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Farmer in Chief
October 10, 2008 11:15 PM   Subscribe

"Dear Mr. President-Elect, It may surprise you to learn that among the issues that will occupy much of your time in the coming years is one you barely mentioned during the campaign: food." Michael Pollan advises the next president on what he can and should do to remake the way we grow and eat our food. [Via]
posted by homunculus (30 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
As much as I wish to read this, I'm not a registered member of nytimes.com.
posted by sourwookie at 11:38 PM on October 10, 2008


Try this
posted by vira at 12:53 AM on October 11, 2008


A friend of mine wrote a short story years ago, where, in the future, food was little squares of chemical that sustained you, and the protagonist of his short story was a 'pornographer' who filmed shorts of people preparing and eating real food, implying that eating, for simple gustatorial pleasure, was much akin to having sex for some reason other than procreation.

When I read about commercial farming, Monsanto, and the oil-based agricultural boom, I always have this in the back of my mind - little squares of chemical that we eat to fool our stomachs into thinking that they're doing something, augmented by vitamins and supplements, as we watch our average lifespans dial back down - 67, 55, 40, 32 ...
posted by eclectist at 1:47 AM on October 11, 2008


Good article. If Mr. Obama makes it, and he has congress on his side, these are the sort of changes that could help shepard us through the next few generations.
posted by maxwelton at 2:44 AM on October 11, 2008


I'm preparing for this early by constantly being so broke that getting each meal is like a scene out of The Road Warrior.
That reminds me, can anyone lend me their boomerang?
posted by mannequito at 3:36 AM on October 11, 2008 [2 favorites]


A friend of mine wrote a short story years ago, where, in the future, food was little squares of chemical that sustained you

Soylent green?
posted by Bitter soylent at 4:24 AM on October 11, 2008


eclectist: "A friend of mine wrote a short story years ago, where, in the future, food was little squares of chemical that sustained you, and the protagonist of his short story was a 'pornographer' who filmed shorts of people preparing and eating real food, implying that eating, for simple gustatorial pleasure, was much akin to having sex for some reason other than procreation."

Is your friend Kurt Vonnegut and the story part of 'Breakfast of Champions'?
posted by Science! at 5:32 AM on October 11, 2008 [6 favorites]


Back to the article, (ahem), I'd add put the Big Brother swipe cards we all use at the grocery store now to track where each family buys its food, and offer income tax credits to families that shop at farmers markets, or that can otherwise prove that they buy locally. (Have to work out a different system for the home gardeners).
posted by nax at 5:59 AM on October 11, 2008


Yah, Science! beat me to it.
posted by Eekacat at 6:49 AM on October 11, 2008


Try this

Or this
posted by ook at 7:24 AM on October 11, 2008


or this
posted by acro at 8:44 AM on October 11, 2008


Why not just have the next president pass a law saying we all have to be upper middle class.
posted by srboisvert at 9:12 AM on October 11, 2008


You can also join a movement to "Eat the View", which is trying to get a veggie garden to replace the White House lawn.
posted by saffry at 12:06 PM on October 11, 2008


Why not just have the next president pass a law saying we all have to be upper middle class.
posted by srboisvert at 12:12 PM on October 11 [+] [!]


Or eighteenth century farmers (or contemporary Argintinian farmers). The crop rotation patterns he is proposing is up and down husbandry - and it is the basis of the growth in agricultural production that allowed the industrial revolution to happen.

This whole sustainable food production=elitist meme is very annoying. When we were on welfare, my mother shopped at a Farmer's Market because she could buy twice as many vegetables for her money, because she bought them from the family who grew them. And our family friends, who are apple farmers, made more money selling to lower-class people at that market (it was in the rust-beltish section of our city) than then ever did selling to the big food wholesalers.
posted by jb at 12:06 PM on October 11, 2008 [3 favorites]


Why not just have the next president pass a law saying we all have to be upper middle class.

That is a reasonable problem. All the crunchy, granola-esque things I enjoyed growing up are completely inaccesable to those of my peers from the lower social demographics even though I grew up on a mixture of minimum wage, welfare and Employment Insurance payouts, and a debt ravaged budget. But the only white bread was homemade or bakery-swanky-crusty bread, and the welfare money got spent on a youth hostel tour of England, not booze, cigarettes or TV.

How do you teach people that chickpea curry is cheaper than Kraft Dinner, and more nourishing, when very few people seem to know what a chickpea is?
posted by Phalene at 12:10 PM on October 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


Is your friend Kurt Vonnegut...
Kilgore Trout, methinks.
posted by dan g. at 12:41 PM on October 11, 2008


jb, your mother made Baby Adam Smith cry.
posted by sneebler at 1:35 PM on October 11, 2008


Nor do I think you could call those who planted Victory Gardens during World War II all "upper middle class". [I love this idea of Pollans - of a new Victory Garden movement - but it frightens me too, because I hate gardening and almost every plant I ever touch withers and dies immediately. But I love the idea in general.]

But did you actually read the article? The bulk of it had to do with Federal agricultural and health policy - against subsidies for grains, for infrastructure support of mixed farming (like convertible or up and down husbandry). It's about removing the terrible distortion effects of subsidies on world staples markets which hurt Third World farmers while feeding American children more corn syrup instead of friuts and vegetables. It's about ending policies which promote higher caloric intake at the expense of nutrition, while encouraging the development of more environmentally sustainable and less fossil fuel dependant ways of producing food.

How is any of this about making people all be upper middle class? (By which I assume you mean some kind of cultural conversion, since everyone having the economic means of the upper middle class would be a nice thing). I would like to point out that collard greens - not culturally upper middle class - are as tasty and nutritious as rocket. And the consumption of collard greens (wonderful when flash fried with a little veg or olive oil, some soy sauce, maybe hot pepper) should be encouraged just as much.
posted by jb at 1:40 PM on October 11, 2008 [2 favorites]


jb, your mother made Baby Adam Smith cry.
posted by sneebler at 4:35 PM on October 11 [+] [!]


Really? I would have thought that Adam Smith would be very happy to see the challenge Farmer's Markets and other direct marketing techniques brought to the monopolies of food wholesalers - as far as I know he was very anti-monopoly and liked competition.

He also liked specialisation in production and the division of labour - and some of what Pollan is arguing is to reduce our regional specializations. But while specialization may be great for growth (and it has been), it is bad for stability and increasingly expensive across great distances. England and Wales specialized regionally in agriculture over the 17th and 18th century, and this increased production - but it was never over such vast distances as we do today (both countries are together smaller than New England), and were not reliant on cheap fossill energy to do so.
posted by jb at 1:45 PM on October 11, 2008


Our Good Earth: The future rests on soil. Can we protect it?
posted by homunculus at 4:34 PM on October 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


Very nice essay, and it furthers my feelings that Michael Pollan really Gets It, although I can't muster the optimism he seems to have. I have very little faith that Americans will be able to stomach higher food prices (even if it ends up costing us less as a society, due to lower healthcare costs); and I have less than zero faith that any politician, from either party, has the cojones to do what needs to be done before it's too late.

The financial crisis currently in progress is an abject example of exactly how we deal with looming problems: we don't. We ignore them until they explode, and then clean up the mess at great cost and expense, and with much finger-pointing.

In the same way we pursued Cheap Credit until it was far too late, I suspect we'll pursue Cheap Food until it's far too late. Only, while the bursting of the credit bubble cost people their fortunes and jobs, the bursting of the food bubble will probably cost many people their lives.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:48 PM on October 11, 2008


You can also join a movement to "Eat the View"...
[horrifying mental image involving Barbara Walters]
...which is trying to get a veggie garden to replace the White House lawn.
[sigh of relief, lingering wish to wash brain]
posted by five fresh fish at 11:56 PM on October 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


I read this, and took a moment to daydream. What if the next President appointed Michael Pollan as the SecAg? He would have to go out and make incremental changes, report to Congress and suggest legislation - and someday soon his vision would come to pass: healthy, inexpensive, sustainable nourishment for everyone that doesn't totally blight the land.

Then I pinched myself, recalled that Sarah Palin is the future of America, and went back to my 19th century neurology textbooks. At least those authors had confidence that their profession had a future. Their enthusiasm is almost contagious.
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:16 PM on October 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


What if the next President appointed Michael Pollan as the SecAg?

That would be so awesome - but are these policy changes possible? Or are the intrenched powers just too great?
posted by jb at 8:20 PM on October 12, 2008


jb - sorry, that was short and not to the point. I agree that your mother going to a local market is probably exactly what Mr. Smith had in mind, and my snarcasm was directed at those who use The Invisible Hand as a rationale for short-sighted economic policy.

Thanks for the essay, and need I mention that there's lots more interesting writing here?
posted by sneebler at 8:12 AM on October 13, 2008


Michael Pollan on Fresh Air discussing this piece.
posted by Toekneesan at 10:06 AM on October 22, 2008


Obama: "I was just reading an article in the New York Times by Michael Pollan about food..."
posted by homunculus at 11:56 AM on October 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


That's awesome, that Obama read the article and really took it to heart.

The whole interview (wherein he references Pollan) is pretty good as well - some serious stuff on security as well as energy, and a good discussion on his demand-side economics, aka economics that actually grow economies. I like the Henry Ford reference.
posted by jb at 1:25 PM on October 28, 2008


Pollan mentions in the Fresh Air interview that he was contacted by the campaign and asked to write a summary of the piece for the candidate. He said he turned down the offer as he felt his argument was as short as it could get. Interesting to discover Obama read it anyway in uh, undigested form.
posted by Toekneesan at 3:43 PM on October 28, 2008


What does an Obama win mean for the U.S. food supply?
posted by homunculus at 3:24 PM on November 9, 2008


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