Hats off to Birke Baehr. The young man has courage, and convictions, and he displayed both talking to a huge crowd at an independent Ted event in Asheville, North Carolina. 1 So much so that he ended up featured on the mother ship at Ted.com, which is how I came to see his performance.

It was a great performance too. He had clearly rehearsed. He knew his stuff. He engaged with the audience. His graphics were clear. Heck, I have 2 colleagues who could use a lesson from Birke.

Nevertheless, and despite the sincerity of his beliefs, I think his arguments against the "industrialized food system" and in favour of what he called "organic" farming were misguided. In particular, I can't believe he used the manky old fruit-with-fins image to attack GMOs. "Yuck" and some seriously dodgy claims about cancers in rats were the best he could manage against GMOs? Even an 11-year old 3 should have been able to come up with better objections. How about equity? How about the locus of benefit? How about the privatization of profits and commonisation of costs? Eeeyew. Too difficult. And of course the audience lapped it up, whooped it up, swooned with delight.

I'm not saying he's wrong; in fact I too believe that there is something seriously wrong with the industrialized food system. But if I didn't, Birke wouldn't have persuaded me. His arguments are just too flaccid. (And of course, Jonathan Swift applies, as it almost always does in this kind of discourse).

I really think Birke did a great job, even if I didn't think much of his arguments. I also hope that he does become a farmer, even if he never bothers to be certified organic. In the end, it is personal choices like Birke's -- his mom says he persuaded his family to change their eating habits -- that make the difference. And I reckon as a thoughtful and caring farmer he will change the minds, and more importantly the behaviour, of more people than he will do by being on Ted.

  1. A place I think I would really like, even before this.  

  2. Used to have, Strictly speaking, at the time this was written. 

  3. Especially an 11-year old, unfettered by the ruts in which adults habitually find themselves.  

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