TEDxOU – Julia Ehrhardt – Cooking From Scratch

Translator: Jenny Lam-Chowdhury
Reviewer: Elisabeth Buffard Hi! I’m Julia Ehrhardt
and I’m not a genius. I haven’t invented anything,
designed anything, or ever run anything
that’s ever won anything. I’ve never watched a TED talk and I don’t use PowerPoint
when I give lectures. So, some of you are probably
thinking right about now, “Hey, 911, got to report
a TED emergency, we gotta get our speaker
into this century before she hurts herself or others.” Fear not, it’s going to be OK. If I could get through the first 30 years
of my life without PowerPoint, you can get through
the next 18 minutes without it. I’m just going to stand here
and I’m going to read from my notes. The ‘T’ in TED stands for technology and today I’m going
to talk to you about one of the world’s oldest technologies, and that technology is cooking, more specifically,
is cooking from scratch. I cook from scratch all the time. I love to do it and I’m sure
many of you out there do too. But I’m also sure that there are
many more of you out there who really aren’t comfortable
cooking food that don’t come in cans, or that you don’t find
in the freezer section of the supermarket, or that you don’t make in the microwave. There’s a difference between
cooking something and reheating it. As you’ve probably guessed
in the short time I’ve been talking, not only don’t I have
any PowerPoint slides but I don’t own a microwave oven. But I have a bag — and my bag contains a cutting board; I’ve also got a stainless steel pot in here with a partially frozen
free range chicken; I’ve got some organic lentils
and some organic brown rice; I have a pepper mill,
I have a wooden spoon, and I have a very sharp chef’s knife; I’ve got some salt,
I’ve got some carrots, I’ve got a meat thermometer, and I have a measuring cup,
and I’ve got an onion. If I gave you all of this stuff that used to be
in my bag and it’s now on the floor, how many of you would have
the technological prowess to make something good to eat with it? That’s not enough! (Laughter) That’s not enough to satisfy my taste, so here is my TED idea
that I think it’s worth spreading — Learn to cook from scratch!
(Applause) I went to a supermarket
to buy these carrots and when I was there, I saw shelves and shelves
of what journalist Michael Pollan calls edible food-like substances. Products that we can’t picture growing or living
in nature or existing in a raw state but that are invented by corporations. These products contain chemical concoctions
that most of us can’t pronounce. They have too much
sugar, fat and salt, and they’re really
not all that much nutritious. Yet, we eat these edible food-like substances
because they taste good — because of all that added
fat, sugar and salt. We find them everywhere we look, including places that never sold food
when I was growing up — gas stations, bookstores
and pharmacies, they’re a very convenient way to fuel ourselves
when we got a hectic pace of life, we don’t enough time to plan meals,
shop for food, buy it, put it away, take it out again,
defrost it, chop it, cook it, and then eat it together. We’ve got too much
other stuff to do. So, we tend to regard calories
that come in delivery boxes, or microwave packaging,
or take out windows as food, and we cook from scratch
less and less. This creates a vicious cycle. As more and more of us become convinced
that we don’t have enough time to cook, an idea that companies that produce
and sell convenience foods spread around, so that they can take it to the bank, we do even less and less of it. And so in the words of Raj Patel, “We don’t choose our food,
our food chooses us.” Consequently, all of that technological expertise
that cooking represents, that we have accumulated over centuries, and all of the nutritional wisdom,
and ritual, and community, and culture that cooking gives to us is rapidly disappearing
from our lives, and I don’t think
that’s a good thing. I think we’re here on earth
to survive and take care of each other, and we can’t do that
if we don’t cook from scratch. When you cook from scratch,
you’re paying attention to what you’re eating; you’re choosing your food
and you’re processing it — not the other way around. When you cook from scratch
you aren’t going to be able to cook with a lot of ingredients
that are presently found in a lot of the food
that we see in the grocery store, because you’re not
going to be able to buy it. Substances like
high fructose corn syrup — What aisle is the high fructose corn syrup
in a grocery store? Soya lecithin, locust bean gum, the salt solution that poultry processors
inject into our Thanksgiving turkeys — I don’t know about your grocery store, but the place that I shop doesn’t sell
individual containers of polysorbate 80 — and that’s a pretty good sign
that I shouldn’t be eating it. When you were a toddler,
adults told you all the time, “Get that out of your mouth!
That’s not food!”, the same is true
with edible food-like substances. When you cook from scratch you’re gonna want
to know exactly what you’re eating, so learn to cook from scratch! When you cook, you also gonna want to know
where your ingredients come from. “They came from the supermarket!” is really not
an adequate answer to this question. I know where and how this chicken
and this onion were raised but I don’t know anything about
the lentils or the rice and the carrots, and that’s a matter of concern to me, because I want to cook good food;
I want to eat good food. I don’t want to cook or eat
a cow, a pig or a lamb that have been fed antibiotics. I don’t want to cook or eat chicken
that has eaten other chickens! I don’t want to cook a fish, or eat a fish,
that has never swam in a river or ocean. I want the dead animals,
that’s where the meat is — it’s the flesh of dead animals
that I cook and eat, to come from an environment that their life counterparts
would find familiar, to have eaten
what they were evolutionary intended to eat, and to be drug free. Why should an animal
have to take medicine, so that it can live long enough
to survive until it’s slaughtered? That doesn’t make
a lot of sense to me! I don’t want the milk and the cheese
I cook with to contain hormones, and I don’t want the fruits
and vegetables that I cook with to be sprayed
with multi-syllabic chemicals that could not be found
in my high school chemistry lab. Why? Because I grew up in New Jersey and my great grandparents
were dairy farmers there. They had a dairy farm
outside of Newark, New Jersey — some of you may have been
to the airport there. My other great grandparents
lived in New Jersey too, and they raised chickens
for their families to eat. My grandparents, as well as my own parents,
had huge vegetable gardens, and none of these people
found it necessary to employ the practices
that are commonplace in many industrial farms,
in confined animal feeding operations, and mechanized commercial dairies. They also didn’t eat food that was produced
under these circumstances, or they did not eat much food
produce under these circumstances, and they were all
very happy and healthy — except the ones who smoked,
who did not fare so well. But when you cook from scratch
you’re gonna want to know what’s in the food
that you’re eating and buying, so learn about what you’re eating, learn where it comes from, learn what happened to it
before it got to you, learn to cook from scratch. When you find out
where your food comes from, and what happened to it
before it got to you, you’re probably going to decide
that you want to eat differently. When I was an adolescent,
I got a summer job working on a farm. New Jersey, after all,
is the garden state. and when I was young
there were farms all over the place where we all worked in the summer — selling tomatoes, selling corn,
selling all manner of vegetables. You could buy fresh produce there, you could talk to the farmer
about how things were going, and you could complain to him
about why his food was so expensive. “12 cents for an ear of corn!
15 cents for a tomato! You gotta be kidding!” Remember that this was
30 years ago, all right?! I’m kind of older than most of you
in the audience, I’m afraid — You can’t get an ear of fresh Jersey corn
for 12 cents anymore. As a matter of fact, you probably couldn’t
get much of anything for 12 cents anymore. But as a learn from growing up
and working in that environment, producing and growing good food
is really, really hard labor. I hated that job! That’s why
I became a college professor. The work was dirty,
it was physically exhausting, and I did not get paid
very much at all. The summer after
my first year in college I was able to score a job
in a bookstore — the old-fashioned kind of bookstore, where people came to buy books and not coffee
— we didn’t sell any food at that bookstore. And I said ‘sayonara’ to working
at the farm stand, but I never forgot the lessons
I learned from that farmer. I got days off,
the farmer never did. I never worried about the weather,
the farmer always did. Why did people complained
about the prices he charged? Because unlike
the kinds of corn and soybeans, which are the primary ingredients
in processed food, vegetables and fruits aren’t subsidized
in any great measure by the Federal Government. And so, the farmer had to charge people what it actually cost him
to grow corn and tomatoes. Farming is hard work
and is a hard living, but it’s the hard work
that allows us to keep living. I want you to think about this. People who work in agriculture
in this country are literally keeping us alive. The vast majority of them
don’t make very much money and they’re not treated very well. Many family farms are going under and so, most of us don’t know enough
about the people whose labor makes it possible
for us to eat, and what this work is really like. The lentils and the rice
that I have here are organic. And so, many of you
are probably thinking, “Well, I buy organic,
that’s great!”. Well, what organic means is that these food
are not genetically modified organisms — it also means that they’re grown
without pesticides or synthetic fertilizers, but just because they’re organic…
I like that! — doesn’t necessarily mean that the people who produce them
are decently paid, and have fair and safe
working conditions. Because I used to work on a farm, I buy as much food now
as I can possible afford from local farmers who I make
an effort to get to know. If I can’t buy a product locally, I try to do research
on the company that produces it and the business that sells it to me, to make sure that the people
who work there are treated like people, and that the animals,
whose dead flesh I eat, were treated decently as well. Have you ever had a conversation with the people
who produce the food you eat? Have you ever had
a conversation with anybody who’s worked in
an industrial poultry farm, or in a slaughtered house? Have you ever talked to the people
who work at the grocery store, behind the deli counter, the cashier…
about what their work is like? And how they’re treated? You should! Because you’re going to learn about
why the tacos and the burger, and fries, and all the other stuff that’s on the fast food
value menus at a drive-thru are so cheap. It’s because the majority of people
who work to get those foods, or those edible food-like substances
through that window, are disposable cogs
in our food chain, to use Eric Schlosser’s metaphor. Local independent farmers,
ranchers, agricultural workers, and slaughter house
and supermarket employees deserve more from us. So, honor the people and the animals
that give us their lives so that we can eat by making their lives better. Learn to cook from scratch! When you cook and you start
asking questions about your food, and get to know the folks
who produce it, you’re going to encounter
new ingredients, new cooking methods
and new people. When I started working on that farm, I knew the difference between
iceberg lettuce and cabbage, and between celery and rhubarb, but I didn’t know what kale was, I didn’t know what mustard greens were, and I didn’t know what kohlrabi was
until I started selling it. Has anyone ever seen a kohlrabi? It’s like a cross between a beet
and a broccoli rabe. For the first few weeks
after I started working on the farm, I was so tired that I would dream
that I was riding my bicycle down the street trying to escape this massive,
Godzilla-sized kohlrabi with its big bottom that was all green
and the spikes that were coming out of it — It was very frightening! But, as a result of that, and as a result
of being exposed to kohlrabi, I love kohlrabi… I love it!
I think it’s great, it’s fantastic! And I talked to the customers
who bought this and I said, “What is this? We never had
this is my house, how do you cook it?”, and they told me. My palate expanded exponentially
as a result of that experience. I’ve always been very lucky to live in a very racially
and ethnically diverse area. And I’ve learned to cook many food
from many people who ate different things
than I did at home. I used to go to ethnic markets all the time to buy meats, vegetables, grains, spices,
and herbs, and utensils I needed to cook them, and as a result, I’ve obtained
a lot of knowledge about food. But I also learned a lot of things
that have nothing to do with food, that frankly, I didn’t have
to think much about because I’m a white middle-class person that has a lot of racial
and class privilege. When you cook from scratch,
you’re going to find yourself taking risks with other people who cook from scratch. You’re going to learn about how people
have excluded, abused, enslaved, and shamed other people,
in order to eat well. And you’re gonna have to decide
what you’re going to do with that knowledge. Food brings people together
in amazing and sustaining ways but it often divides us too. And in too many instances,
it’s caused people to do absolutely unimaginable
and unconscionable things to each other. So learn about this history,
where you fit into it, and do something about it.
Learn to cook from scratch! Finally, we live in a culture where increasingly
we don’t control technology, technology controls us. Many of you, I’d hazard to guess,
don’t spend much of your time without a computer on,
or your cellphone within arm’s length, or without music from an Ipod that’s
completely blaring in your hears all the time — I don’t have an Ipod either. These new technological devices
and screens like the one that’s behind me, are invading more and more
our public and private spaces and our traditional meal times. When you cook from scratch,
aside from looking at a recipe, or getting directions
to the farmers’ market, or researching the label practices
and sourcing habits of your supermarket, your relationship with those technologies
is gonna have to change. You’re going to be
in the kitchen with this — OK?! And you’re not going to want
those electronic devices in your way, because if you’re distracted by anything, you, and not to mention the people
you’re cooking with or for, could be seriously hurt! It’s also not a good idea
to drink alcohol while you’re cooking, but you probably knew that already. When you cook from scratch, you produce
something meaningful with these — Too many of us now are using our hands primarily to push buttons
on electronic devices. We don’t use them as the vast majority
of previous generations have, and that’s to make things. In a frightening irony,
these new technologies have caused us
to lose touch with our hands. These are the greatest tools
that humans have known since day one. And then we lose our capacity
to use our hands to create lasting and meaningful
social relationships, in this case through the preparation
and ritual sharing of food. So, get to know your hands again! And the power and the pleasure they can give you
when you create something; learn to cook from scratch! My time is almost up, so I want to finish
by reading you a sentence that currently serves as my mantra. It’s a story called “Real Reason”
and it’s written by Brian Andreas, who’s giving a TED talk about the power
of storytelling that you should all watch. I’ve got this sentence
framed in my kitchen. “There are things you do
because they feel right, and they may make no money,
and they may make no sense, and it maybe the real reason
we are here — to love each other, and to eat
each other’s cooking and say it was good.” I know there’s a grammatical error
in that story but everything else is dead on. So, think about this — Think about going home,
unplugging your microwave, and texting or calling someone, or 2-3 people
who know how to cook from scratch, and ask them to teach you how. Turn off the phone,
go to the farmers’ market — today’s Friday, tomorrow is Saturday,
it’s a good day to go to the farmers’ market, don’t go to the supermarket
because is going to be too crazy and crowded, and I want you to talk
with the people you meet there about what’s good to buy that day. Buy some real food with those people,
and cook it and eat it together. Then think about what you’ve done,
and talk about what you’ve just done, and how our world
is gonna have to change, so that everyone is gonna be able to have
the opportunity to do what you just did. And do what you can
to make that change happen. And then, do it over again.
Do it all over again. And don’t ever stop! Thank you (Applause)


  1. Little Machines March 5, 2012 at 11:47 pm

    i liked it…….

    but, a little bit condescending in an ironic way?

  2. LGD FiberOptix March 6, 2012 at 12:31 am

    negative mindset, she looks at the glass half empty, your generation isnt any better than any other 1. its kind of irritating the way she comes off sometimes but it was a good talk.

  3. LGD FiberOptix March 6, 2012 at 12:36 am

    shes a few steps up from a mormons intelligence level

  4. dahlia05hotmail March 6, 2012 at 12:52 pm

    Edible foodlike substances :-D. I loved that one.

  5. Acer Rubrum March 30, 2016 at 5:44 pm

    This is condescending and holier than thou.
    I cook from scratch, I have a garden, but if I didn't, this would not inspire me.

  6. zinkerbaby April 23, 2016 at 6:13 pm

    because our food id so messed up and processed… this is awesome info for our chlldren…

  7. Dixie Cup August 24, 2016 at 8:19 pm

    she's never even watched a Ted talk? I'm all about cooking from scratch but she just comes off holier than thou.

  8. TheJuancho51 December 12, 2017 at 8:46 am

    I think the way she opened made it easier to judge her the way people here are. She meant well but its easier to see flaws in her delivery when she begins the talk by saying in other words that she's not worthy. I think she's got a great message, and the delivery could've been better but its still informative.

  9. Brenda Drew December 22, 2017 at 10:12 pm

    I really don't have to listen to her. I've been cooking from scratch for the most part for over 40 years! Ditched fast food/convenient high processed foods a long time ago and love boycotting that aisle of frozen pre-prepared foods with all it's chemical additives, artificial colorings etc. …..yuck! lol It' really not that hard to cook from scratch and really doesn't take that long to make homemade soups, applesauce, etc. and so worth it! A votre sante…to your health!

  10. Lei March 18, 2018 at 4:58 am

    bet you if I look hard enough Ill find a picture of her eating at McDonalds

  11. Mary Sanchez April 28, 2019 at 2:52 pm

    I've met people who can't cook. I've taught a few how to cook and how to make breads, including one man who wanted to learn how to cook with his medical cannabis. Stunning that they don't even know how to scramble an egg or make meatballs. And I've been vegetarian since 1972.

  12. heelsfantim October 8, 2019 at 6:15 am

    Great video!!

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