Health TED Talks

11 talks on the transformative power of vegetables

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If you walk into the cemetery in Todmorden — a small town in northern England — you will find vegetables and herbs defiantly growing. Ditto if you examine the strips of land in the middle of the town’s roads, the area in front of its elder-care home, or the landscaping around its railroad station.  You will find corn as high as an elephant’s eye in front of Todmorden’s police station, and fruit trees planted around its health center. Everywhere you turn in Todmorden, edible plants abound.

In this talk given at TED London Salon, Pam Warhurst explains why this is the case — because three and a half years ago, several citizens decided to plant herb gardens in public spaces, permission be damned. The effort blossomed into Incredible Edible, a revolution not only in the way the town eats, but also in the way they think about public space. Everyone is encouraged to plant — on their own property and in public — and anyone is welcome to pick the food and cook it for dinner. The effort has not only brought in “vegetable tourists,” but has been copycatted in 30 towns in England, as well as by communities in America, Japan and New Zealand.

“So many people don’t really recognize a vegetable unless it’s in a bit of plastic,” says Warhurst in this talk, which got a rousing standing ovation. “We have a motto: If you’re eat, you’re in.”

In honor of Warhurst, here a look at 9 other TED speakers who see incredible potential for change in vegetables.

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Stephen Ritz: A teacher growing green in the South Bronx
Stephen Ritz’s students may grow up in the poorest Congressional district in America, where obesity is an epidemic. But he is working hard to change their relationship to food while increasing their options for employment in the future. Ritz and his students have created “edible walls,” chock full of vegetables and herbs, which have been installed in 100 New York City schools as well as many office buildings — even in New York’s Rockefeller Center. Check out our playlist of 10 talks from inspiring teachers, an ode to Ritz’s work.

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William Li: Can we eat to “starve” cancer
Can bok choy, kale, artichokes and parsley stave off cancer? At TED2010, Dr. William Li explains that cancer cells start out as microscopic, harmless nests that can’t grow because they don’t have blood vessels supplying them with nutrients. Li gives an overview of anti-angiogenesis, the strategy of preventing the growth of blood vessels to a tumor by eating these cancer-fighting foods. Notice how many are vegetables.

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Suzanne Lee: Grow your own clothes
What, you ask, is vegetable leather? Fashion designer Suzanne Lee reveals her work creating a leather-like fabric from green tea, sugar and microbes — and shows the beautiful designs she’s created using it.

Terry Wahls: “Minding Your Mitrochondria”
In this incredible talk, Dr. Terry Wahls explains how she used her diet to cure herself of MS and leave her wheelchair behind. She wants everyone to eat nine cups of fruits and vegetables a day — including three cups of B vitamin-rich greens, three cups of sulphur-rich mushrooms and cabbages, as well as three cups of colorful, nutrient-rich veggies.  (Filmed at TEDxIowaCity.)

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Graham Hill: Why I’m a weekday vegetarian
The founder of, Graham Hill is well aware that meat causes more emissions than all transportation combined, and that beef production uses 100 times the water than vegetables do. And yet, giving up meat is too extreme for him. Here, he ekes out a solution — relegating meat to the weekends and increasing vegetable consumption during the week.

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Barton Seaver: Sustainable seafood? Let’s get smart
Seafood is one of our healthiest protein options, but overfishing is severely harming our oceans. Here, chef Barton Seaver suggests a simple way to keep fish on dinner table for years to come. As your mom would say, “Eat your vegetables!”

Roger Doiron: My subversive (garden) plot
Gardening isn’t just for old ladies, says Roger Doiron — it’s a subversive action about taking back power over our diets, over our health, and over our bank accounts. Here he explains why a vegetable garden can do more than save you money — it can save the world. (Filmed at TEDxDirigo.)

Yes, mushrooms are technically fungi. But they’ve gotten a lot of love from TED speakers in the past, too:

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Paul Stamets: 6 ways mushrooms can save the world
Paul Stamets believes that mushrooms can save our lives, restore our ecosystems and increase our health. In fact, he holds the patents for 22 mushroom-related technologies. Here, he shares his work with the Northwest’s native fungal genome, mycelium.

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Jae Rhim Lee: My mushroom burial suit
Artist Jae Rhim Lee wants to commit herself to a cleaner, greener Earth — even after she dies. In this talk, she explains why she plans to be buried in a suit seeded with mushrooms, which have the power to gobble pollution.

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Eben Bayer: Are mushrooms the new plastic?
Do we need planet-destroying plastics? In this talk, Eben Bayer explains how his team is creating a compostable packing material derived from mushrooms. He hopes that, soon, the mushroom material will be used to protect furniture, computers and more as they are shipped cross-country.

And a bonus: Below, check out the musical stylings of the Vegetable Orchestra, who craft their own instruments from carrots, eggplants, cucumbers, squashes and more and then use them to make very beautiful music.