So what’s YOUR solution, wise guy?

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.

4 thoughts on “So what’s YOUR solution, wise guy?”

  1. Bravo!!! I’m tired of people who have the time and resources (both $$$ and availability) to eat like MP preaches trying to make the people that don’t feel guilty about it. Am I feeding my family commercially raised chicken rather than free range because I don’t care about their health? NO! It’s a matter of money and availability. We live in an area that raises a lot of produce so we do eat a lot of good, local fruits and veggies. What you don’t have around here is locally raised meats of any kind really (except wild caught fish…for $18 lb, eek!). The nearest TJ’s is a 25 mile round trip away, although I do get out there 2-3 times a year. It’s not reducing my foot print any driving that far, and even if it was right across the street, we can’t afford $8 lb for lean, grass fed, organic ground beef. It’s a luxury, and I don’t really see a time in our future when it won’t be.

    1. Thanks very much, Sandi! I haven’t talked abut Michael Pollan for some time, mostly because he hasn’t written anything new in quite a while. However that’ll probably all change come April when his new title “Cooked” comes out. My hope is that over the last couple of years more people have come to understand some of the real world implications behind what MP is proposing. I sometimes wonder if “Food Rules” (mostly just an amalgam of letters from his fans) was his shark jumping moment…that it marked the passing of the MP fad. That’s probably too much to hope, so I’ll be sharpening my harpoons like Queequeg in anticipation of the moment when my white whale rises. Arrrr!

      Thanks again Sandi!

      – Joe

  2. ”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.”

    Wow, you castigate Mark Pollan for his lack of problem-solving skills and then you come to the rescue with platitudes like ‘clear thought’ and ‘hard work’. Political economy isn’t your strongest suit, is it?

    Your food looks tasty, you have a wonderful writing style, and real teaching talent (blindingly obvious for a former teacher like me). Although I’m terrified of baking, I’m determined to try some of your recipes, and that speaks to your best qualities. Maybe you should stick to what you know and excel at, and leave debating the food system to others, better qualified than you.

    And stop defending agrobiz, if you want to maintain any shred of credibility. It’s disrespectful to your readers; we know that they would feed us Soylent Green if they could get away with it.

    1. Hey Liliana!

      Thanks for the comment and the kind praise. I certainly hope you will try some of the recipes. Send pictures if you can since I like to see what my readers are up to. Regarding the rest of your comment, you’re quite right that that particular sentence was awfully fluffy — but one fluffy sentence does not a total gibbering idiot make! Not total, anyway. But to your point, I’m not a defender of “agrobiz”. I’m just not a demonizer of it, and there really is a big difference there.

      The food industry is where I live and work when I’m not blogging. I’ve been a consultant to everyone from organic green and free-range chicken producers to Beatrice (now Kerry Ingredients) and Cargill. I’ve been far deeper inside McDonald’s than that Eric Schlosser or Morgan Spurlock have ever been (including the board room and their slaughter houses) and have been to Monsanto’s labs and test fields. I’ve worked for Kraft, MillerCoors, Sara Lee, Panera and dozens of others. Also I’m a conventional farmer.

      I bring information and perspective that I pick up in my travels through the food world to bear on the blog, and I must say that my readers enjoy it quite a bit, for not only is my content technical, it’s one of the very few destinations in the blogosphere that doesn’t simply recycle more of the same old Pollan-ite ideas. All of which is to say that my views on the food industry are the source of my credibility, not a detraction from it, so they definitely won’t be going away.

      That said I do hope you’ll come again and share with me what you’ve been up to as a baker. Contrary to what you may think about me I’m a big, big booster of individuals making their own food — and especially doing their own baking. Despite our apparent differences in outlook I think we can both agree that there’s nothing like home made.

      Cheers, and looking forward to hearing from you again,

      – Joe

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