Q&A with Kate Bowler

After being diagnosed with Stage IV cancer at age 35, Duke tenured professor and author Kate Bowler launched a national conversation about why it feels so difficult to speak frankly about suffering. She delves into how we live and cope with pain and suffering in Everything Happens for a Reason (and other lies I’ve loved), a NYT bestselling memoir, and in her popular podcast, Everything Happens. She is also the author of Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel, which received widespread media and academic attention as the first history of a movement based on divine promises of health, wealth, and happiness. She has appeared on NPR and The TODAY Show, Amanpour & CO, as well as in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and TIME Magazine. Her work has also been praised by a wide variety of religious and political publications, from liberal print media to conservative talk radio. You can watch her 2018 TEDMED Talk here.


TEDMED: In your TEDMED talk, you describe how people often try to find a reason for why you were diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer, assuring you and your husband that, “everything happens for a reason.” Given your experience, what would you encourage people to say or do when someone in their life experiences a difficult diagnosis?

Kate Bowler: It’s so tough because there usually isn’t much to say that will help–but the desire to say something is so strong! We have an intense desire to love the suffering person but usually it devolves into burdensome attempts to relate (“When my aunt had cancer…”) Luckily, the easiest approach is also the best one: trust that your loving presence is enough. Be useful and available, but ask for little. John Green recently told me something that his mentor in hospital chaplaincy taught him: “Don’t just do something! Stand there.” It’s wonderfully counter-intuitive and absolutely true.

TM: In the past, you’ve talked about how removing the need for a reason that bad things happen, and accepting your cancer has, in small ways, made you able to see and enjoy things more fully, and perhaps in a way you hadn’t before. Do any of these experiences stand out that you can share?

KB: Oh, wow, I immediately think of parenting. I had been on the superhighway of achievement, or at least I liked to think so. And now I am fiercely determined to keep my focus on my deepest loves, especially my five-year old human. There is usually a moment every day that I would have missed in my own rush to conquer the day. Today it was my son climbing up on my lap in his jammies while I was taking a call, solemnly looking into my eyes and whispering: “Can we talk about lizards now?” He was right. The sun was bright and the breeze was dreamy and it was exactly the right time to talk about lizards.

TM: Through your TEDMED talk, and the online community you have cultivated, you spark conversations about both the beauty and the difficulty of life – as you say: “Life is so beautiful and life is so hard.” How has your work been impacted by this online community and the conversations they engage in about the chaos and the clarity that comes with being human? Are there any stories that have been shared with you that you have found particularly inspiring?

KB: The biggest change in my life, after cancer, has been this incredible community I’ve found through my podcast, Everything Happens. As it turns out, I am not alone in feeling constrained by this American myth of self-mastery and endless progress. We are longing for what my friend Margaret Feinberg called “the fellowship of the afflicted.” Now when I speak to someone, I assume this person is carrying something he or she did not choose. One of the recent episodes was with Jayson Greene, whose toddler was killed in a terrible accident. His rich account of grief as the language of love was so powerful to me. In reassembling our worlds after loss, it feels honest to say that our pain is also an expression of our biggest loves.

TM: You are a self described “incurable optimist”. To what do you attribute this? Have you always been an incurable optimist, or did that come later in life?

KB: I have such a love-hate relationship with positivity as a category because I am an expert in the history of positive thinking. I found that so much of what passes as happiness or positivity is weaponized against suffering people. “Oh, are you not happy? You must be failing to live your best life now!” But I have found that a deep, hard-won joy is necessary when facing down hard realities. I may have insurmountable obstacles, but I am focused on finding beauty and truth regardless. That’s why I call myself an “incurable optimist.” It is pure stubbornness.

TM: What was the TEDMED experience like for you?

KB: It was the best public experience of my life. The community there was so absurdly loving and focused on helping me share my experience honestly. The organizers even had a stage manager there to HUG ME before I went on stage. Ok, that lovely person hugged everyone, but I felt so fortunate to be loved as I attempted to do a hard, public thing.

TM: At TEDMED, we like to think about each talk as having a “gift” – that thing that reveals new perspectives and profoundly influences our own – or our collective – health. What is the gift you’d like people to receive when watching your TEDMED Talk?

KB: Life doesn’t have to be better to be beautiful. Oh, if you are hurting right now, I want you to know you are so loved. You are not a mistake.

TEDMED 2020 Theme Announced & Early Bird Registration Now Open

We’re thrilled to share the theme for TEDMED 2020: Make Way For Wonder.

With this announcement we also officially open registration for TEDMED 2020 at a special Early Bird rate!  Join our passionate and diverse community this March 2-4 at an exciting new home in Boston – and for a limited time, we’re offering a special early registration rate of $1,000 off the registration fee.

TEDMED 2020: Make Way For Wonder


“Mystery creates wonder and wonder is the basis of man’s desire to understand.” — Neil Armstrong


The earliest philosophers regarded “wonder” as the foundational emotion that compels humans to explore, to learn, and to seek answers to life’s fundamental questions. Wonder – about our lives, our bodies, and our world – fuels an intense passion for learning. Indeed, “philosophia,” translated literally, means “love of wisdom.” As Plato described it: “Wonder is the feeling of a philosopher, and philosophy begins in wonder.”

But, what is Wonder?

It’s the feeling we get when experiencing the beauty of new life as it’s born into the world. It’s the euphoria we feel from unlocking secrets in the intricacies of our genetic makeup, or the curiosity that provokes us to expand the capabilities of the human brain. It’s the insatiable inquisitiveness that drives a researcher toward an astonishing discovery that saves millions of lives around the world. It’s the awe felt when standing at a precipice looking down at the Grand Canyon. Or the humbling acknowledgement of our place in an incomprehensibly vast universe. Perhaps the most awe-inspiring thing of all is that this feeling of wonder is firmly grounded in solid realities.

Today, we live in a world of sudden and surprising accomplishments, an era of astonishing possibilities, and an age of ongoing achievements happening in every single field. Let’s embrace the wonder in each step that humanity takes forward.

Now is the time for us to make way for wonder. It’s time we intentionally cultivate our sense of awe and our desire for new knowledge. It’s time to celebrate all we’re discovering and all that is yet to be discovered. It’s time to revel in our innocence, our capacity for delight, joy, and amazement.

When we allow ourselves time to muse and to marvel, to be energized with wonder, great advancements will follow. When we emerge from our silos, we have the opportunity to broaden our laser-like focus. When we step back and take time to look deeper, we can see with a wider perspective.

The results can be transformative. New doors are opened. New horizons reveal themselves. New possibilities suddenly leap from wild speculation, to well-grounded theory, to working reality.

At TEDMED 2020, we will connect with an invisible force that has been propelling humanity forward for millennia. Join us as we experience the power and possibilities that come to us when we make way for wonder.

Announcing the TEDMED 2020 Editorial Advisory Board

Planning for TEDMED 2020 is well underway, and we’re excited to share even more details about the Boston gathering over the coming months. Next week begins an important step in the process: the 2020 TEDMED Editorial Advisory Board (EAB) will meet to collaborate on the design and curation of the Stage Program.

The EAB—a group of leading experts in fields spanning the spectrum of health and medicine—plays a key role in helping us to identify important and timely nominations for the TEDMED Stage. The participation of this generous group is another example of how Community is at the heart of everything we do—we truly could not do the work we do without the people who support and believe in our mission to create a healthier world.

This year’s EAB represents organizations that intersect all areas of health and medicine, including technology, philanthropy, academia, medical journalism, clinical care, and much more. We are proud of the EAB’s depth and diversity of knowledge, as these are the qualities that help ensure the TEDMED Stage Program takes on its credible, multi-disciplinary, and unique perspective.

We welcome these passionate individuals to this year’s EAB, and we hope you’ll take the time get to know them below. We are both delighted and honored to announce them here:

Click here to read more about this year’s EAB and the role these individuals play in helping to shape the TEDMED 2020 Stage Program. And be sure to add your nominations for topics

TEDMED 2020 | BOSTON | March 2-4


TEDMED is excited to announce that the next convening of our diverse, multi-disciplinary community will take place March 2-4, 2020 in Boston, Massachusetts at The Westin Boston Waterfront Hotel. That’s right, TEDMED 2020 will be at a brand new location and a brand new time of year!

We feel that Boston is the ideal home for TEDMED 2020. Boston is a city and community with deep roots in pioneering new ideas and pushing innovation forward—much like TEDMED. Boston boasts renowned industry-leading companies,  world-class academic institutions and scientific R&D, some of the nation’s top-ranked hospitals, the country’s highest number of arts and cultural organizations per capita, and an impressive entrepreneurial ecosystem that supports a cutting-edge health tech start-up culture.

As a city with innovation at its core, we were interested to learn that Boston also lays claim to many technological and social “firsts,” including the world’s first telephone, and the United States’ first public park, first public library, and first public secondary school. Also, America’s very first inoculations happened in Boston, way back in 1721. To this day, the city remains a hotbed for health and medical innovation.

We have hosted TEDMED in Palm Springs, CA for the last 4 years, but TEDMED has regularly migrated to fresh venues every few years for most of the past decade, enabling people from many regions to join the community and participate in person at our annual gathering.

“TEDMED has a proud history of adopting a diverse range of venues, literally from coast to coast,” says TEDMED COO and Executive Producer Shirley Bergin, adding, “We are excited for everything that Boston has to offer and can’t wait to host TEDMED 2020 in this amazing city.”

So, what can you expect to experience at TEDMED 2020?

First and foremost, we are always striving to bridge the gap between science and the public by finding and sharing stories that inform, inspire, engage, and provoke action across a broad, passionate community both inside and outside of health and medicine. At TEDMED 2020, you’ll be moved by Talks from individuals working to improve humanity’s health. As one TEDMED Delegate said:

“When you come out of a session of Talks, and you’ve changed as a person—in outlook, in perspective, in opinion—that’s the mark of a conference worth attending. And that happened several times at TEDMED.”
– Giles N.

At TEDMED 2020, you will also become a part of a truly unique community of public health leaders, clinicians, researchers, scientists, influencers, and innovators from across the landscape of health, medicine, and scientific innovation. Over the 2.5 days of TEDMED 2020, you’re bound to make unexpected connections that will last well beyond the event. Again, our Delegates explain it best:

“It was such a humbling experience to be able to connect with such inspiring and passionate people who I would never have had the opportunity to meet otherwise.”
– Kittaya T.

By attending TEDMED 2020, you can expect to engage in interactive conversations hosted by TEDMED’s Partners—a dynamic group of global industry leaders, health systems, associations, research and academic institutions, foundations, and more. Our Partners not only help to make TEDMED possible, but they also enhance the program with their cutting-edge innovations, advancements in health policy, and large-scale global public health initiatives. Whether it’s a curated conversation with Partners and TEDMED Speakers about an unexpected theme that connects their work or a lively workshopping session over breakfast, there are plenty of ways to connect with other leading thinkers and doers at TEDMED.

In addition to the inspiring Talks, engaging community, and mind-expanding conversations, TEDMED 2020 offers you the chance to fully immerse yourself in various health experiences. For instance, you can choose to start your day with a mindfulness class or a heart-pumping workout. And from morning until night, we’ll provide you with nutritious meals and snacks to fuel your body and mind. Attending TEDMED 2020 offers you the space to unplug from your day-to-day routine and the opportunity to absorb new ways of thinking about the challenges we face in health and medicine today.

We hope you’ll join us in Boston for TEDMED 2020. Registration for TEDMED Alumni is open now, and early-bird registration opens soon. Stay up to date on the latest information about TEDMED 2020 by signing up for our newsletter and following us on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook.


For all media inquiries, please contact Rose Mary Romano at rromano@TEDMED.com.  If you are interested in partnering with TEDMED for the 2020 convening, please contact Lucy Crawford at Lucy@TEDMED.com. And, for all other inquiries, please email contact@TEDMED.com.


TEDMED is the independent health and medicine edition of the world-famous TED conference, dedicated to “ideas worth spreading.” TEDMED Talks have been viewed online over 150 million times around the world. TEDMED is a non-profit that is wholly owned by The TEDMED Foundation, a 501(c)(3) Public Charity.

 

How perfectionism became a hidden epidemic among young people

This article, authored by Thomas Curran and Andrew P. Hill, was first published by The Conversation UK.


In our roles as academics, young people knock on our doors almost every day. They are typically ambitious, bright and hard-working. They have a broad network of friends, and most come from supportive families. Yet no matter how well-adjusted they can appear, we are finding that our students are increasingly likely to seek our support for mental health issues, as well as academic ones.

We are not alone in observing this trend. Student mental illness on UK campuses is at record highs. And right across the globe, young people are reporting to clinicians at unprecedented levels with depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.

One possible reason for this is that across the US, Canada and the UK, today’s young people are the first generation to grow up in a society based on the principles of neoliberalism championed by the leaders of the late 20th century – Ronald Reagan, Brian Mulroney and Margaret Thatcher respectively. Over the last 50 years, communal interest and civic responsibility have been progressively eroded, replaced by a focus on self-interest and competition in a supposedly free and open market place.

In this new market-based society, young people are evaluated in a host of new ways. Social media, school and university testing and job performance assessments mean young people can be sifted, sorted and ranked by peers, teachers and employers. If young people rank poorly, the logic of our market-based society dictates that they are less deserving – that their inferiority reflects some personal weakness or flaw.

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There is, then, enormous pressure on young people to demonstrate their value and outperform their peers. And there is evidence that they are struggling to cope. In particular, emerging epidemics of serious mental illnesses speak to the negative effects of this market-based society, and a culture which is fundamentally changing the way young people think about themselves and others.

The rise of perfectionism

Leading psychologists, Paul Hewitt and Gordon Flett have suggested that one of the ways in which younger people are acting differently to their older peers is by showing a greater tendency toward perfectionism.

Broadly speaking, perfectionism is an irrational desire for flawlessness, combined with harsh self-criticism. But on a deeper level, what sets a perfectionist apart from someone who is simply diligent or hard-working is a single-minded need to correct their own imperfections.

Perfectionists need to be told that they have achieved the best possible outcomes, whether that’s through scores and metrics, or other peoples’ approval. When this need is not met, they experience psychological turmoil, because they equate mistakes and failure to inner weakness and unworthiness.

We recently published a study in the Psychological Bulletin, which shows that levels of perfectionism have risen significantly among young people since 1989. We think that this may, at least in part, be a symptom of the way that young people are attempting to feel safe, connect with others and find self-worth within market-based, neoliberal societies.

Irrational ideals of the perfect self have become desirable – even necessary – in a world where performance, status and image define a person’s usefulness and value. You don’t need to look far to find examples; corporations and their marketers offer all manner of cosmetic and material solutions for the flawed consumer. Meanwhile, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat provide platforms to exchange curations of the perfect version of oneself and lifestyle with others.

This is a culture which preys on insecurities and amplifies imperfection, impelling young people to focus on their personal deficiencies. As a result, some young people brood chronically about how they should behave, how they should look, or what they should own. Essentially, agitating to perfect themselves and their lives.

It’s no wonder that there’s substantial evidence indicating that perfectionism is associated with (among other things) depressionanorexia nervosasuicide ideation and early death.

We feel a deep sense of sympathy with our students’ struggles. For the first time on record, young people are expected to be materially less well-off in adulthood than their parents. And it’s not just their material well-being that’s at stake – their mental and physical well-being is threatened by this hidden epidemic of perfectionism.

It’s time for organisations such as schools and universities, as well as the politicians and civil servants who help to shape the way these organisations operate, to take steps to safeguard the welfare of young people. They must resist marketised forms of competition, at the expense of young people’s mental health. They should teach the importance of compassion over competition. If they do not, the rise of perfectionism – and its association with serious mental illness – is likely to continue unabated.


 

Social and personality psychologist Thomas Curran studies the personality characteristic of perfectionism, how it develops, and it’s impact on mental health. He is a member of the Centre for Motivation and Health Behavior Change in Bath, UK, the Motivation, Personality, and Well-being research group in York, UK, and is currently an assistant professor in the Department for Health at the University of Bath. His research rose to prominence following a 2017 publication of the first systems-level cohort study to show that perfectionism is on the rise in American, Canadian, and British college students. Since then, he has written and spoken extensively on how we have created societies perfectly calibrated to promote perfectionism, which is contributing to almost epidemic levels of serious mental illness among young people. He is the author of over 30 published papers and has received numerous awards for his scholarship and research. Thomas spoke on the TEDMED Stage in 2018, and you can watch his Talk here.

Noise is Affecting our Health in More Ways Than We Think

Mathias Basner, MD, PhD, MSc is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine. His primary research interests concern the effects of sleep loss on neurobehavioral and cognitive functions, population studies on sleep time and waking activities, the effects of traffic noise on sleep and health, and Astronaut behavioral health on long-duration space missions. These research areas overlap widely. Mathias has published 80+ journal articles and reviewed articles for 80+ scientific journals. He is currently on the editorial board of the journals Sleep Health and Frontiers in Physiology. Mathias spoke on the TEDMED Stage in 2018 and you can watch his Talk here.


Noise is a strange animal because it affects our health in many different ways, and we don’t even realize it. Short-term loud noise exposure damages our inner ear and is the reason for noise-induced hearing loss. As mentioned in my TEDMED talk: Whenever you have that ringing in your ear after you leave a concert or a bar, you can be certain that you have done some damage to your hearing, likely permanent. The problem is that we are only paying the price when we are older, in the form of tinnitus and hearing loss. Unfortunately, we are very bad at changing our current behavior based on something that we may experience in the future. Regardless, protecting yourself and your children from high noise levels should be a priority. Always ask yourself: “Is this (concert, fireworks, leaf blower) really worth destroying the hair cells of my inner ear?” As my colleague Daniel Fink recently pointed out, a safe exposure level that does not put our hearing at risk is likely 70 dBA, which is more than 30 times less the sound intensity than the 85 dB typically considered safe for the 8-hour workday.

However, noise affects our health in many different ways beyond hearing. The so-called non-auditory effects of noise include sleep disturbance, increased risk for cardiovascular disease, and disturbed communication. The latter has been shown to affect academic performance of school children, but it can also have catastrophic consequences, e.g. if something is misunderstood in a hospital setting. I believe there are several reasons why environmental noise doesn’t receive the attention it deserves in public health politics. First, humans habituate to their environment. If you are constantly exposed to noise, you may not realize it any more. It can nevertheless very much affect your physiology and psyche. For example, I only realized how loud my every day environment was after I spent some time in a very quiet environment. Second, many of the health effects require long-term exposure to relevant noise levels before they manifest. As mentioned above, humans often have problems making the connection between a present exposure or behavior and future effects. Third, many of the activities that generate noise also generate a societal benefit and/or revenue. For example, an outdoor concert venue can be greatly enjoyable for the patrons, but it can be a torture for those living next to the venue without a realistic opportunity to evade the nightly noise. Likewise, it is very convenient to live close to major transportation infrastructure like a highway or a rail station. However, if you are living too close to rail tracks or roads, this convenience can be offset by the noise and pollution associated with the traffic. Finally, we definitely have a noise equity issue, and those exposed to high noise levels often neither have the means to live somewhere less noisy nor are they influential enough to push the policy envelope.

We always should think of ourselves both as noise recipients and as noise generators. There are things we can do individually to reduce noise levels. For example, we can decide to buy and use products that produce less noise (think of a rake instead of a leaf blower). Or we can postpone activities that generate noise to times considered less sensitive: If you don’t have to, don’t start mowing your lawn a 7 AM on a Saturday morning, your neighbors will thank you. In more general terms: be considerate. However, this will only take us so far. We still need strong noise regulation that is properly enforced to prevent health consequences. And even though the increases in health risks induced by noise may be relatively minor compared to other environmental or behavioral factors, this still constitutes a major public health problem, as noise is so ubiquitous, and so many people are exposed to relevant noise levels. Our research tells regulatory bodies at what noise level certain health effect can be expected, and that helps inform better noise policy.

Further reading:

Basner, M., Babisch, W., Davis, A., Brink, M., Clark, C., Janssen, S., Stansfeld, S.: Auditory and non-auditory effects of noise on health. The Lancet, 383(9925): 1325-1332, 2014.

Basner M.: Much ado about noise: health risks of traffic noise. Dtsch Arztebl Int 2016; 113(24): 405-6; DOI: 10.3238/arztebl.2016.0405

WHO Environmental Noise Guidelines for the European Region, 2018

Q&A with Greg Asbed and Gerardo Reyes Chavez

Greg Asbed is a fierce advocate fighting against forced labor, sexual violence, and other gross human rights violations. He was awarded the 2015 Presidential Award for Extraordinary Efforts in Combating Human Trafficking at the White House on behalf of the Fair Food Program (FFP). As a co-founder, Greg leads the development of innovative market-based enforcement mechanisms, rights standards, and worker education processes. Through this program he coordinates relations among many agriculture stakeholders, including corporate buyers, industry suppliers, and farm workers. He has consulted both nationally and internationally on the adaption of the FFP to other contexts. He is the co-founder of the Worker-driven Social Responsibility (WSR) model, which has been recognized for its unique effectiveness in combating the above-mentioned human rights violations in agriculture. Greg has won numerous awards, including the 2014 Clinton Global Citizen Award and the 2016 James Beard Leadership Award. He was also named a 2017 MacArthur Fellow. He is an advisory board member of the EU’s Horizon 2020 project to end forced labor in supply chains.

Gerardo Reyes Chavez is a key leader of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ (CIW), mobilizing communities across the world to advocate for the rights of exploited workers. Through CIW’s Fair Food Program, Gerardo has facilitated unique partnerships among farmers, farmworkers, and retail food companies to ensure humane wages and working conditions for the workers on the participating farms. Gerardo leads workers’ rights education programs, as well as managing the complexities of complaints of abuses in the fields, wage theft claims, and investigating cases of modern-day slavery. He has spoken publicly about the Fair Food Program at events such as Harvard Law School’s Labor and Worklife Program Convening on Farm Labor Challenges and the Interfaith Council on Corporate Responsibility’s Multi-stakeholder Roundtable on Ethical Recruitment. Gerardo is a 2018 Aspen Institute Ricardo Salinas Scholar.


TEDMED: As you two mentioned in your TEDMED Talk, the Fair Food Program (FFP) model is being used in different industries and in different countries. Tell us more about how it’s being used outside of the American agricultural industry.

Greg & Gerardo: The Fair Food Program was the first, fully operational example of the new paradigm for protecting workers fundamental human rights in global supply chains known as Worker-driven Social Responsibility, or WSR. One of the other foundational examples of the new WSR model is the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety in the Bangladesh apparel industry. The Accord came together following the horrific Rana Plaza building collapse that led to the deaths of more than 1,100 people in 2013, and it employs the same key mechanisms as the Fair Food Program — binding legal agreements between brands and worker and/or human rights organizations, worker voice throughout the monitoring and enforcement process, and the suspension of sales to participating brands when its standards are violated by suppliers— to ensure that no worker need fear that the building where he or she works will be their tomb due to easily preventable fire and structural hazards. The Accord has been a great success and has saved countless workers lives by preventing the tragic accidents that previously killed workers in the apparel industry by the hundreds every year.

Likewise, workers in many other industries — from the poultry plants of Arkansas to the movie sets of Hollywood — have taken note of the model’s unique power to prevent abuses and are working today to establish enforceable standards in their own workplaces.

TM: The FFP model has successfully interrupted deep-rooted patterns of violence and modern-day slavery in the agricultural industry. What do you think makes the program so effective?

G&G: The Program’s success is due to two key elements: 1) the participation of workers, from start to finish, in the standards-setting, monitoring, and enforcement process and, 2) its ability to harness the purchasing power of the billion dollar brands as both carrot and stick to encourage growers to participate and to enforce Program’s standards when they are violated. Workers not only know exactly how, when and where abuses take place in the fields, they also happen to be there when the vast majority of abuses take place. That makes them ideally suited to both set the standards for the Program and to be the front-line monitors of their own rights. But no matter how strong a set of standards may be, or even how well monitored, if the power to enforce those standards is missing, then it is all for naught. The purchasing power of the multi-billion dollar brands at the top of the food industry — companies like Whole Foods and McDonald’s — is the power that drives compliance in the Fair Food Program. And the incentive their purchases represent to the growers in the Program is so great that it not only fixes violations when they occur, it brings about the gold standard of enforcement — prevention — making a world without victims, the best possible outcome, possible.

TM: Tell us about the upcoming “4 for Fair Food Tour.” Who is involved and what are you hoping to achieve with the program?

G&G: The 4 for Fair Food Tour is a continuation of the CIW’s ongoing national boycott against the fast food giant, Wendy’s. Along with students, people of faith, and community leaders, farmworkers and their families will be traveling across the country to four of the nation’s top public institutions with Wendy’s restaurants on campus – Ohio State University, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, University of Michigan and University of Florida – to call on the administration at each university to end business relations with Wendy’s.

As the sole major fast food company that has yet to join the Fair Food Program, Wendy’s has been offering stock public relations answers in response to what is a very real, very troubling human rights crisis in agriculture. This tour is about making it clear to Wendy’s that consumers are clear-eyed and deeply committed to real, tangible change for farmworkers, and that Wendy’s refusal to join the most successful supply chain monitoring program in the country has consequences for the company’s brand and business relationships. Because these universities have very clearly stated values and mission statements that support human rights in their suppliers’ operations — for example, in the apparel companies that produce their university logo sportswear — and because the students at these schools clearly support the idea of exploitation-free consumption when possible, we have already seen strong support for the campaign in both the student communities and the cities where the universities are located. We expect that we will see Wendy’s restaurants removed from campus, as were Taco Bell restaurants on 28 campuses around the country during the Taco Bell boycott fifteen years ago, as the students ramp up the pressure on their administrations to live up to the schools’ stated values. That pressure was ultimately successful in prompting Taco Bell to be the first fast-food giant to join the Fair Food Program, and we are confident that it will have the same impact in making Wendy’s the last major fast-food company to join.

TM:  What’s next for CIW?

G&G: As we grow and expand, we will continue to advance every level of our work: We will help convey the lessons and potential of the WSR model to new industries and regions across the globe. We will fortify the gains we’ve made in the current seven states of the Fair Food Program, and expand those protections to more states and crops. We will travel the country and the world to educate public figures, academics, leaders, and everyday consumers about the challenges faced by farmworkers, and the responsibility of consumers to get involved in transforming the food system so that it is more humane and more just. We will win new partnerships with corporate buyers to drive expansion of the Program – Wendy’s, for example, in the not so distant future. And, of course, we will continue to do everything we can to ensure that the people harvesting our food, sewing our clothes, assembling our phones, building our homes, and doing so many more of the crucial jobs at the bottom of global corporate supply chains are empowered to be the frontline monitors of their own human rights.

Designing habitats for humans

Award-winning architect Amanda Sturgeon leads the International Living Future Institute (ILFI), an organization that focuses on the transformation to a world that is socially just, culturally rich, and ecologically restorative. She is also the founder and driving force behind the organization’s Biophilic Design Initiative, which aims to connect people and nature within our built environments and communities. Prior to ILFI, Amanda enjoyed a successful 15-year architectural career working on projects such as Islandwood on Washington’s Bainbridge Island. In 2013, Amanda was elected as a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects for her extensive advocacy and volunteer service to the green building movement, and in 2015, she received the Women in Sustainability Leadership Award, honoring her as one of the top ten most powerful women in sustainability. Amanda is the author of Creating Biophilic Buildings (2017). You can watch her 2018 TEDMED Talk here.


My career has been dedicated to advocating for architecture that connects people and nature, resulting in healthy communities and healthy eco-systems. For example:

A simple window in a hospital room has been proven to reduce hospital stays, and the amount of pain medication a patient needs compared to a room without a view.

Test scores have been shown to increase dramatically when kids have natural light in the classroom.

A study in the City of Portland, Oregon shows that there is a significant reduction in violent crimes in neighborhoods as the tree size and density increases.

Yet, our buildings are not shaped with nature in sight—literally, 45% of global office workers can not see a window from their desk. At TEDMED last November I explored how we got here. From how the incorporation of electricity relegated cooling breezes and natural heat to the backseat of design, to how our buildings became commodities, rather than a shelter that expressed unique cultures and climates. I asked the audience, “Why have we become inside creatures? Why have we passively accepted buildings that have separated us from nature?”

To answer this question—and to create a world full of buildings that are ‘habitats for humans’—I believe we need to turn to a concept of biophilic design, which translates literally to love of life. Biophilic design takes biophilia and applies it to the built environment, while specifically looking at the relationship between people and nature in our buildings and cities. When utilized, biophilic design creates spaces that are healthier and happier for people to be in.

At the International Living Future Institute, where I am privileged to serve as CEO, we decided to make biophilic design a core strategy for our flagship challenge program, the Living Building Challenge. Our work at the Institute is dedicated to creating a world full of living buildings and living communities, understanding that first, we must fundamentally shift the approach that people have toward nature and restore the relationship between the two.

Our buildings can be designed with that in mind. Designed to create spaces inspired by natural forms, spaces where we can feel the textures change under our feet, hear the sounds carried on the wind outside, where we can see the clouds move in the sky and smell the rain.

Watching my TEDMED talk, you will hear case studies of how biophilic design is changing schools, hospitals, and offices around the world, and see how it can re-establish a connection between people and land, with each other and all other living species.

Celebrating the Gift of Community

The following post was written by the TEDMED Team.


Civil rights leader Coretta Scott King once said, “The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members.”

As we reflect on the past year at TEDMED and the annual gathering that took place this November, King’s words resonate powerfully with us and the way we feel about our own community. From the Partners and Delegates whose thought leadership and creativity inspired us in Palm Springs, to the global audience that engaged in dynamic conversation via TEDMED Live, to the Speakers and Hive Innovators who shared their stories from the Stage, to the Research Scholars and volunteers who supported us with their expertise and enthusiasm, to the Editorial Advisory Board members who helped shape the Stage Program and provided us with guidance throughout the year—we are truly grateful to each and every member of our Community and the unique gifts they have contributed to TEDMED this year.

Clockwise from top left: Delegates in the Theater, an early morning group hike; the TEDMED 2018 Editorial Advisory Board; Stories Under the Stars evening event, hosted by RWJF.

Although this is the season of gift-giving,  TEDMED exchanges a slightly different kind of gift year round. A TEDMED gift is a unique idea or personal perspective connected to health and medicine that, when shared with others, can inspire their thinking and profoundly influence their lives. Each TEDMED Speaker shares a gift from the Stage, for example, at TEDMED this year, Carl June gifted the audience with the story of his journey to pioneering the revolutionary leukemia treatment, CAR-T cell therapy. Rabiaa El Garani helped us to see how hope and love are at the core of her work to help heal survivors of sexual violence. And Queen Dube shared how innovative and inexpensive solutions are saving the lives of thousands of infants every year in Malawi. The list of profound gifts that were shared by this year’s Speakers goes on and on, and we are looking forward to sharing their Talks with you starting in early 2019.

Rabiaa El Garani on stage at TEDMED 2018.

In addition to the gifts that are shared from the Stage, we believe that the greatness of our community is built upon the individual contributions of each member of the TEDMED Community. We’re proud to be a platform where people of all different backgrounds can come together, hold varied points of view, and participate in important conversations that contribute to our shared goal of improving the health of all humanity. This year’s volunteers and Research Scholars are prime examples of how bringing together people with compelling individual gifts to share helps to shape the community at large. For example, volunteer Pratik Chhetri brought his expertise in global health and biomedical research—contributions which have gained him recognition as an individual of ‘Extraordinary Ability’ by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Meg Barron, a 2018 Research Scholar and Director of Digital Health Strategy at the AMA, brought her insight into ways we can improve patient and physician satisfaction.

TEDMED 2018 Speaker and Surgeon General Vice Admiral Jerome M. Adams with TEDMED Volunteers.

Taken together, it’s abundantly clear to us that the insight, generosity, and compassion of each individual is what makes the TEDMED Community truly great. We are excited to begin 2019 with a renewed commitment to the importance of fostering community. As you enter the new year, we encourage you to do so with the conviction that the most generous gift you can give is that of yourself.

So, what gift will you share with your community this year? Share your gift with us on social media using #TEDMED.

Exciting New Tech

Mapping human cellular biology. Single-letter gene editing. Bacterial infection diagnosis in mere hours. 3D-printed organs. A mobile ultrasound device that connects to your smartphone. Simple same-day health care. These are some of the bold, cutting-edge ideas from this year’s TEDMED Hive Innovators. In our final Speaker Spotlight of 2018, we’ll be featuring 6 companies that are driving progress in health and medicine. From improving the patient experience to developing new diagnostic tests, these Innovators are pushing the boundaries and thinking outside the box.

With all the advancements we’ve made in health and medicine, it may come as a surprise that we still do not have a map of our human cellular biology. If we did have such a map, computer models of disease progression could be more accurate, which would enable us to discover precision treatment options, faster. Fortunately, Ron Alfa’s team at Recursion is working to create such a map. By using a combination of machine learning and experimental biology, Recursion has set a goal of discovering 100 new drugs by 2025. With one drug currently in an FDA approved Phase 1 trial, and 30 more in the pipeline, the company is well on their way to reaching that impressive goal.

Many genetic diseases are the result of a single-letter misspelling out of billions of bases in the genetic code. However, current methods for gene editing don’t have the precision for making a single-letter correction. Nicole Gaudelli and her team at Beam Therapeutics are working to improve gene editing accuracy, by developing next-generation CRISPR base editing technology to conduct gene correction, gene regulation, gene silencing, and gene reprogramming at the most precise level of gene therapy. Whereas CRISPR is often compared to a pair of scissors, Beam’s base editing “is more like a pencil. When it reaches its target, it finds a letter, erases it and rewrites it as a different letter without disrupting the sequence of other letters around it.” Beam plans to use their gene editing platforms to prevent, modify, or even cure a wide range of diseases that affect people’s lives.

At Prellis Biologics, Melanie Matheu and her team have the ultimate objective of printing an entire vascular system of a complex organ in less than 12 hours. They’re already making important steps toward this goal, having succeeded in creating 3D printed blood vessels—a hurdle that many other companies have yet to overcome. Without a blood supply, cells are only able to survive for a certain length of time; as a result, ultra-high resolution printing is of utmost importance when it comes to developing microvasculature and scaffolding for human tissue. Prellis’s record-speed printing is paving the way for important medical progress and functional organ replacement options.

Day Zero Diagnostics (DZD) is using genomics and machine learning to modernize infectious disease diagnosis and treatment. Current diagnostic tests take 2-5 days to properly diagnose an infection, and this extended wait time is associated with an 8% increase in death per hour. However, Miriam Huntley and the team at DZD have developed a test that rapidly identifies bacteria and their antibiotic resistance profiles, so that patients receive the right antibiotic therapy within ours. By developing a much faster way to accurately diagnose bacterial infections, DZD not only has the potential to reduce hospital costs and the use of broad-spectrum antibiotics, but also to save patients’ lives.

For doctors, having access to an ultrasound machine when it’s needed can be a matter of life and death. However, many hospitals and clinics only have a limited number of ultrasound machines, and some are not able to afford them at all due to the high price tag. The team at Butterfly Network made it their mission to scale down the ultrasound—not only is their handheld probe pocket-sized, but it also costs significantly less than a traditional ultrasound machine. Their technology, called the Butterfly iQ, connects directly to a user’s smartphone and produces clinical-quality full body medical imaging. John Martin, Butterfly Network’s Chief Medical Officer, even used the device to detect a cancerous tumor in his neck on his own. Ultimately, the team at Butterfly Network aims to democratize health care by making medical imaging accessible and affordable—not just for doctors and hospitals, but for patients themselves.

Butterfly iQ

Working on reducing time spent waiting for more common services is Solv, a mobile app that helps people find and book same-day urgent care appointments. According to IBIS World, the Urgent Care Centers industry is growing at an average rate of 5.4% annual and has reached $28 billion in 2018. Heather Fernandez saw a clear opportunity, as well as inefficiencies, in the urgent care system and brought her experience in transparent consumer experiences to the world of urgent care coordination. By creating a seamless, simple, and price transparent interface for a patient to schedule their appointment with a highly-rated convenient care provider, Solv helps patients get the care they need, fast. On the provider’s end, Solv increases online bookings, helps manage appointments, and improves patient satisfaction at clinics and care centers. By easing the coordination of care on both ends, more people are able to get the quality care that they need, when they need it.

There is no question that the future is bright in the world of health and medicine. Each of the Innovators showcased above gives us a taste of what’s on the horizon in healthcare and science. With advances like 3D printed organs, rapid bacterial infection diagnosis, and portable ultrasound imaging, it’s easy to be excited and optimistic about the future of health and medicine. You can check out the full group of 2018 TEDMED Hive Innovators TEDMED.com. If you’re joining us in Palm Springs next week or participating in TEDMED Live, you will see all 16 Innovators speak during the Audacious Session. Be sure to join the conversation surrounding TEDMED 2018, which is taking place November 14-16, using #TEDMED on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.