Michael Pollan

A Quote by Michael Pollan on food, food supply, local farming, polyface farms, organic, and joel salatin

It isn’t hard to see why there isn’t much institutional support for the sort of low-capital, thought-intensive farming Joel Salatin practices:  He buys next to nothing.  When a livestock farmer is willing to “practice complexity” – to choreograph the symbiosis of several different animals, each which has been allowed to behave and eat as it evolved to – he will find he has little need for machinery, fertilizer, and, most strikingly, chemicals.  He finds he has no sanitation problem or any of the diseases that result from raising a single animal in a crowded monoculture and then feeding it things it wasn’t designed to eat.  This is perhaps the greatest efficiency of a farm treated as a biological system:  health.

I was struck by the fact that for Joel abjuring agrochemicals and pharmaceuticals is not so mush a goal of his farming, as it so often is in organic agriculture, as it is an indication that his farm is functioning well.  “In nature health is the default,” he pointed out.  “Most of the time pests and disease are just nature’s way of telling the farmer he’s doing something wrong.”

Michael Pollan

Source: The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (Large Print Press), Pages: 221

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

Contributed by: HeyOK

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 animals, food, and pets

Whatever the cause, the effect is an unusual amount of confusion on the subject of animals.  For at the same time many of us seem eager to extend the circle of our moral consideration to other species, in our factory farms we’re inflicting more suffering on more animals than at any time in history.  One by one science is dismantling our claims to uniqueness as a species, discovering that such things as culture, tool making, language, and even possibly self consciousness are not, as we used to think, the exclusive properties of Homo sapiens.  And yet most of the animals we eat lead lives organized very much in the spirit of Descartes, who famously claimed that animals were mere machines, incapable of thought or feeling.  There’s a schizoid quality to our relationship with animals today in which sentiment and brutality exist side by side.  Half the dogs in America will receive Christmas presents this year, yet few of us ever pause to consider the life of a pig – an animal easily as intelligent as a dog – that becomes the Christmas ham.

            We tolerate this schizophrenia because the life of a pig has moved out of view; when’s the last time you saw a pig in person?  Meat comes from the grocery store, where it is cut and packaged to look as little like parts of animals as possible.  (When was the last time you saw a butcher at work?)  The disappearance of animals from our lives has opened a space in which the Peter Singers and the Frank Perdues of the world fair equally well.

Michael Pollan

Source: The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (Large Print Press), Pages: 306

Contributed by: HeyOK

A Quote by Michael Pollan on cooking, eating, and destruction

The repetitive phases of cooking leave plenty of mental space for reflection, and as I chopped and minced and sliced I thought about the rhythms of cooking, one of which involves destroying the order of the things we bring from nature into our kitchens, only to then create from them a new order.  We butcher, grind, chop, grate, mince, and liquefy raw ingredients, breaking down formerly living things so that we might recombine them in new, more cultivated forms.  When you think about it, this is the same rhythm, once removed, that governs all eating in nature, which invariably entails the destruction of certain living things, by chewing and then digestion, in order to sustain other living things.  In The Hungry Soul Leon Kass calls this the great paradox of eating:  “that to preserve their life and form living things necessarily destroy life and form.”  If there is any shame in that destruction, only we humans seem to feel it, and then only on occasion.  But cooking doesn’t only distance us from our destructiveness, turning the pile of blood and guts into savory salami, it also symbolically redeems it, making good our karmic debts: Look what good, what beauty, can come of this!  Putting a great dish on the table is our way of celebrating the wonders of form we humans can create from this matter – this quantity of sacrificed life – just before the body takes its first destructive bite.

Michael Pollan

Source: The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (Large Print Press), Pages: 405

Contributed by: HeyOK

A Quote by Michael Pollan on slaughterhouse, food supply, and meat production

Sometimes I think that all it would take to clarify our feelings about eating meat, and in the process begin to redeem animal agriculture, would be to simply pass a law requiring all the sheet-metal walls of all the CAFOs, and even the concrete walls of slaughterhouses, to be replaced by glass.  If there’s any new right we need to establish, maybe this is the one: the right, I mean, to look.  No doubt the sight of some of these places would turn many people into vegetarians.  Many others would look elsewhere for their meat, to farmers willing to raise and kill their animals transparently.  Such farms exist; so do a handful of small processing plants willing to let customers onto the kill floor, including one – Lorentz Meats, in Cannon Falls, Minnesota – that is so confident of their treatment of animals that they have walled their abattoir in glass.

            The industrialization – and brutalization – of animals in America is a relatively new, evitable, and local phenomenon:  No other country raises and slaughters its food animals quite as intensively or as brutally as we do.  No other people in history has lived at quite so great remove from the animals they eat.  Were the walls of our meat industry to become transparent, literally or even figuratively, we would not long continue to raise, kill, and eat animals the way we do.  Tail docking and sow crates and beak clipping would disappear overnight, and the days of slaughtering four hundred head of cattle an hour would promptly come to an end – for who could stand the sight?  Yes, meat would get more expensive.  We’d probably eat a lot less of it, too, but maybe when we did eat animals we’d eat them with consciousness, ceremony, and respect they deserve.

Michael Pollan

Source: The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (Large Print Press), Pages: 332-3

Contributed by: HeyOK

A Quote by Michael Pollan on writing, objectivity, journalists, blogging, and being

So choose your first person deliberately. Too many newspaper first
persons -- and a lot of magazine first persons too -- are written in
the voice of the neutral feature-writer. They're the voice of the
Journalist. That is the least interesting first person you have. Nobody
cares about journalists. They're not normal people. So choose a first
person that draws on a more normal side of your personality. And think
about which one will help you tell the story. You'll see that in very
subtle ways it will shape your point of view and your tone and unlock
interesting things.

Michael Pollan

Source: http://www.kottke.org/remainder/07/03/13071.html

Contributed by: Eric

A Quote by Michael Pollan on affliction and pride

Of the seven deadly sins, surely it is pride that most commonly afflicts the gardener.

Michael Pollan

Contributed by: Zaady

A Quote by Michael Pollan on garden, magic, plants, and possibility

Ripe vegetables were magic to me. Unharvested, the garden bristled with possibility. I would quicken at the sight of a ripe tomato, sounding its redness from deep amidst the undifferentiated green. To lift a bean plant's hood of heartshaped leaves and discover a clutch of long slender pods handing underneath could make me catch my breath.

Michael Pollan

Contributed by: Zaady

A Quote by Michael Pollan on confusion, culture, imagination, men, nature, needs, sex, and women

Are we, finally, speaking of nature or culture when we speak of a rose (nature), that has been bred (culture) so that its blossoms (nature) make men imagine (culture) the sex of women (nature)? It may be this sort of confusion that we need more of.

Michael Pollan

Source: Second Nature, 1991

Contributed by: Zaady

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