Sunday, October 19, 2008

Michael Pollan's open letter

Now that my baseball season is over I continue to catch up on my food reading.

First, a pet peeve vindicated. Both Marian Nestle and Michael Pollan refer to "healthful" food. Of course, I want my tomato plants to be robust, and my chicken - if I ate it - not to be diseased - but when we speak of the effect of food on our bodies it is healthful food we desire and "healthful" we should use, not "healthy".

I'd heard of Michael Pollan's modest proposal in his open letter to the Farmer-in-Chief elect, to turn the South Lawn of the White House into an organic garden. But I hadn't realized the letter, which appeared in last Sunday's New York Times magazine, was so thorough.

He begins with the thought that little has been said about food during the campaign (my observation, too, in these notes) but that three issues that keep coming up all have food policy dimensions: energy independence, climate change, and health care.

He also points out the international dimensions of food policy which sorely need attention, and food's interrelationship with national security.

"While there are alternatives to oil, there are no alternatives to food."

Pollan's basic proposal is to resolarize our food system.

Will we be able to produce enough food this way? The only way to find out, he figures, is to try. He points out some of the upside, and also identifies the challenging bit - the people needed to farm when sun energy, not fossil fuels, are the basis.

There are several little things he suggests that intrigue me. His idea of real estate developers needing to complete a "food system impact statement" is probably something we have needed for a couple of generations. Fortunately I live in a part of the world where there is now some attempt to confine sprawl and preserve ag lands - but not enough.

I also loved his idea for a second bar code on food products, which could be scanned by consumer devices, not just store equipment, and would tell the story of that food item's production and journey. This is way beyond COOL.

Perhaps dearest to my heart is push for decentralizing our food system in this country. "Whatever may be lost in efficiency by localizing food production is gained in resilience."

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