Have you ever read a book that you really didn’t want to “hear”? The Onmivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan was one of those books for me. Pollan’s revolutionary book reveals the ecological and health risks associated with our industrial meat and corn production as well as the pitfalls of industrial organic food. He points out that the way we feed ourselves contributes more greenhouse gases to the atmoshphere than anything else we do. This is because our food system is based on petroleum instead of sunlight and soil. Pollan makes a strong case for smaller sustainable farms where animals and crops co-exist, and natural processes are allowed to drive the system in a constructive way, with everything in balance. Now, I look at my dinner plate with a degree of suspicion. Where did this all really come from?
Pollan identifies so many problems with our current food system that radical changes seem necessary in virtually every component. No wonder his letter of recommendations to the president-elect, or “Farmer in Chief” , in October was 9 pages long! Redirecting our food production system onto a sustainable course seems like a “stretch” goal for our new president in the midst of all our economic woes, but I hope President Obama read Michael Pollan’s letter and is taking it seriously.
A surprising number of foods in our diet are corn-based because government subsidies keep the price of corn so low: meat, poultry, dairy, and most processed foods. After reading how detrimental this system of production is to the environment, to the animals, and to our health, I’ve lost my appetite for these conventional foods. Replacing these items will take a lot more preparation time or a lot more money, so I’ve decided to try to a combination approach.
One of the biggest steps anyone can take is to reduce their meat consumption. If every American went meatless one day a week, the carbon saved would be equal to taking 20 million cars off the road. It seems like a small sacrifice for such a huge benefit. When I do buy meat, I will try to buy grass-fed meat. I’ll stay away from processed foods and fast foods which are full of corn oil and corn syrup (not to mention calories!) and try to cook homemade dishes on the weekends that will provide healthy meals during the week. I’ll ask my husband and kids to plant a kitchen garden in the 9 x 9 patch of sun beside our house for my Mother’s Day gift again this year. We enjoyed fresh lettuces and herbs almost every single day for months last year. During World War II, Eleanor Roosevelt inspired Americans to plant Victory Gardens which ended up providing 40% of all produce. Finally, I’ll continue to buy as much fresh produce as possible from local sources such as farmers’ markets and community-supported farms.
I highly recommend this informative, entertaining and well-reasoned book and article by Michael Pollan. I’m sure everyone who reads them will be motivated to come up with their own short-term strategies for improving the quality of the food they eat and reducing the environmental impact of their diets.