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Michael Pollan Interview

Mark Eisen, The Progressive
Michael Pollan has got people talking. His recent books, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals and In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, have captured the public imagination, setting off countless coffee shop discussions, dinnertime arguments, and oh-so-many blog posts.

Even more impressively, his exploration of modern-day agriculture and the dysfunctional American diet has prompted his readers to look at their own eating habits with a new sense of understanding and often a desire for change.

Pollan has taken Wendell Berry’s memorable phrase “eating is an agricultural act” one step further. “It’s a political act as well,” Pollan advises.

A lot of people agree. The alternative food movement—organic farming, local food systems, sustainable agriculture, and more—is burgeoning today because, one family at a time, consumers are backing away from the global food network. Instead, they patronize farmers’ markets, buy food shares from CSA (community-supported agriculture) farms, and favor grocers who sell local meat and produce.

Pollan’s books are essential reading in this movement. He details the importance of grazing to a sustainable farm’s operation and the problems of corn as the cornerstone of U.S. agribusiness. But most of all he gracefully chronicles his own journey of discovery in a food world where, amidst $32 billion in advertising, baleful health consequences are carefully obscured.

Pollan’s topics include a thorough demolition of “nutritionism,” the reigning health ideology that offers dizzying and ever-changing advice on polyunsaturated this and low-fat that, often in the cause of selling highly processed food products.

A good diet is really pretty simple, Pollan declares: Avoid “edible foodlike substances.” Instead, eat real food. “Not too much. Mostly plants. That, more or less, is the short answer to the supposedly incredibly complicated and confusing question of what we humans should eat in order to be maximally healthy.”

I caught up with Pollan two days after he returned from a book tour in New Zealand and Australia.
(November 2008 Issue)

The Local Grain Revolution II
Jon Steinman, Deconstructing Dinner via Global Public Media
Since the Local Grain Revolution series first aired in March 2008, a lot has transpired as a result of that broadcast. The Nelson-Creston grain community supported agriculture (CSA) project has been mentioned in Canada’s Parliament ; it was a feature in a May issue of Canada’s most read national newspaper, The Globe and Mail; and people from across North America have become inspired to seek out locally grown grain.

On this exciting part II of the series, Host Jon Steinman travels along with the first CSA tour, where members and farmers met for the first time. Members were given the opportunity to see the grain that would soon become their bread, cakes or pasta.

So long as the will and effort of a community chooses to make it happen, this broadcast captures just how easily we can all work together to resurrect local food systems.

Matt Lowe, Climate Change Campaigner, West Kootenay EcoSociety (Nelson, BC) – The West Kootenay EcoSociety promotes ecologically and socially sound communities while protecting species and ecosystems in the Southern Columbia Mountains ecoregion. Matt is the co-founder of the grain CSA.

Roy Lawrence, Farmer, Lawrence Farm (Creston, BC) – Roy is a third-generation farmer. He has long farmed using conventional methods but sees the CSA as an opportunity to transition to growing naturally.

Keith Huscroft, Farmer, Huscroft Farm (Lister, BC) – Keith is a fourth-generation farmer. His great-grandparents were the first white settlers in the Creston Valley and his farm has been in operation for about 100 years. Keith takes all measures to ensure no inputs are required on his farm. He uses mixed farming practices and fertilizes using only animal and green manures. He is one of a shrinking number of farmers farming with horses instead of fossil-fuel dependent technologies.

Tammy Hardwick, Manager, Creston & District Museum (Creston, BC) – Much of Creston’s history is rooted in agriculture, however, much of this history is now found indoors at the Creston museum.
(11 September 2008)

Soil health ‘threatens farming’
(text & audio)
BBC Online
Some areas of England may not be fit for productive agriculture in future because of deteriorating soil quality, a new report warns.

The Royal Agricultural Society of England is worried that too much is being asked of the land in places.

The society said heavy machinery, drier summers and changing growing seasons are all taking their toll on the soil.

It added that most research tends to focus on environmental issues, rather than growing food…
(23 October 2008)

Chinese Farms A Growing Challenge

Mia MacDonald, Worldwatch Senior Fellow, Eye on Earth
For decades, researchers and policymakers have raised a worrying question about the world’s most populous country: “Who will feed China?” Today, while concern about reaching 1.3 billion mouths remains paramount, the phrasing has changed slightly: “Who will feed China’s pigs?”

China’s phenomenal economic growth has lifted millions of Chinese out of the hardscrabble rural poverty that was a central feature of the Mao Zedong era. The country is now not only “factory to the world,” but also the world’s largest producer and consumer of agricultural products-particularly meat.

In the past ten years, consumption of pork, China’s most popular meat, has doubled. China has surpassed the United States as the world’s top pork producer, raising and slaughtering 700 million pigs a year. It also tops the United States in meat chicken production and has a farmed animal population in the tens of billions.

Western-style meat culture has gone mainstream. In the past, “children looked forward to the spring festival, partly because it was fun, but also because it was a chance to eat meat,” Zhang Xiuwen, a farmer-turned-tennis coach in Beijing, told a UK newspaper recently. “But,” he continued, “now we can eat meat every day if we want. It has become part of our lives.”…
(20 October 2008)