Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Then they fight you

Michael Pollan's first speaking engagement in Madison last week centered on why so many Americans make poor food choices and what we as individuals can do to change things in our own lives as eaters. His second talk -- at the well-attended Food For Thought Festival on Saturday -- focused more on the need for major policy changes that influence food and farming across the country. In particular, diversified organic farms need more support.

Invoking such inspirational figures as Wendell Berry, Alice Waters, Martin Luther King, and even Gandhi, Pollan's talk was a call to arms. Or rather, a call to farms. It is not that we should get rid of farm subsidies, he argued, but rather than perpetuate the massive production of, say, feed corn for cattle, the money should be used to support small and medium-sized farms who grow a variety of crops and animals for human consumption. It's hard work -- I've only been doing it for 5 months, and with biking breaks periodically (and, yes, cycling is often less exhausting than farming, though perhaps it's a toss up since I've started biking into midwestern headwinds) -- and they need help. We will need many more of these farms and farmers to support a diverse network of foodsheds around the country as we wean ourselves off of the current, petroleum-dependent system of food production. This kind of farming -- without tons of fertilizers and pesticides and giant machines -- takes more people and more thought. And, contrary to the reigning propaganda out there, organic farms *can* feed the world. Look at the amount of food that programs like Growing Power (in Milwaukee) or City Farm (in Chicago) are producing, and doing it pretty much year round. (Contrary to some critics' assertions, I do not believe Mr. Pollan is pro-starvation.)

Our country and our world will be safer when people everywhere have access to fresh, responsibly-grown and regionally-distributed food. These are the sorts of things that folks at next month's Food Security Conference in Des Moines (that I am still trying to talk my way into) are convening to discuss. We are in the midst of a food revolution. The battle has begun in earnest to take back the land, to grow healthy food for all, and to do it in a way that doesn't destroy the land. The backlash from the Farm Bureau and large agriculture interest groups, Mr. Pollan pointed out, means that we, as food advocates, are now in the third stage of a revolution. As Gandhi once said, "First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. They they fight you." Bring it on.

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

1 comment:

  1. Are you going to bike your way into ND? Definitely let me know if you come our way to Bismarck!


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