Monday, October 27, 2008

Pollan's letter to the next Farmer-in-Chief

In last week’s issue of the New York Times Magazine, Michael Pollan, the UC Berkeley professor, journalist, and best-selling author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, scribed an open letter to the next president of the United States, or as Pollan terms it, the Farmer in Chief.

Since beginning a study of Sustainable Agriculture at Central Carolina Community College, I have become keenly aware of the breakdown of the U.S. food system and crisis we are facing as a nation. I hope John McCain and Barack Obama have had the chance to read Pollan’s letter, because it is not only the American food system that’s under threat. Pollan’s letter offers up solutions to fix our food system, as well as the obesity crisis, climate change, national security threats, and our addiction to foreign oil.

Think about it this way: since the end of World War II, U.S. Agriculture has focused largely on producing the greatest volume of commodity crops possible. These crops - wheat, soy and corn - trickle down to U.S. consumers as foodstuffs in the form of over-processed, barely recognizable, pre-packaged snacks and meals. It has been relatively cheap to produce food in this way because oil used to be so cheap. Oil, not just for fueling tractors, is also the basis of petrochemical fertilizers and pesticides, which are used in incredible tonnages to continually turn out the greatest quantity of the largest possible crops.

Now that we face a crisis in the price of oil, the rest of the world is facing a crisis in obtaining cheap food. At home, our overly-centralized, large-scale agricultural system pumps out foods which are all too vulnerable to bioterrorism. Even if the food supply were better protected, the nutritional quality and long-term safety of consumption is at question. Pollan cites Centers for Disease Control numbers that estimate that one in three American children will develop Type 2 Diabetes, a disease which can result in blindness, amputation of a limb, and early death -- and which is also 100% preventable.

The solution? Pollan urges the next president of the United States to view agriculture, specifically sustainable agriculture, as one solution that can help eradicate obesity, climate change, terrorist threats to our food supply, and our oil addiction. Sustainable Agriculture is based on three main tenets: that farming should benefit of the farmer, the community, and the environment. Pollan’s application of community-based sustainable farming principles to much larger, national threats is elegant and sensible.

Pollan envisions the First Family leading the charge by installing a White House farmer, complete with a productive five-acre garden on the White House lawn. Recipes and gardening tips could be posted and shared on their website. The president, Pollan says, can appeal to all parts of the political spectrum in embracing sustainable food, whether encouraging hunters to supply their families with wild meats, or aiding evangelicals and lefty environmentalists alike who seek alternatives to the fast food diet. As with the Victory Gardens of World War I, we can take control of our food sources and our communities, and face down economic, health, and energy disasters around the dinner table.

- by Kate Pattison, Guest blogger and Toxic Free NC volunteer

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