Translator: Rhonda Jacobs
Reviewer: Denise RQ Evolution was the first concept at school
that really captivated me. At about 16, it seemed relevant, and it was disruptive
to my worldview at the time, so I decided I’ll go to university,
and I’ll learn more about it. So I did that. Then I took a step back
and looked at the world around me, and it seemed like we weren’t headed
in the direction we were supposed to. This notion of survival of the fittest
didn’t really seem to be holding true. I wanted to know why that was,
and what’s gone wrong. It’s that question,
“Why, and what’s gone wrong?” that’s put me on my current path. So the next choice, I thought,
“Right, I’ll do a PhD, I’ll become a scientist,
I’ll find all the answers, and I’ll create some solutions.” But as with most things, the more you learn,
the more you realize you don’t know. So here’s what I did learn. I started to think about
human health on this continuum. We’ve got good health
down at the bottom here in blue, and bad health up at the top in orange. So we want to be down at the bottom, but I would say
we’re somewhere in the middle. We’ve got five major challenges in terms
of health facing the Western world: diabetes, lung disease,
cancer, heart disease, and mental health conditions. This is despite the fact that there are more drugs
on the market than there’s ever been. There’s bigger and better hospitals
being built all the time, better diagnostics, better drug discovery,
and better biomedical research. So we call this
the top-down approach to healthcare. We pump money in at the top,
and we get amazing innovations, but it’s not working as well as it should. I learned that the reason
it’s not working as well as it should is because of our environment, or “environmental risk factors,”
as scientists call them. So let’s have a look. People lead sedentary lifestyles;
the food quality isn’t what it was. People eat rubbish foods, they drink,
they’re stressed out, and they smoke. So while your environment looks like this, it doesn’t matter how much money
you pump in at the top; those innovations are never going
to reach their full potential. So what we need is to change
the environment from the bottom up. We need a bottom-up approach
to healthcare. We need to change
how people live and what they eat. It’s only when we apply
this bottom-up approach that the top-down approach
can really work. They sit side by side,
and we can really start to improve the health and well-being
of the human population. When I was researching
these environmental risk factors, as scientists call them,
I kept coming back to food, and I learned that food
has got massive implications in terms of our individual
health and well-being. But I also learned
that food and the food system has got massive implications
in the wider environments. I started to look at these environments. I started with meat production. Let’s take a look at this good,
old-fashioned quarter pounder burger. How do we get to that? Well, first of all we need a field. I used to think that fields
were natural landscapes, but they’re not; we have to create them. In doing so, we cut down low the trees, wipe out all of the natural habitat,
and kill out all the species. So now we’ve got our field,
and we fill it with cows; lots and lots and lots of cows. We’ve got to feed them. But they don’t eat grass; well, they do,
but that’s not what we feed them. We feed them grains that we fly in
from all over the world, along with hormones and antibiotics. Bear in mind, those grains
could have been used the people in their country of origin,
far, far more efficiently. But instead, we bring them over,
pump them into our cows with the hormones and the antibiotics
to make them grow strong, quick, and protect them against disease. Then we slaughter them,
put them on the back of a lorry, transport them to be processed, put them on the back of another lorry,
transport them to be packaged, transport them to an airplane, put them on the airplane,
and fly them all around the world until they arrive
on our supermarket shelves. So what’s wrong with that process? Well, that process I’ve just showed you
uses 45% of the world’s land; it uses 30% of the world’s water; it accounts for 91% of deforestation, and 51% of greenhouse gas emissions. It’s the leading cause
of ocean dead zones, and it’s the leading cause
of species extinction. So I thought, “Oh, well, meat’s out.”
What about fish? After all, I’m a scientist, I know
fish are efficient protein-converters. If you give a fish a kilogram of food,
it’ll give you a kilogram of fish meat because they’re cold blooded,
and they float, so they don’t really waste much energy. So then I started looking
into the fishing industry, and I learned that Norway and Russia
dominate that industry, and they’ve invested heavily
in these factory ships that trawl the oceans. We actually take about 90 million tons
of fish out of the water every year. But for every one kilogram
that we take out and eat, ten kilograms get caught. The remaining nine get killed
and discarded back into the sea. Very inefficient. So anyway, once
this kilogram’s on board we chop the head off
and take the guts out – “H&G-ing” they call it – and then we stick it on a ship, and we sail it all the way to China, and then we take it to this factory where there’s thousands of women
who are very efficient at filleting fish, more so than a machine, and cheaper. Then we freeze them
in these seven-and-a-half kilogram blocks and transport them to South Korea, because in South Korea they’ve got
the world’s largest cold stores, about the same size as Wembley Stadium. So you’ve got these huge cold stores
the size of Wembley, floor to ceiling
with its frozen blocks of fish, and then the money men come in
and start buying and selling them. That’s when they get sold
into supermarket supply chains. So a fish that was caught 50 miles
off the north coast of Scotland has had its head cut off
and its guts ripped out, been sailed all the way to China, filleted, frozen into a block,
then shipped to South Korea, bought and sold a few times, and then put on another ship
and sailed back to the UK until it arrives and is sold
to you as Atlantic cod (Laughter) but no one knows this stuff. So not only is that completely insane; the way and the rate
at which we’re fishing is insane. So as I said, for every
one kilogram we eat, ten kilograms are caught. And since 1970, the fishes in the ocean
have depleted by 50%; that’s in a generation. We’re taking fish out of the ocean
far, far faster than it can replenish. So it’s unsustainable,
it’s inefficient, and it’s wasteful. So I thought, “Oh well,
fish is out then; what about veg? We can’t go wrong with veg, can we?” So I looked at that. And because we’ve massively
over-farmed the lands, there’s no natural fertility
left in the soil, so we pump it full of fertilizers. Then, because we grow
in monoculture agriculture, we have to cake them
with fertilizers and pesticides, both of which are made from fossil fuels, as is the tractor that harvests them. Then we stick them
on the back of another lorry and transport this to the depot, where it’s packaged,
put in these plastic bags and pumped full of nitrogen to ensure a safe trip
onto your supermarket shelf. I’m not sure how many of you
have ever bought a pack of spinach – you take the first leaves out
and it tastes great and it’s got a crunch, and you go back a couple of days later, and it’s all limp and mushy
in the bottom of the bag. We actually throw
60% of packaged lettuce in the bin, and that 60% goes to landfill. Again, a very inefficient, unsustainable,
and wasteless way to produce food because we’ve got unnecessary
packaging, insane food miles, loads of waste, and the whole system’s
completely dependent on fossil fuels. So I’ll say it again: the way
we are currently producing food is inefficient, unsustainable,
and it’s wasteful, right now. But I haven’t even told you that by 2050,
we’ve got to feed ten billion people, and we’ve got to increase
food production by 70%. But I’ve just told you
that we’re already using half the world’s land
and 30% of the world’s water, and there’s only half the amount
of fish that there was a generation ago. So we either need a new planet
or we need a new way to produce food. These things were playing on my mind,
they were a heavy, heavy burden. Luckily, that’s when I met Jens,
and he shared that burden with me; and he continues to share my burdens. Jens had just come back
from sailing around the world, and trekking around Argentina on horseback to do a PhD in computational chemistry. I still don’t really
understand what that is. (Laughter) But anyway, he was troubled
by some of the same issues that I was, and he was also an academic – I love that phrase,
“recovering academic,” so he’s now also a recovering academic – and we decided that we didn’t just want
to try and publish papers on this stuff, we actually wanted
to do something about it. That’s when we discovered aquaponics. We went out and started looking
for solutions to the problems. Aquaponics is a way to grow fish
without taking them out of the ocean, and it’s a way to grow plants
that isn’t dependent on fossil fuel fertilizers and pesticides. So how does it work? We grow fish, and fish give
this waste product called ammonia, and if you leave ammonia in the water
it builds up and becomes toxic. So we pump that ammonia-rich water
into a separate tank called a biofilter, and that’s teeming
with amazing microorganisms who convert that waste ammonia
into a very useful fertilizer. Then we pump that nitrate-rich
fertilizer up to our plants who’ve got their roots
suspended in the water, and they draw out all that nutrient, so in turn, they’re purifying
the water for the fish. So it’s a very, very efficient,
closed-loop ecosystem that’s sustainable, and scalable,
and it’s not wasteful. But aquaponics is just one part of a fully integrated
urban farming system. Then we discovered this fully-integrated
urban farming system. The main premise here
is that it’s not exploitative, it’s connected, it’s integrated,
it’s mirrored on nature; there’s no waste. We take waste products
and turn them into valuable resources. Take two waste products
like coffee and cardboard, plentiful in the city. On those, we can grow mushrooms; very, very nutritious
and also a very high-value crop. Once we’ve harvested the mushrooms,
what’s left, we can feed to worms. Worms are amazing creatures. They take waste products, like what’s left
from the mushroom farming, and also they’ll take waste food products
which are plentiful in cities, and convert them
into three valuable outputs. You get possibly
the best compost known to man, an organic pesticide,
and feed for your fish. You plug that
into your aquaponics system; remember: your fish
are fertilizing your plants, and your plants are purifying
the water for your fish. Then you can even do clever things like take the excess oxygen
from your plants and give that to your mushrooms, and then take the excess CO2
from your mushrooms and give that to your plants. Then, once you’ve filleted your fish
and your worms can’t eat any more food, you plug that into an anaerobic digester
which produces all the energy to heat and power
your integrated urban farm. So Jens and I thought,
“That’s it! We’ve cracked it! We’ll start building these systems,
and we’ll save the world.” To do that, we founded Farm Urban. As I said, we stepped outside of academia
and set up this social enterprise. We drew up plans to convert
abandoned, unused space in the city into these amazing integrated farms. Then we actually built one
on the roof of the university. It was productive, and it worked, and there were no fish
being taken out of the ocean, and we were producing salad and herbs
without any environmental impact. So I thought, “This might help us solve the production issue
and the distribution issue.” But what about consumption? I’m a biologist,
and my primary concern is human health. I thought, “Is this really
going to change behavior? Is this really going to make people
make better choices in terms of what they’re eating?” It was my daughter Bella
that gave me this insight. She was two at the time, and I was trying to get her to eat salad,
and drink kale and spinach smoothies. (Laughter) Yeah, and she’d push it away, and say, “No way, daddy; I’m not eating that.
That’s disgusting.” So then, I took one of the aquaponics
systems that we were developing, and I put it in the kitchen,
much to my wife’s dismay. I thought, “I’ll get some R&D in here.” Bella took an interest in the fish,
she wanted to feed them, and she started
to want to smell the leaves. And now, every morning,
she feeds those fish. She picks the leaves, and we put them in a blender
with an apple and a spoon of honey. And the green, frothy,
earthy liquid that comes out, she drinks it with relish and says,
“Mmm, daddy, that’s delicious.” And the reason she does that
is because she’s engaged with the process, she’s engaged with the concept,
she’s connected to her food. The reason kids don’t eat healthy food
is because they don’t know it. A TED hero of mine, Ron Finley, says,
“If they grow it, they eat it.” But I would add to that,
“If they know it, they eat it.” The reason kids know products
like Coca-Cola, Nestle, and Pop-Tarts, is because there’s a very powerful,
lucrative machine behind that in terms of scientists messing
around with the chemicals to make products
that are bad for us taste good, and a very successful marketing campaign
making us want to eat them. So that’s what happens when you let
shareholders return on investment determine what people are eating. After all, no one got rich telling you
to eat salad and take eight hours sleep. But that’s what we need to change,
and that’s what I think we can change by embedding the solution
to a broken food system into the fabric of society
for people to see. We did weird things like build
an aquaponics system in the shape of a double helix
for a life sciences college. And then we put one
in the visitor center of botanical gardens for children to engage with and inforgraphics
so they could learn about it. And then we put these systems
on the play decks of the Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, and the kids climb all over that system,
they watch the fish being fed, and they want to taste
those leaves and smell them. And then we designed an open source, very affordable, accessible,
small-scale system out of IKEA parts, and developed a workshop around that. Now we’re taking the idea
of a vending machine and flipping it on its head. So instead of this being filled
with crisps, chocolate, and sugar water, it’s growing live salad and herbs. So I think what we need to do is take the food production out of the factory farms
and the scientists’ labs, and embed it into society
for people to see, and feel, and taste. Thank you. (Applause) (Cheers)