TEDxManhattan Heroes: Ali Partovi

Leading up to TEDxManhattan 2015, we've asked this year's speakers to introduce themselves by answering a few questions. Ali Partovi is an angel investor, startup advisor to groups like Farmland LP, serial entrepreneur and co-founder of computer education non-profit Code.org. Passionate about sustainable food and agriculture, Ali is an active investor in sustainable food systems. He has written about investiments in sustainable food, and serves on the board of school food non-profit FoodCorps.

What’s the topic you’ll be speaking about?

I'll be debunking misperceptions about organic and sustainable food. The prevailing notion is that organic agriculture is less efficient and that industrial agriculture is necessary to "feed the world." I hope to dissect the flawed assumptions behind these ideas and share some surprising facts that lead to a very different conclusion.

Why is this important?

The misperception that organic, sustainable food is "only for the rich" is a powerful one, with enormous repercussions on both policy and innovation. And we need both policy change and business innovation in order for organic food to become affordable and convenient to everyone. The first step in that change is to change the perception and get people to believe it's possible.

You've invested in organic farming and grass-fed beef, yet also in Hampton Creek's plant-based egg replacement. How do you reconcile these?

When a system is as inefficient and broken as the food industry today, there will be a lot of options that are superior! Improving the system isn't going to be about a single silver bullet, but about a bunch of different solutions, and winners will emerge after competing with each other. What all my investments have in common is a desire to reduce the global footprint of agriculture. Reducing animal protein in our diets is great; and so is the ecologically critical role of livestock in agriculture.

The misperception that organic, sustainable food is "only for the rich" is a powerful one, with enormous repercussions on both policy and innovation.

What can the tech world bring to the food movement?

Silicon Valley isn't just about technology, but also about a philosophy of change: of questioning the status quo, envisioning a better way of doing things, and believing enough to invest in that vision, using capitalism as a force for improvement and change. The food movement has done plenty to raise awareness of problems with the status quo, and it's time for it to gather momentum around a vision that makes economic sense at scale.

Are there other projects you’re also passionate about right now – either yours or someone else’s?

I'm intrigued by Loco'l, the new effort by Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson to re-imagine fast food. I'm also excited about Forage, Sprig, SpoonRocket, and Munchery, all of which are making it more convenient to eat conscientiously.

If you could do one thing to change the food system, what would it be?

If I had the authority, I'd regulate antibiotics administered to livestock. This would be not only to combat the terrifying public health spectre of resistant bacteria, but also to offer a more level playing field to healthier, more ecologically sound livestock practices like grass-fed and pasture-raised.

Which other 2015 TEDxManhattan speakers are you excited about hearing? Which past speakers did you find particularly inspiring?

I'm looking forward to Shen Tong, Danielle Nierenberg. Among past speakers, I'm a big fan of many of them, including: Curt Ellis, Ken Cook, Paul Lightfoot, Anna Lappe, and Gary Hirschberg.

Where can more information about your project be found?

See Farmland LP (www.farmlandlp.com), an investment fund that buys cropland and converts it to sustainable organic practices while increasing the land's productivity and profit.

TEDxManhattan, "Changing the Way We Eat," will take place March 7, 2015, at the TimesCenter in New York City. Interested in joining the day? You can apply to attend, host or attend a viewing party, or stream live online.

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