You can argue—as the New Yorker did in its fascinating profile last year—that the TED conference has commercialized ideas, transforming major research and book-size concepts into easily digestible, entertaining 20-minute presentations.
We can see the concern, especially as the conferences—where thinkers from a wide range of fields gather to celebrate “ideas worth spreading”—have become increasingly glitzy and over-produced. But ultimately, we like to take TED Talks for what they are: Cliffs Notes on the world, offering a solid introduction to big issues that, should they captivate you in particularly powerful way, you can go research further on your own (often by simply tracking down the speaker’s books).
So, while you may not have time to read Omnivore’s Dilemma, Food Matters, and a tome on urban beekeeping right now, you can surely commit 20 minutes to watching a talk about these subjects. Indeed, a sizeable list of chefs, inventors, philosophers, and food-minded designers have taken the TED stage over the years to tackle some of the most critical food issues facing us today—namely, how we eat, how we get our food, and why it all matters.
Of course, not all TED Talks are created equal. Some speakers leave you feeling electrified and ready to change your whole life, while others make you wish you’d just watched the HYFR video four times in a row instead.
To help you sift out the noise, we’ve scoured the archives to bring you the 16 must-see TED Talks about food, from Michael Pollan’s argument on the importance of plants to Malcolm Gladwell’s talk on the food industry’s pursuit of the perfect pasta sauce. Watch these and smarten up. Next time someone wants to talk food politics with you, you’ll be ready for action.