Monday, October 13, 2008

Growing Our Way Out of It

Urban organic farm in Cuba, where the trade embargo made sustainable farming the only option. Photo from

Michael Pollan's article in yesterday's New York Times Magazine is one of those that Explains It All For You, short and sweet, tied up with a pretty organically-farmed silk bow. I've never read a better summary of both the problems and the opportunities we face right now where the food supply is concerned.

It's an open letter to the next president, explaining that solving the climate, oil, and health care crises will unavoidably force us to address the various problems with our food system as well. He offers a number of very inventive policy solutions that could, in a very short time, improve the quality of our food, reduce our carbon footprint to an astonishing degree, and enable us to finally unseat the four horsemen of the American health apocalypse -- diabetes, cancer, stroke, and heart disease.

There are many moving parts to the new food agenda I’m urging you to adopt, but the core idea could not be simpler: we need to wean the American food system off its heavy 20th-century diet of fossil fuel and put it back on a diet of contemporary sunshine. True, this is easier said than done — fossil fuel is deeply implicated in everything about the way we currently grow food and feed ourselves. To put the food system back on sunlight will require policies to change how things work at every link in the food chain: in the farm field, in the way food is processed and sold and even in the American kitchen and at the American dinner table. Yet the sun still shines down on our land every day, and photosynthesis can still work its wonders wherever it does. If any part of the modern economy can be freed from its dependence on oil and successfully resolarized, surely it is food.

It's a simple, elegant, mind-bending piece that may well reshape the way you view what's on your plate and in your fridge. And it's simple enough that you can explain the ideas to your grandmother -- always a sure sign of a political idea whose time has come.

Go read it, and you'll have something constructive and positive to argue with your relatives about over the Thanksgiving table. (Here in Canada, of course, the need is pressing -- today is Thanksgiving Day.)