Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Pollan in the NY Review of Books

Michael Pollan has a review article in the NY Review of Books.  Briefly he sees a "food movement"
Among the many threads of advocacy that can be lumped together under that rubric we can include school lunch reform; the campaign for animal rights and welfare; the campaign against genetically modified crops; the rise of organic and locally produced food; efforts to combat obesity and type 2 diabetes; “food sovereignty” (the principle that nations should be allowed to decide their agricultural policies rather than submit to free trade regimes); farm bill reform; food safety regulation; farmland preservation; student organizing around food issues on campus; efforts to promote urban agriculture and ensure that communities have access to healthy food; initiatives to create gardens and cooking classes in schools; farm worker rights; nutrition labeling; feedlot pollution; and the various efforts to regulate food ingredients and marketing, especially to kids. 
He has problems with his facts and history in three cases
The dream that the age-old “food problem” had been largely solved for most Americans was sustained by the tremendous postwar increases in the productivity of American farmers, made possible by cheap fossil fuel (the key ingredient in both chemical fertilizers and pesticides) and changes in agricultural policies. Asked by President Nixon to try to drive down the cost of food after it had spiked in the early 1970s, Agriculture Secretary Earl Butz shifted the historical focus of federal farm policy from supporting prices for farmers to boosting yields of a small handful of commodity crops (corn and soy especially) at any cost.
This is a repeat of an error from The Omnivore's Dilemma, which is wrong.  Butz didn't have this power, the legislation passed by Congress was a change, but in the long view not that big of a change, and the decisions Butz made to lower loan rates were reversed by his successor after he was fired and during President Ford's reelection campaign.

Beginning in 2001 with the publication of Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation, a surprise best-seller, and, the following year, Marion Nestle’s Food Politics, the food journalism of the last decade has succeeded in making clear and telling connections between the methods of industrial food production, agricultural policy, food-borne illness, childhood obesity, the decline of the family meal as an institution, and, notably, the decline of family income beginning in the 1970s.
Did household income decline since 1970?  No. See this wikipedia article   Or see this for a quick view. Note he doesn't cite women's lib, which some of his readers might be supportive of.

And finally he twice refers to the White House "organic garden".  Wrong--Michelle's garden is not organic, though it leans that way. See Obamafoodorama.

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