My fourth TEDx talk: Don’t call Doof Food: systemic change begins with personal change

December 3, 2021 by Joshua
in Nature, Tips

The TEDx people posted my fourth TEDx talk: Don’t call Doof Food: systemic change begins with personal change.

I think you’ll like it. If you do, please go to YouTube and upvote, comment, and share it. When it resonates, you start using the term doof, and you never call food doof, let me know. I recommend using the term. It will simplify and clarify a lot in your life.

Thanks to Leonardo and the TEDxCowes crew for organizing. I also recommend the talks from the event’s other speakers, all available here.

The Script

Here’s the script:


Do you remember the first picture you saw of a beach covered with garbage? How shocked you were? Adults remember it. My nieces and nephews don’t, because they grew up in a world filled with garbage. They didn’t create it and adults who say they’re “happy to see the next generation fixing problems we created” are abdicating responsibility.

Everyone says: “But I’m just one person. What difference can I make?”

I saw the video of the straw in the turtle’s nose. Have you actually tried avoiding straws?

I did. I was out with friends. The waiter brought out water glasses with straws. I asked if he could take them back. He said he’d just have to throw them away anyway, we might as well just use them. I didn’t change anything. What I did didn’t matter. Global problems need global solutions. Only governments and corporations can act on that scale. This stupid straw business distracts from our real problems. Really we need fusion.

My Journey

Or so I thought, anyway. One day I looked at my trash and thought, “maybe I can’t fix the world, but I can take responsibility for my garbage.” So I challenged myself to go a week without buying packaged food. I knew how to cook, but not from scratch, so I expected it to cost more and taste worse. Frankly, I expected to fail.

After a few days I finished everything in my cupboards, I went to the store, to the shelves where I normally start. For the first time, instead of seeing food, I saw the packaging around it—bottles, jars, cans, boxes, bags, and stickers. I have an Ivy League PhD and MBA. I helped launch a satellite and several companies. I believe I’ve reached the pinnacle of our culture and I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t live, without polluting and hurting others.

With no alternative, I bought only fresh fruits and vegetables and dried beans from bulk. I’m not proud of this, but for the first time, I boiled beans on the stove. I made it two-and-a-half weeks and decided to keep going, not at zero packaging but minimal. After a few months, my cooking became delicious. People hire me to host dinners. I lead workshops in food deserts to fill them in.

I can easily describe my material results: I saved time and money, got closer to family, learned to shop at farmers markets, met my farmers, started a windowsill garden. I went from emptying my garbage weekly to monthly to annually. I last emptied my garbage in 2019. Next month will be two years on one load.

The mental changes were bigger. Why did I expect deprivation and higher costs? I thought cooking from scratch would be boring compared to eating out, but that was my inexperience. It’s easier, cheaper, less noisy. Waiters aren’t rushing us. I associated packaged food with convenience and variety. But nothing compares with fresh. More flavor, nuance, complexity. Packaged food just numbs our senses and fills oceans with garbage.

The results surprised me so much, I looked for other parts of my life like packaged food. I challenged myself to avoid flying for a year. No one believes me when I describe how hard it was or how much it improved my life, so I won’t try, but it’s one of the best things I’ve done. Now I haven’t flown since 2016 and probably never will again.

When I read most cultures don’t refrigerate like we do, I just unplugged my fridge and forced myself to learn to ferment before everything melted. I made it three months before plugging it back in, six-and-a-half months my next try. Now a typical electric bill is two dollars. My record is $1.40.

I started picking up litter, surprisingly rewarding, and haven’t missed a day since 2017.

Overall, I’ve dropped my footprint over 90 percent.

I’m not talking about individual action adding up, though it may. I’m talking about what I found comes with sustainability: joy, fun, freedom, community, connection, meaning, and purpose.

But even environmentalists, actually especially environmentalists, present sustainability as deprivation, sacrifice, burden, chore. We have nearly no role models trying to live sustainably to find that joy. So I started a podcast, This Sustainable Life, to create role models.

My guests are leaders in business, politics, sports, culture, and more. I lead them in what’s now called The Spodek Method to share and act on their environmental values, many practicing stewardship for the first time. They enjoy the experience and recommend me to peers.

Guests include hard-core Trump supporters, evangelicals, staunch Republicans, military, and others that many environmentalists consider adversaries. Why? Want change? Want votes? Engage people who disagree with you. I learn from them too. We become friends.

The podcast has become a growing family, with other hosts reaching other audiences.

Beyond the podcast, I work with help them change their organizations. They’ve heard peers called greenwashing or hypocritical. They think they have to be perfect. They don’t. They only have to show they’re doing their best, a much lower bar, but they have to show they’re acting authentically and genuinely. Then people support them for their flaws. My individual action enables me to lead them.


Systemic change begins with personal change. If we value growth and extraction, we’ll innovate technologies that may lower pollution locally, but if we make a polluting system more efficient, we pollute more efficiently. We’ve chased efficiency since before the Industrial Revolution. What matters is total pollution. We’re polluting more, more efficiently than ever.

The difference between the verdant, fertile world of our ancestors and our polluted one today is the physical manifestation of our values and culture, implemented by our behavior, augmented by our technologies. If we magically lowered our pollution levels to preindustrial, but kept our values, we’d end up back here again. Norman Borlaug, father of the Green Revolution, saw this happen as, in his words, “the population monster” grew to recreate the problems he thought he solved. He warned that technology alone would only grow our problems. We’re living his predictions. Even fusion would repeat the pattern, unless we choose new values.

How do we? By acting. To clarify, we’re not changing them. We’re uncovering ones suppressed so long we forgot them. Everybody values clean air, land, and water.

You may be wondering how to start without wasting time like me with the straws. I found the biggest bang for your buck. I’m not saying it alone will change everything, but it costs nothing and you don’t have to wait for governments or corporations. You’ll see how to reduce 90 percent. It’s also fun.


For many people, what to eat is a horror show. It was for me because I always had ice cream and pretzels at home. I’d feel shame wanting them, which made me think of them, which made me eat them, which made me feel shame and the cycle continued. For decades.

“Junk food,” “fast food,” “ultra-processed food,” and “comfort food.” Maybe you’ve heard Michael Pollan’s “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” The term “food” in these phrases is confusing.

Consider two cases: First, parents in a food desert. People say that a dollar can fill their kids’ bellies more from McDonald’s than from a farmers market. Second, people addicted to salt, sugar, fat, and convenience. They say an alcoholic can just not go to a bar, but unlike any other addiction, they have to face theirs every meal.

These views assume broccoli and Doritos are the same. They’re not. We give kids Taco Bell, saying “fast food may not the best food, but it’s still food.” It’s not. The parents could assuage their kids’ hunger with heroin, too, or cocaine. If we called them poppy extract and coca leaf extract they might. Our language distinguishes them from the plants they’re refined from, but not sugar from sugar cane or corn syrup from corn, so we accept them.

To end that confusion I offer the new word: “doof”, which is “food” backward, and I cannot overstate how much it clarifies and simplifies. Where you used to say “junk food,” “fast food,” etc, say doof. Guests from my podcast already use the term, including Dr. Joel Fuhrman, who wrote Eat to Live, New York City’s Mayor Elect Eric Adams, Dr. Michael Turner, and others.

Everyone finds it fun. I’m not there in person, but try it. Imagine someone offered you, say, a frappucino or bottled water. Say “No thanks. I avoid doof.” Your turn. . . I hope you enjoyed it.

I’m not saying never eat doof. Actually, “eat” is for food. Doof you consume. They want you to consume as much as possible. Just if you consume doof, don’t consider it eating. It’s more like unhealthy entertainment for the mouth. Eat all the food you want. Try eating too much kale or berries. You can’t. If you give kids doof, they still need food for nutrition that doof lacks. Doof impoverishes communities like a payday loan store.

My charge to you: Never call doof food. And enjoy food all the more.

Common clues something is doof: it’s advertised, it’s packaged, fiber has been refined out. You have to draw your line for yourself for gray zones like meat, alcohol, or refined oil. But the big one is the manufacturer’s intent. If they engineered it to create craving, it’s doof. I remember an ad campaign that said “Bet you can’t eat just one” They know exactly what they’re doing.

Seeing the industry choose profit over my health, and the world’s, made doof disgusting, which made reducing 90 percent and those other changes effortless. They took years, but I had to overcome decades of addiction to Cherry Garcia.

Maybe you can do changes on my scale, maybe not. But you can change this word and start your journey. It gets easier with every step. Decrease your salt and sugar and things will taste bland, but after a month your old amounts become unbearable. Apples to me today taste sweeter than Snickers ever did. Less sugar, more sweetness may sound too good to be true, but after living it, it’s obvious.

Big picture

The doof concept revealed to me a spectrum. At one end is wholesome, enduring reward: family, community, personal growth, stewardship. At the other is craving, always more, never satisfied. We tend to think of heroin and crack as the extreme. But confusing doof with food, we don’t defend ourselves against it. Orders of magnitude more people suffer from heart disease, diabetes, pollution, and other doof consequences than from drugs. So doof is farther out on the spectrum.

What else lies at this end? Facebook? Social media? Binge TV? Fast fashion? Bucket lists? I believe in time you’ll find them all doof.

Note their manufacturers’ intent and values. Remember I said our stewardship values were suppressed? These doof values suppressed them. Yes, they bring pleasure. They also lower health, longevity, and freedom, as well as Earth’s ability to sustain life, risking population collapse. Billions may suffer and die. You’ve seen the headlines.

Do we just accept what doof values cause, or do we consciously choose our values? As long as we confuse doof with food—in all of life, not just diet—we’ll keep sleepwalking into catastrophe.

The concept of doof lays bare a lie at the heart of our culture: that more improves quality of life. More doof lowers it—whether Nestle, Instagram, Amazon Prime, or just plain meth.

Almost no one suggests less as a solution because they fear it as a horror show, which doof industries love, but less doof means more sweetness, less sugar. Maybe you’re thinking, “If we don’t grow the economy, we’ll lose our tax base, infrastructure will crumble, hospitals will close, mothers will die in childbirth, and 30 will become old age again. Do you want to return to the Stone Age, Josh?” That’s the addiction speaking. Countless human societies have thrived without growing and extracting. Countless cultures that grew too much collapsed.

How much less can we consume? This graph of my current footprint, after removing doof from my life, compared to the average American’s says we can drop 75 to 90 percent, improving our lives. At these numbers, we don’t need fusion. And America would gain credibility to lead others. Imagine: more happiness, health, and freedom reducing billions’ suffering.

What about people without resources? It’s easy to think low cost stuff helps them and in individual cases it can, but systemically doof extracts wealth. It causes and exacerbates poverty. Reducing it helps the most needy. They pollute the least anyway. People with resources pollute the most. They also fear relinquishing their stuff most. The heaviest users tend to be the most addicted and make the most excuses. If you feel like you can’t give up flying or whatever, consider that you may benefit the most enduring withdrawal.


I’m not promising world peace, just a new direction. It will lead you to more sweetness, less sugar. As people join us, instead of “what I do doesn’t matter” you’ll see that the fastest, most effective way to change governments and corporations is to start with yourself, now. I didn’t say do one thing and then stop. When you get the doof concept, you’ll keep going to act more and more and more. People will follow you out of joy.

Systemic change begins with personal change.

Doof values make us entitled, lacking gratitude and appreciation, twisted up knowing we’re hurting people. When we steward, nature responds not with ocean dead zones and a pandemic that goes global in weeks because we fly so much, but with beauty and abundance: peaches, bees, clear skies, and vibrant blue oceans.

I work with executives and politicians. They want to change. They’re scared. They should probably act without us, but avoiding doof will help them stop producing it so the factories close and they plug the oil wells supplying them.

My charge again: never call doof food. Avoid doof, in life. As your joy increases and your footprint decreases, family, friends, and industries will follow.

Let’s practice saying “No thanks, I avoid doof.”

Would you like a Coke or Pepsi?

There’s a sale at Zara. Want to go?

You got it!

Thank you.

And never call doof food, so you can enjoy food, in all of life.

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