Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Fatty diet

I am a big fan of Michael Pollan. I've enjoyed reading three of his books, and I appreciate his ideas and his writing style. He has both feet on the ground (er, in the garden), but isn't afraid to explore real ideas about food production in this country. That being said, I always feel a bit guilty after reading anything Michal Pollan has written. I won't lie: I eat my share of frozen dinners, and we do enjoy meat at our house. When I can afford (or find) it, I buy organic and local products (or pretty much anything with Paul Newman's face on it). I grow and can what my backyard allows, as you've seen in previous articles. Sometimes it's not possible to get local organic products, or, in the case of meat, it's ridiculously expensive to purchase, but I do my best. (So if you open my freezer, yes you'll find a bag of Tater Tots and a stack of Lean Cuisines, plus a few frozen meat markdowns, but you'll also find wild blueberries, and strawberries which I picked myself in June, and casseroles made with vegetables from my garden.)

Mr. Pollan has a fascinating new article at the New York Times website entitled "Farmer In Chief". The title made me think of Thomas Jefferson, and made me long for simpler times, when the office of the President was more about leadership than power. But I digress - I'll stay away from politics. Instead he goes to the heart of the matter, based in facts I hope that we can all agree on: America's food system is dependent on fossil fuels, and thus unsustainable. Cheap food in the grocery stores is in some ways a symptom of unsustainable farming (factory farms, feedlots, or big agriculture), and of a system in need of repair.

Repairing the system, to Michael Pollan, means returning to an older way of farming, based around the sun rather than the oil barrel. Modern fields of corn or soybeans, where you can gaze upon the same color, size, and shape of plant for thousands of acres, would be replaced by polycultural fields growing many plants, using sunlight, compost and other natural fertilizers for growth, rather than fossil-fuel based granules. Animals are part of the farm landscape, raised humanely with their by-products going to good use, rather than packed into a feedlot, creating pollution via extreme fattening for the table. A farm could be its own ecosystem, rather than a gigantic assembly line; the output many products, rather than just one. Pollan presents many ideas based in reality for bringing a more sustainable system to bear, and getting people to accept it. I especially liked his idea of putting a second calorie count on every packaged food: one that shows the amount of fossil fuel it took to create the product (everything from plowing to fertilizing to transporting). That would make me think twice about buying that bag of Tater Tots (even with a coupon), and I'm probably not the only American that needs that nudge. He discusses the propensity for current government programs to favor corporate farms, and shares excellent ideas about fixing this problem as well. I do hope you'll read the article and enjoy it as much as I did.

While we've watched the price of oil decline for the past few weeks, we should continue to bear in mind ideas of sustainability and alternative fuels. I seem to recall similar bounces in the price of oil around election time, and it doesn't seem likely that the current economic problems have somehow magically fixed the issues with the world's oil market. I recently read about a food shortage in Iceland, which was indirectly caused by the credit crunch. It's unlikely that Iceland will be the last country affected in such a way. If America is to keep up its strength, it must eat healthfully. We have all read about the detriments of a fatty diet, and petroleum just might be the worst fat upon which to base a diet.

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