Friday, September 21, 2007

Errors in Kingsolvers' Book: I

My previous post on "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" indicated some slight degree of skepticism as to some of the assertions made, particularly by Dr. Steven Hopp, Ms. Kingsolver's husband. I need to back up the skepticism:

A nit:

Ms Kingsolver discussing the loss of regional food cultures:
"Certainly, we still have regional specialties, but the Carolina barbecue will almost certainly have California tomatoes in its sauce (maybe also Nebraska-fattened feedlot hogs)... page 16
In 1969, when my first boss sent me to North Carolina to learn the field operations of FSA (then Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service) the good people of the state office in Raleigh carefully explained that Carolina barbecue is vinegar based, not tomato-based. And very hot, I might add, at least to my then inexperienced palate. North Carolina is now the second hog producing state in the country, so they don't need to import Nebraska hogs--they have their own big confined animal operations.

Professor Tyler Cowen often expounds on how we've gained great diversity in food cultures over the last 30 years, as immigration has enriched our nation.

A biggie:

Dr. Hopp discussing the Farm Bill:
"These supports promote industrial-scaleproduction, not small diversified farms, and in fact create an environment of competition in which subsidized commodity producers get help crowding the little guys out of business. It is this, rather than any improved efficency or productiveness, that has allowed corporations to take over farming in the United States, leaving fewer than a third of our farms still run by families." p 206

I find it very hard to imagine where he got this from. It sounds like a factoid floating around the world in which he moves. What possibly happened is someone looked at very large farms which follow the 80/20 rule (20 percent of farms produce 80 percent of the production), looked at the paper organization of them, and conflated the legal organization (i.e., corporation, often a necessity because of the estate tax, aka miscalled the "death tax" by the right wing) and the real power. Anyhow, here's a quote from the USDA's Economic Research Service:
Most farms in the United States—98 percent in 2003—are family farms. They are organized as proprietorships, partnerships, or family corporations. Even the largest farms tend to be family farms. Very large family farms account for a small share of farms but a large—and growing—share of farm sales. Small family farms account for most farms but produce a modest share of farm output. Median income for farm households is 10 percent greater than the median for all U.S. households.

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