Tennessee's own Birke Baehr, 12, may be based in Knoxville technically, but he travels around the state with his dad often as his father lays tile, spreading his message of "Food for Thought" to those interested in eating healthy.
Birke will speak Nov. 28 at 7 p.m. at the Sierra Club meeting at greenspaces.
"My talk is titled 'Food for Thought' because food is such an overrated subject," said Birke, a home school student. "I talk about mindless eating versus mindful eating and tantalizing your taste buds with slow food. Mindless consumption is a big problem in America. I used to eat mindlessly too. Now I look beyond the advertisements and say 'No, I'm not going to eat that processed junk.'"
He describes slow food as the opposite of fast food. A slow food organization in Italy, where the concept originated, tries to pull people away from fast food restaurants and get them back on the right track with home-cooked food.
"I'm from the South; I like collard greens, turnip greens, cornbread and pinto beans," said Birke. "I try to drink milk every day."
He said he's begun thinking more about the food he eats, such as where it's grown, processed and packaged.
He said his Food for Thought talks began a year ago at the Tedex Next Generation Asheville event. He said a video from that speech went "viral" and has more than 400,000 views on YouTube. Other videos of Birke have additional hits.
"I feel like the public is so blinded by what they consume," he said. "There are some things in food so hidden that if you don't look it can hit you on the blind side."
For example, an abundance of corn syrup in soft drinks could cause someone to become diabetic, he said. He said mercury can also be found in high fructose corn syrup and too much mercury can be deadly.
"The government pays quite a bit to the agricultural system that makes it cheaper for people to buy hamburgers and soft drinks at fast food restaurants," said Birke. "I like organic cola. There's an organic alternative to pretty much everything."
He said he tells people who say organic food is too expensive to buy to think again.
"You can either pay the farmer or pay the hospital," said Birke. "Since on a long-term basis you can either eat the really cheap fast food or you can eat the good wholesome food from the farmer."
Seeing the advantages to organic style farming, Birke said cows that eat grass are healthier and produce better meat. He said cows that eat corn produce less healthy beef that is sold to fast food chains.
"I really wanted to look at the roots of the farming system," said Birke, who aspires to graduate from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. "I want to be an organic farmer. I would like to buy an organic farm."