject, the more confident you’ll feel when you are in front of them.
2. Make clear notes — Write down your entire speech, then pick out the main areas you’ve covered. Jot them down as bullet-points, words or phrases on 3″ X 5″ cards to prompt you during your speech. Use different colors to separate your points, in case you lose your place or work them into your PowerPoint presentation.
3. Practice thoroughly — Practice giving your talk into a recorder and use a timer to watch your minute marks. Surprisingly, having a recorder running puts pressure on you to know your material. From here, you can graduate to practicing in front of others. Practice using tools such as your PowerPoint clicker or laser pointer.
4. Visit the venue beforehand — Make an advance visit to where you’ll be speaking, even if you can only do this an hour beforehand. Stand exactly where you will be giving your speech to get a feel for the space. Also, ensure you get a sound check beforehand if there is a sound engineer provided for you.
5. Dress to stand out from the audience — If the backdrop is dark on stage, make sure you wear light colors. If the backdrop is light on stage, wear a contrasting color or darker shade. Never wear black on top, although black pants with a light or colored top works well. If you wear a dress, pick one with a belt, so you can clip the wireless mic transmitter to it! (Otherwise, in a pinch, I have clipped my mic pack to my bra strap.)
6. Breathe deeply – Take deep breaths before you go on stage. A minute or so of calm, deep breaths will slow your heart rate, increase your oxygen levels, and ground you nicely to give a calm, confident performance.
7. Think positively — If you’ve rehearsed and prepared adequately, there is no reason not to believe in yourself. Visualize no other outcome but being a raging success. Think how much the audience will like you, and how good you will feel after you’ve done it!
8. Don’t rush — Speak slowly to ensure you don’t trip over your words, and don’t rush to finish points. Ideally, set timings in your speech notes, so you know if you are going too fast or too slowly as you go along. Timing checks in your notes will help you sail along at a comfortable, relaxed speed.
9. Show your passion! — Feed off the passion you have for your subject. This will engage your audience’s attention. Let your voice get louder for some points and softer for others; have some variance in your presentation as far as your sound dynamics.
10. Be yourself and have fun – Audiences may forget what you say, but they will remember what you make them feel. And no one will know that you “messed up” but you. So go for it!
These tips were excerpted from the website of self-made entrepreneur and Inc. 500-ranked CEO Ali Brown who teaches women around the world how to start and grow profitable businesses that make a positive impact. Get her FREE weekly articles and advice at www.AliBrown.com.