Wow! I just read the most interesting article from the New York Times, I have attached the url above. The article was a letter written by Michael Pollan and began with “Dear Mr. President-elect,”. The writer then went on to summarize many of the issues with our current food system and offered his opinions on good solutions. I just have to talk about this article because I am so impressed with the points that Pollan made! Usually, as with most large-scale problems, people tend to talk at length about what is wrong but rarely contribute ideas for a resolution. From what I have seen, read, and heard recently, Pollan is the first person who has brought us some resolutions that might actually work. I feel like changing the food systems of America is a ridiculously hard feat because many people are unwilling to change their habits and the government would need to do an overhaul. However, I thought Pollan had many great ideas for how to create change. I liked how he not only wrote about large-scale reform but also about small and relatively easy changes that could have a huge impact in the long run. For example, I thought it was crazy that apparently if everyone in America observed just one meatless day a week, it would be the equivalent to taking twenty million cars off the road for a whole year. I can most certainly make that personal contribution towards minimizing the use of fossil fuels and I wish that other people would too.
This is a screen shot I took of one part of the article that talked about people who started victory gardens during world war two. This shows that small actions can make a huge impact! It’s really cool that a small garden at each household created that much produce.
The article went on to explain another interesting issue with our food systems that most people probably do not think about. Pollan wrote about the amount of fossil fuel that goes into making food and transporting it to our homes. Today the world of processed and plastic packaged foods is very different from the world of just fifty years ago. Now, it takes more energy to produce our food than the amount of energy we actually derive from eating the food. That is ridiculous to me! This is just one of many facts and statistics mentioned that gave me the impression that our ideas about what is efficient are not correct. It seems as though a system has evolved that can be counter-productive in many ways.
For example, animals are no longer raised on farms but in animal feeding operations (C.A.F.O’s). According to Pollan, here are the consequences of that decision: Animals must be transported to their new homes, an action that uses a lot of fossil fuel. Animals are then forced to live in very cramped conditions eating food that is not naturally part of their diets. (e.g. corn instead of grass) The animals are then not as healthy as they should be and may become sick because they are stuck in a small space with other sick animals. So what happens next? These animals are pumped full of antibiotics, which are (not surprisingly) leading to antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria IN OUR MEAT. Finally the animals are slaughtered, but not before they have expelled enough waste to contribute more greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere than our cars!
Now going back a moment to the farm that the cows were moved away from. The main issue here is that farmers are forced to produce mass quantities of monoculture foods. This does not work very well because the soil loses all of the nutrients it can give to growing plants because it is overused and there is not enough plant diversity, according to Pollan. Different plants take different nutrients from the ground so if farmers only grow wheat and corn, they will be depleting the soil of nutrients much quicker. Growing only one or two different crops also poses a problem because they are susceptible to the same diseases and bugs. A whole crop could be easily wiped out. Farmers remedy that possible danger by using pesticides and fertilizers, which adds another dimension of mystery to what we are actually putting into our bodies. NOW, getting to the point, all of these possible disasters and added inconveniences are due to the fact that animals and farms are separated. If animals had just continued to live on farms some of these problems might not even exist! Animals would spend the day grazing in fields thus eliminating concerns about diet as well as disease. In turn, the natural animal waste would fertilize the ground for healthy plants to grow. Plants would then grow stronger because of the rich soil and would not need as many pesticides.
I know our country has evolved this way because of our booming population and the demand to get affordable food to millions of people. But I also think many policies that used to make sense are now outdated. The world is continually changing and it is now at a point where our food systems need to evolve to fit the times. It absolutely cannot be any more clear that it is time to change when four of the top ten causes of death in America are diet related. Pollan had some really innovative ideas on change. I won’t go into them too much further, but I will touch on a few of them. Pollan hit pretty much every major area of trouble and gave his thoughts on how to effect change, but he did something else that I thought was brilliant. He explained that the biggest problem is making people want to change their habits. Pollan’s solutions seem like they would really work because they target ignorance and promote enthusiasm. He talked about how food needs to be targeted in schools so children understand healthy choices about eating just as they learn about exercise in gym class. I thought making kids grow real gardens at school was a great idea! I would have loved growing my own food as a little third grader…plus I think there is something magical about putting a seed in dirt then pulling out a carrot a few weeks later…children would really appreciate the magic of creating food and it would probably encourage them to eat it more too.
I look forward to more interesting class reading assignments. It’s so refreshing to enjoy doing my homework! I feel like I am not wasting my time for once. I am actually learning from my schoolwork and I’m drawing out things that will be useful in my life. Hopefully I can take what I learn and do as much as I can to try to help fix some of the problems mentioned in this article. I will do my part but I cannot inspire massive change all by myself. What will you do?