Michael Pollan

A Quote by Michael Pollan on food, food supply, high fructose corn syrup, corn, health, subsidies, farming, farm subsidies, and george naylor

Corn is not the only source of cheap energy in the supermarket – much of the fat added to processed foods comes from soybeans – but it is by far the most important.  As George Naylor said, growing corn is the most efficient way to get energy – calories – from an acre of Iowa farmland.  That corn-made calorie can find its way into our bodies in the form of an animal fat, a sugar, or a starch, such is the protean nature of carbon in that big kernel.  But as productive and protean as the corn plant is, finally it is a set of human choices that have made these molecules quite as cheap as they have become: a quarter of a century of farm policies designed to encourage the overproduction of this crop and hardly any other.  Very simply, we subsidize high-fructose corn syrup in this country, but not carrots.  While the surgeon general is raising alarms over the epidemic of obesity, the president is signing farm bills designed to keep the river of cheap corn flowing, guaranteeing that the cheapest calories in the supermarket will continue to be the unhealthiest.

Michael Pollan

Source: The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (Large Print Press), Pages: 108

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A Quote by Michael Pollan on value added, food, food supply, george naylor, farming, and agriculture

In fact, there are lots of good reasons to complicate your product – or, as the industry prefers to say, to “add value” to it.  Processing food can add months, even years, to its shelf life, allowing you to market globally.  Complicating your product also allows you to capture more of the money a consumer spends on food.  Of a dollar spent on a whole food such as eggs, $0.40 finds its way back to the farmer.  By comparison, George Naylor will see only $0.04 of every dollar spent on corn sweeteners; ADM and Coca-Cola and General Mills capture most of the rest.  (Every farmer I’d ever met eventually gets around to telling the story about the food industry executive who declared, “There’s money to be made in food, unless you’re trying to grow it.”)  When Tyson food scientists devised the chicken nugget in 1983, a cheap bulk commodity – chicken – overnight became a high-value-added product, and most of the money Americans spend on chicken moved from the farmer’s pocket to the processor’s.

Michael Pollan

Source: The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (Large Print Press), Pages: 95

Contributed by: HeyOK

A Quote by Michael Pollan on food industry and growth rate

The growth of the American food industry will always bump up against this troublesome biological fact:  Try as we might, each of us can only eat about fifteen hundred pounds of food a year.  Unlike many other products – CDs, say, or shoes – there’s a natural limit to how much food we each can consume without exploding.  What this means for the food industry is that its natural rate of growth is somewhere around 1 percent per year – 1 percent being the annual growth rate of American population.  The problem is that [the industry] won’t tolerate such an anemic rate of growth.

Michael Pollan

Source: The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (Large Print Press), Pages: 94

Contributed by: HeyOK

A Quote by Michael Pollan on organic produce, organic, and health

... the greens were grown organically.  Since they’re not pumped up on synthetic nitrogen, the cells of these slower-growing leaves develop thicker walls and take up less water, making them more durable.

            And, I’m convinced, tastier, too.  When I visited Greenways Organic, which grows both conventional and organic tomatoes, I learned that the organic ones consistently earn higher Brix scores (a measure of sugars) than the same varieties grown conventionally.  More sugars mean less water and more flavor.  It stands to reason that the same would hold true for other organic vegetables: slower growth, thicker cell walls, and less water should produce more concentrated flavors.  That at least has always been my impression, though in the end freshness probably affects flavor more than growing method.

Michael Pollan

Source: The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (Large Print Press), Pages: 176

Contributed by: HeyOK

A Quote by Michael Pollan on supermarket pastoral, agribusiness, chicken, food, and food supply

... This is one of the larger ironies of growing organic food in an industrial system:  It is even more precarious than a conventional industrial system.  But the federal rules say an organic chicken should have “access to the outdoors,” and Supermarket Pastoral imagines it, so Petaluma Poultry provides the doors and the yard and everyone keeps their fingers crossed.

            It would appear Petaluma’s farm managers have nothing to worry about.  Since the food and water and flock remain inside the shed, and since the little doors remain shut until the birds are at least five weeks old and well settled in their habits, the chickens apparently see no reason to venture out into what must seem to them an unfamiliar and terrifying world.  Since the birds are slaughtered at seven weeks, free range turns out to be not so much a lifestyle for these chickens as a two-week vacation option.

Michael Pollan

Source: The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (Large Print Press), Pages: 172

Contributed by: HeyOK

A Quote by Michael Pollan on calories, food, food supply, organic, and commercial organic

...A one-pound box of prewashed lettuce contains 80 calories of food energy.  According to Cornell ecologist David Pimentel, growing, chilling, washing, packaging, and transporting that box of organic salad to a plate on the East Coast takes more than 4,600 calories of fossil fuel energy, or 57 calories of fossil fuel for every calorie of food.  (These figures would be about 4% higher if the salad were grown conventionally.)

Michael Pollan

Source: The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (Large Print Press), Pages: 167

Contributed by: HeyOK

A Quote by Michael Pollan on factory farms, corn, biodiversity, agriculture, food, and food supply

... Corn’s triumph is the direct result of its overproduction, and that has been a disaster for the people who grow it.  Growing corn and nothing but corn has also exacted a toll on the farmer’s soil, the quality of the local water and the overall health of his community, the biodiversity of his landscape, and the health of all those creatures living on or downstream from it.  And not only those creatures, for cheap corn has also changed, and much for the worse, the lives of several billion food animals, animals that would not be living on factory farms if not for the ocean of corn on which these animal cities float.

Michael Pollan

Source: The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (Large Print Press), Pages: 118

Contributed by: HeyOK

A Quote by Michael Pollan on sustainable agriculture, food supply, and organic

Obviously there is much more to be learned about the relationship of soil to plant, animals, and health, and it would be a mistake to lean too heavily on any one study.  It would also be a mistake to assume the word “organic” on a label automatically signifies healthfulness, especially when that label appears on heavily processed and long-distance foods that have probably had much of their nutritional value, not to mention flavor, beaten out of them long before they arrive on our tables.

            The better for what?  Question about my organic meal can of course be answered in a much less selfish way:  Is it better for the environment?  Better for the farmers who grew it?  Better for public health?  For the taxpayer?  The answer to all three questions is an (almost) unqualified yes.  To grow the plants and animals that made up my meal, no pesticides found their way into any farmer’s bloodstream, no nitrogen run off or growth hormones seeped into the watershed, no soils were poisoned, no antibiotics were squandered, no subsidy checks were written.  If the high price of my all-organic meal is weighed against the comparatively low price it extracted from the larger world, as it should be, it begins to look, at least in karmic terms, like a real bargain.

            And yet, and yet... an industrial organic meal such as mine does leave deep footprints on our world.  The lot of the workers who harvested the vegetables and gathered up Rosie for slaughter is not appreciably different from those on nonorganic factory farms.  The chickens lived only marginally better lives than their conventional counterparts; in the end a CAFO is a CAFO, whether the food served in it is organic or not.  As for the cows that produced the milk in our ice cream, they may well have spent time outdoors in an actual pasture (Stonyfield buys most – though not all – of its milk from small dairy farmers), but the organic label guarantees no such thing.  And while the organic farms I visited don’t receive direct government payments, they do receive other subsidies from taxpayers, notably subsidized water and electricity in California.  The two-hundred-thousand-square-foot refrigerated processing plant where my salad was washed pays half as much for its electricity as it would were Earthbound not classified as a “farm enterprise.”

            But perhaps most discouraging of all, my industrial organic meal is nearly as drenched in fossil fuel as it’s conventional counterpart.  Asparagus traveling in a 747 from Argentina; blackberries trucked up from Mexico; a salad chilled to thirty-six degrees from the moment it was picked in Arizona (where Earthbound moves its entire operation every winter) to the moment I walk it out the doors of my Whole Foods.  The food industry burns nearly a fifth of all the petroleum consumed in the United States (about as much as automobiles do).  Today it takes between seven and ten calories of fossil fuel energy to deliver one calorie of food energy to an American plate.  And while it is true that organic farmers don’t spread fertilizers made from natural gas or spray pesticides made from petroleum, industrial organic farmers often wind up burning more diesel fuel than their conventional counterparts: in trucking bulky loads of compost across the countryside and weeding their fields, a particularly energy intensive process involving extra irrigation (to germinate the weeds before planting) and extra cultivation.  All told, growing food organically uses about a third less fossil fuel than growing it conventionally, according to David Pimentel, though that savings disappears if the compost is not produced on site or nearby.

            Yet growing the food is the least of it:  only a fifth of the total energy used to feed us is consumed on the farm; the rest is spent processing the food and moving it around.  At least in terms of the fuel burned to get it from the farm to my table, there’s little reason to think my Cascadian Farm TV dinner or Earthbound Farm spring mix salad is any more sustainable than a conventional TV dinner or salad would have been.

            Well, at least we didn’t eat it in the car.

            So is an industrial organic food chain finally a contradiction in terms?  It’s hard to escape the conclusion that it is.  Of course it is possible to live with contradictions, at least for a time, and sometimes it is necessary or worthwhile.  But we ought at least face up to the cost of our compromises.  The inspiration for organic was to find a way to feed ourselves more in keeping with the logic of nature, to build a food system that looked more like an ecosystem that would draw it’s fertility and energy from the sun.  To feed ourselves otherwise was “unsustainable,” a word that’s been so abused we’re apt to forget what it very specifically means:  Sooner or later it must collapse.  To a remarkable extent, farmers succeeded in creating the new food chain on their farms; the trouble began when they encountered the expectations of the supermarket.  As in so many other realms, nature’s logic has proven no match for the logic of capitalism, one in which cheap energy has always been a given.  And so, today, the organic food industry finds itself in a most unexpected, uncomfortable, and, yes, unsustainable position:  floating on a sinking sea of petroleum.

Michael Pollan

Source: The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (Large Print Press), Pages: 181-4

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A Quote by Michael Pollan on ascorbic acid, lycopenes, resveratrol, flavonols, organic, food, food supply, and health

Studies show that organically grown crops produce more of the things (ascorbic acid, lycopenes, resveratrol, flavonols in general, etc) that our bodies need and also have less toxic residue.  Science is still catching up with this.  J. Agric. Food. Chem. Vol. 51, no. 5, 2003.

Michael Pollan

Source: The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (Large Print Press), Pages: 181

Contributed by: HeyOK

A Quote by Michael Pollan on synchronicity, slaughterhouse, food supply, and food

The day after my steak-and-Singer dinner at the palm I found myself on a plane flying from Atlanta to Denver.  A couple of hours into the flight the pilot, who hadn’t uttered word one until now, came on the public address system to announce, apropos of nothing, that we were passing over Liberal, Kansas.  This was the first, last, and only landmark on our flight path that the pilot deigned to mention, which seemed very odd, given its obscurity to everyone on the plane but me.  For Liberal, Kansas, happens to be the town where my steer, very possibly that very day, was being slaughtered.  I’m not a superstitious person, but this struck me as a most eerie coincidence.  I could only wonder what was going on just then, thirty thousand feet below me, on the kill floor of the National Beef Plant, where steer number 534 had his date with the stunner.
            I could only wonder because the company had refused to let me see.  When I visited the plant earlier that spring I was shown everything but the kill floor.  I watched steers being unloaded from trailers into corrals and then led up a ramp and through a blue door.  What happened on the other side of the blue door I had to reconstruct from accounts of others who had been allowed to go there.   ...

Michael Pollan

Source: The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (Large Print Press), Pages: 328-9

Contributed by: HeyOK

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