Mr. President, Let’s Talk About Food
Author Michael Pollan, whose best-selling books have prompted readers to think differently about food, is now asking the next president to rethink the nation’s food policies.
Author Michael Pollan (Alia Malley)
Mr. Pollan, whose most recent book is “In Defense of Food,” started the conversation in an article earlier this month in The New York Times Magazine in an open letter to the next “Farmer in Chief.”
He had more to say recently on WNYC’s Leonard Lopate show, where he talked about how food is closely tied with some of the biggest political issues of the day, even though it’s not widely discussed.
“It’s true that neither candidate has talked about food policy very much,” Mr. Pollan said. “Some of the issues they have talked about — energy independence, climate change and the health care crisis — I think they will find, as soon as they get into office, that you can’t deal with any of those three problems without dealing with the food system.”
Mr. Pollan notes that food is a bipartisan issue, and that both parties have dismal track records on agricultural policy. Food, he argues, is the ultimate “solar” product, but the current food system, with its focus on the monocultures of soy, wheat and corn, is heavily dependent on natural gas and oil to make fertilizers and pesticides as well as to import and transport food.
One of Mr. Pollan’s concerns is that national policies subsidize the least healthful calories that we eat. He notes that the “building blocks” of fast food are soy and corn, used to make hydrogenated soy oil, the protein and starch in cattle and chicken feed, and high-fructose corn syrup used in sodas and sweets.
“That’s what we’ve been heavily subsidizing, encouraging farmers to grow more of, and that’s what makes fast food so cheap,” he said. “Meanwhile over in the produce section, the head of broccoli costs more than a fast-food hamburger. Why is that? We do very little to encourage farmers to grow what are called specialty crops, which is actual food you can eat. We need to level the playing field between the unhealthy and healthy calories.”
He has also called for a new definition of food.
“What if we had a definition of food that said a food is something that doesn’t just have calories but has a certain amount of nutrients and micronutrients?” he asks. “If your product did not reach a certain threshold of nutrients per calorie, it’s just not food. We’re not even going to call it junk food. We’ll call it junk.”
It’s always a pleasure to hear Mr. Pollan’s sensible take on one of the most important financial and public health issues this country faces. I urge you to listen here to the full 20-minute interview on the WNYC Web site.