Thursday, September 03, 2009

Eat Your Greens, Leave the Politics

I've finally picked up Michael Pollan's "The Omivore's Dilemma". I'm barely 100 pages in, and I already feel my interest waning. I might be remiss in writing before actually finishing it, but since that's highly unlikely, I'm going to use my only platform to complain about why I'm probably not going to finish it.

The main reason is, while I find food politics interesting, I also find it hard not to get defensive. I understand that it's important to read things you don't necessarily agree with (or assume you won't agree with, seeing as you can't pick up the book for longer than five minutes). But, I have a major obstacle to overcome.

I and many of my friends in the upper midwest grew up on farms, or near farms, in small (getting smaller) towns. All in all, about 2% of the US population is directly involved in agricultural practice (3% if you include indirectly involved individuals such as farm credit bureaus, implement dealers, crop insurance salespeople, etc). And if you think most of these farms are in the hands of evil land-grabbing consolidated "corporate farms" - check out this interesting factsheet from the EPA. 90% are owned an operated by individuals or families.

So, understandably, I get a little irritated when the public eye is turned to agriculture because roughly 98% of the US population has any idea what US agriculture is like. They don't know what it takes to run a farm, live in a deeply rural area and try to make a living while the rest of them live in glass houses and throw stones. Forgive me if it feels a (Of course, if we were all limited to commenting only on things we knew about, politics and the blogosphere would die off rather quickly......)

Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation), the summer documentary "Food, Inc" and even last weeks' Time magazine (cover article: The Real Cost of Cheap Food) have all focused public debate recently on environmental negatives of the current agricultural structure (although, to it's credit, Time magazine gave a small nod to farmer's, saying that they're smart enough not to crap all over the land that gives them livelihood. Um, thanks?)

What Michael Pollan, et al have done for us is to put more emphasis on what we put in our bodies. Everyone has a say in that. Everyone has decisions to make when they go to the grocery or (shudder) the fast food joint. I'm not saying things shouldn't change. Every system can be improved. But I do have a problem with placing blame on those who have turned growing food into a business. This is America, after all, we're all driven by capitalism to make things more efficient, including (horrors!) food. Pretending that that doesn't apply to our food systems is just willful ignorance.

I got into a debate with a fellow at work a few weeks ago, who was pontificating pompously about the fabulosity of local organic food. Now, I don't have a problem with local, organic food. However, I find it very hard to have an academic conversation regarding the positives of organic food when the US population at large seems to have issues with eating just plain ol' vegetables regularly. I mean, let's not put the cart before the horse, here.

All of this was driven home today, when I was blithely munching away on my home-made asian chicken breast spring green salad. The director of finance, sitting across from me, blurts out:

Why are YOU eating so healthily?

I blinked at her, trying to measure my retort.
'Why wouldn't I?" I responded.

I may finish the book, who knows.


AnthroGirl said...

Once again I learn something new every time I read your blog. Today I learned about farming. But then again I already knew you were an expert on that. What bugs me regarding your coworkers comment is that organic veggies and fruits in fact tend to be quite detrimental to our environment (just think of transportation cost to the environment) or the exploitation of illegal labor at many of these so-called environmentally-sound farms. Just read on California organic industry, from which most of that stuff at Whole Foods shelf comes from.

More importantly, what bugs me is that somehow people choose what they put in their bodies. Well that's not always the case for a good number of people. Whether its lack of knowledge, inaccessibility to groceries that have a selection of those types of foods, or simply culturally specific eating habits. Now, yes, most people should be aware of what they put in their mouth, so should teenagers who have sex and are unprotected, often it's lack of knowledge. Oh well...thanks again for enlightening us. And next time anyone asks you why you are eating so should say, hey why are you putting that shit into your body, don't you want to live a long healthy life???

Anyhoo friend...I miss and love you:)

Mtanga said...

P.S. I am most definitely not an expert in farming! But thanks for the ego-boost :)

Lenguaje said...

hello...was looking for something on google on cleaning our shelterbelt just ran across your blog here(not what i was expecting)...anyway I agree with you completely about this subject..I'm the opposite of you-grew up in the city, met a farmer after college and now farm and raise cattle with him. Anyway-organic 'foodies' and environmental 'intellects' -don't understand the dynamics of farming, nor do they get the whole 'organic' scam. There's no scientific correlation between organic food and healthy people. (It's the preservatives and sugar that are killing us) Here in rural SD, we wonder why some , and very few, farmers choose to go organic. Yields are lower, crops are infested with noxious weeds(from using manure instead of fertilizer) and insects, and the farmer comes out behind-even if they get a higher price for their crops. As far as produce, I think the best bet are local markets. Usually they're more affordable than organic markets, the food tastes so much better, and you know where it came from. Just don't forget to bargain and the farmer's market, it works!