I’m going to preface this post by saying that Michael Pollan throws me for a loop, no matter how much I learn about his ideas. I’m sure many people have experienced this, but it is very hard to listen to someone and agree with some things they say, but disagree very strongly with others. The most we can do is tell ourselves over and over again to listen as best we can, despite how hard that is.
There. I’ve said it. Now onto “the rest of the story”. (Gosh, I miss Paul Harvey!)
The seminar yesterday afternoon gave students the chance to ask Pollan questions about anything. It only lasted an hour, so only about 8-10 questions got asked. People questioned him on anything from hunger to genetics to urban farming. The audience was fairly diverse, with people from both agriculture and non-ag backgrounds.
In terms of Pollan’s answers, anyone who has read his books–or even skimmed them for that matter–probably didn’t hear anything new. We are producing too much of the worst foods for us. Farmers and consumers are being hurt by the system. Cheap food isn’t really cheap if you look at external costs. Same old, same old.
I will start out on the positive side. There are things that Pollan says that aren’t all bad. America has a huge number of health issues (heart disease, obesity, diabetes) that are related to diet. More food that is nutrient-rich and served in appropriate portions should be made available and affordable. The list continues.
On the flip side of that, Pollan and I will tend to disagree on several things, as well. I truly believe that the perpetuation of diet-related diseases has a strong correlation to personal choice. We have stopped holding individuals and parents responsible for the food that goes into ours and our childrens’ mouths because it is easier to blame bad food choices on food processors, producers and marketers. We have stopped hold individuals and parents responsible for their own and their childrens’ physical activity. If you make the unhealthy choice to sit on your duff and play video games, surf the web, etc. instead of going for a walk, then my pity for your weight gain and high cholesterol significantly decreases. There are plenty of Anericans who live a healthy lifestyle without attacking the food industry–they realize they have a choice and use it responsibly.
Other disagreements with Pollan circle more about his ideas of solutions to problems. While I agree with a lot of issues facing our society regarding diet, I disagree with how to solve them. One example that is salient in my mind is that Pollan recognized that water and access to water will become an increasing problem for agriculture in the Western states. While he gave no solution to this, he said that he opposed the development of drought-resistent crops because crops should be developed to meet the needs of, not one weather condition, but many. In my mind, drought-resistent crops are a great technology to sustain crop production–and I mean any crop, not just corn.
Of course, these are just my opinions. I’d love to hear yours! Feel free to leave any comments–I’m always interested to hear others’ viewpoints.
If you’re interested in seeing some other coverage of both Michael Pollan’s and rancher Trent Loos’s visits to Michigan State yesterday, make sure to read this story in the Lansing State Journal and this report from WILX-10.