That’s the gist of most of the comments I’ve received about my post on Michael Pollan. And it’s entirely fair. What I tend not to write in my Michael Pollan posts is that I’d like to see many of the very things he talks about. I’d like to see people healthier and happier, a lot less plump and free from dietary maladies like heart disease and diabetes. I’d like a lot less junk food clutter. I’d like a food system that’s completely ethical and sustainable, and agriculture that’s free from problems like soil erosion and nitrogen runoff.
However having worked with food and within the American food system for most of my career, I like to think I know enough to say that there aren’t easy solutions to any of those problems. It simply isn’t possible to scrap a food delivery system that feeds 300 million people and start over again. We can’t and even if we could we wouldn’t want to, because for every feature of our food system that’s problematic, there are a dozen others that are, quite simply, miraculous.
The problems that we face aren’t intractable. However to solve them we need to approach them realistically. There isn’t a farmer alive that thinks our agricultural system is perfect. If you want to witness how farmers are truly wrestling with the problems of land use and chemicals, pick up a copy of Prairie Farmer. Likewise, if you really want to see what people within in the food industry are doing to try to make better, safer food available to more people, drop in at the IFT show sometime.
Start engaging in the food system and you’ll find — rather than faceless corporations trying to ruin your health and steal your money — real people working to solve real world problems. No not everyone who works in the food world has your personal best interests at heart. However the vast majority work hard every day to grow better crops, make higher quality food products, keep us safe from food borne illnesses and get better foods into the hands of people who need them.
Michael Pollan either doesn’t see this reality or he’s intentionally blinded himself to it. But then when you’re busy preaching to the masses about good and evil, day-to-day realities only muddy the rhetorical waters. I’ve called Michael Pollan a “food moralist” in the past, and the more I think about last Thursday’s event, the more it seems to resemble a religious revival. It was rousing, entertaining and — above all — offered up a simplistic path to salvation. Thoughtful people understand, however, that getting to the promised land isn’t so easy. It requires clear thought, a firm grasp of life’s realities and lots and lots of hard work.