I was at a small gathering of food professionals a few days ago and asked how many had read Pollan’s article in The New York Times magazine the week before, a memo to Washington about what people and this country should do to halt our reliance on oil-based food production.  Out of 50 only a few had.  What’s worse, beyond his general premise—that we need to revert to sun-fed system from an oil-fed one—and the practical notion that we need to support small farmers and learn to grow our own food I couldn’t remember what practical advice he was suggesting.

So I went back for a second look: while some may argue that his suggestions are simplistic, that they may fail to acknowledge the huge global issue of population growth (the fact that in 40 years the earth will carry 10 billion people, 80% of whom will live in urban areas), and some are giddily futuristic (bar codes on food that allow us through our hand-helds to see how the food was produced, how the meat was slaughtered, etc), they’re all of them worth considering.  Here’s a quick list for those who missed his excellent memo but are curious how Pollan, who has vigorously condemned our food production system, for the first time offers potential solutions:

—Train a new generation of farmers, spread them throughout the land, and make farming a revered profession.
—Preserve every acre of farmland we have and make it accessible to these farmers.
—Build an infrastructure for a regional food economy—one that can encourage and support the farms and distribute what they grow (rebuild or create regional distribution systems).
—Provide cities grants with which to build structures for year-round farmers markets.
—Ease federal production regulations, designed to control multi-national food companies but that hog tie small producers.
—Create local meat-inspection corps so that we can create more regional slaughter facilities, perhaps the biggest impediment to our being able to find local hand raised meat.  (This is huge.)
—Establish a grain reserve to prevent huge swings in commodity markets.
—Require federal institutions that prepare food (school lunches, prisons, military bases, etc.) to buy a minimum percentage of that food locally.
—Create a Federal definition of food, to encourage people to think about what is food and what is not, stuff we consume that has no caloric value (“junk food” should not be considered food).
—Food stamp debit cards should double in value when swiped at a framers’ market; give farmers’ market vouchers to low-income women and children (why does he exclude men, I wonder; a different subject perhaps).
—Make changes in our daily lives: teach children how to cook; plant gardens in every primary school and equip them with kitchens; pay for culinary tuitions (or forgive loans) by requiring culinary graduates to give some service back to such undertakings such as teaching kids how to cook; increase school lunch spending by $1 a day; grow more of our own food and prepare and eat our food together at a table; accept the fact that food may be more expensive and eat less of it.
—Make our food production system as transparent as possible: have a second calorie listing how many fossil fuel calories went into its production so that consumers could discourage production of fuel expensive food by not buying it.
—Finally, there should be a White House vegetable garden and our President should set the first example.  Our founding fathers were largely farmers.  This would be a good symbolic return.

It’s one thing to rail against what is wrong; another to offer realistic solutions to the problems you decry.  I’m grateful to Pollan for what he’s set out to do and hope that our legislators acknowledge the sad state of food in America, recognize that how we produce and consume our food may be the biggest determiner of the quality of life in America generally, and put it at the head of their agendas with whatever administration we elect next month.


113 Wonderful responses to “Pollan’s Proposals”

  • krysta

    i can answer the food stamp question. traditionally food stamps and adfc (aid for dependent families and children) went hand in hand. you had to be a single woman with children to get any type of aid. i’m sure that has changed in most areas but the old system has been in place for so long, we still think that woman are the only ones who need aid.

    i find it really strange in my college town that i have three farmers living in my neighborhood. even they don’t want to live on the land. they go to work in the morning and drive home at night, like any other job. in one farmers case it’s over 20 miles to his farm. it’s all very strange to me.

  • Tags

    These suggestions are a great reminder that we don’t need to shoot for the stars when the sun gives us all we need –

    if we learn how to use it.

  • ntsc

    My next door neighbor for years growing up was a farmer, he also had a full time job in town. He wasn’t the only one living in town, in many cases the parent(s) are still on the farm and it is rent or live in a trailer.

    I was on food stamps as a single father briefly in 77. The third week on unemplyment payments were enough to kick me out of the program for too high an income. I’ve always felt that too high a bar has been set here.

    I was a single father and my not yet ex paid child support for a few months. Not court ordered, we had known I might have a shaky first year, as it was I was out of work 20 weeks.

    On local food, the cost/mile of shipping needs to be taken into account. A railroad boxcar is almost certainly cheaper than a truck for this half the US and just as fast if we could get the rail system working again.

  • jscirish27

    Pollan’s ideas are of critical importance at this time in human history. We are living with a global food crisis as petro-chemical based agriculture and food processing have stripped both land and food of their inherent goodness. The government has piled on in this situation by subsidizing the least nutritious (yet most commercially pliable, i.e. corn and soy) crops at the expense of small farms with crop diversity. The signs of failed policy are all around us; diabetes, obesity, cancer, and heart disease.

    I’m a professional cook, and I obviously have strong feelings about food quality on that front; but more importantly, I am also the father of a 1 1/2 year old boy who I want to see grow up healthy. The need for more transparency in our food system and for the expansion of organic and biodynamic farming is essential for the health of future generations. I hope Pollan’s words don’t fall on deaf ears.

  • Jesse

    To answer your question about making farmers’ market vouchers available to low-income women and children:

    He was talking about the federal WIC (Women, Infants and Children) program — a government program that provides foods, health care referrals and nutrition education to low-income pregnant women and women with young children.

    WIC already has a small program to provide farmers’ market vouchers for program participants; Pollan was suggesting that that program be expanded.

    More info on the progrma here: http://www.fns.usda.gov/wic/fmnp/FMNPfaqs.htm

  • Kate in the NW

    As a knee-jerk liberal (some may be tempted to remove the “knee” part), my inclination is always to say that Education Is The Answer. It may be too late to expect huge changes from adults, but let’s build for the long-term.

    Remember “Home Ec”? Or am I showing my age?

    My junior high and high school had 2 classrooms equipped with full kitchens. By the time I was enrolled (think late ’70’s), there were even some boys in “Home Ec” and some girls in “Shop” (garage and woodworking). This was not a “trade school” area – something like 97% of the kids in my HS went on to post-secondary Ed, most of them to 4-year college and beyond. But there was still room in the curruculum, alongside AP Chemistry and Modern European Lit, for life skills, no matter how elevated you expected your station in life to become. Change a fan belt, boil water, feed yourself.

    We learned to make budgets, read labels, compare prices, assemble a nutritionally-balanced, economical meal, and, in the process, some basic cooking techniques. On electric burners, okay – but still. Clean, chop, measure, mix, sautee, bake. It wasn’t culinary school, but you learned not to be afraid of ingredients.

    These are all life skills people are losing – and think about how much more the curriculum could contain now! Issues like the ones you cite here. It could tie in to other subjects: Biology. “Food philosophy”. Ethics. Politics. Geography/Social Studies. One thing we all do is EAT, so it seems terribly remiss that the subject gets skipped in school.

    I don’t know how to solve the bigger agricultural problems, but if people could learn to cook again, it might go a ways toward changing what consumers demand, as well as changing how and what we eat – for the better.

  • Natalie Sztern

    In Quebec when I entered High School it was grade 7. We entered CEGEP (pre-university) at 16/17 for two years, and then on to University for three years to gain a B.A., major?

    I think the emphasis for what Mr. Pollan believes when he discusses teaching the children, begins in High School where Home Economics should be brought back into the school system as part of the social sciences. Food science needs the integration into a system where abc’s are no longer enough knowledge to bring our kids into the year 2015.

    This teaching will ultimately lean our kids into farming and needing the knowledge for the kinds of food that they eat, where and how their beef and pork is grown and its relationship to the body.

    Gym should no longer exist in a gymnasium or in a sports field setting, and MUST be a subject where mandatory matriculations or cetification diplomas are a pre-university necessity, as in other subjects.

    Passing a certification program in personal training – (personal training certification is very rigid and includes not just knowing the physical body but nutrition, exercise, and how to maintain good standards in their being and by sheer cycle that knowledge has to include where and how foods are grown)..

    should become mandatory for all high schools as being courses needed to graduate. Perhaps be included in the science program or physical sciences and lastly…

    when I was in grade 10 there was a course called ‘typing’ that everyone took because it was an easy class to pass and included early easy credits for entrance to CEGEP but to matric in it you had to commit to this course grade 9 and 10 or 10 and 11…I, and practically everyone I was friends with took this ‘bobo’ class and to this day, I can type 55 words/minute on my computer where my kids touch type the letters, it was my saving grace for all of University and was really a requisite for the first and all jobs I have had since…(I type 55 words, because I am stale, and can only be type when I am looking at the paper I am transcribing or fixated on an object – I cannot type by looking at the keys as it throws me off the game:) I had no idea then the most valuable course I took was typing.

    The year they stopped Home Ec was also the year they disbanded the school band.

  • Natalie Sztern

    Oh, and Pollan’s last task as this post writes on the White House… I am currently reading “The White House Chef by Scheib” who was the Chef in the Clinton era and he did institute for the White House a roof-top garden which is what Hilary Clinton wanted set up to also include fresh herbs – she was extaordinary in her demands for fresh and seasonal. And if I read it correctly; that roof-top garden had rules including visability and security; not just your regular roof-top garden complications

  • Frodnesor

    So glad you did this. There was a lot to digest (sorry) in the whole magazine and the Pollan article in particular. In fact I only finished reading all of it yesterday, and immediately wanted a “cliffs notes” version of his particular proposals, which really do merit further analysis.

    Obviously some of his proposals would seem to be more controversial than others (for instance, the idea of adding a fossil fuel “calorie count” to labels seems impossible to administer given the difficulty in coming up with an agreed-upon methodology of doing so), and in today’s economic climate any realistic discussion of any of these ideas would have to focus on the prospective cost (something Pollan generally fails to address, though implicit is the assumption that long-term, reduction of dependence on fossil fuels in agricultural production will be a financial benefit).

    But he’s clearly not lacking for concrete ideas, and some of them are breathtaking in their simplicity (i.e., a federal definition of “food” that excludes items that have no nutritional value).

  • sara

    To respond to the assertion that it’s one thing to decry and another to provide solutions…

    Pollan has solutions galore in his books, if you look for them. Chief among them? Learn to cook. Buy locally grown foods when and where you can. Take it as far as you like.

    Not everyone needs to sign on for some 100 miles challenge, necessarily, or attempt to grow their own grub for a year, but… self-reliance is something we have completely lost culturally, because the Food Industry (ooh, that sounds big and evil doesn’t it) would really prefer that they we depend on them since it lines their pockets.

    His list of solutions (‘for the first time’?) is common sense after that, really.

    Cook your own food. Create demand for food that doesn’t have a heavy-ass carbon footprint, that isn’t a product of Monsanto or Cargill, that isn’t spliced with mouse DNA or whatevertheheck. Bring back home economics courses in schools so everyone learns how to cook, and learns at least a smattering of nutritional and cooking chemistry.

    My grandparents would be rolling their eyes right now that this is even something that has to be brought in as a solution to a problem, to be honest. Actually, they’d be rolling their eyes that cooking needed to be taught in schools at all, because ideally everyone would be cooking their own meals.

    (And having been a kid who was raised a couple years on foods care of WIC, it’s usually women who have to apply for this kind of assistance. I don’t think Pollan was being exclusionary in his language so much as making an observation on who utilizes food stamps and EBT with the most frequency.)

  • Julie B.

    I grew up in a farming community in the Willamette Valley in Oregon. Farmers used to grow mostly food crops — sweet corn, beans, beets, carrots. It was all mostly canned. (My dad worked for the cannery.)

    Now the cannery is closed, and mostly grass seed is grown instead. Farmers couldn’t make enough growing food crops. My dad always said people just aren’t willing to spend money on food. I’m not sure he was wrong.

    I’m really skeptical of the economic viability of Pollan’s agricultural model. I sort of got the feeling that when discussing the economic and supply issues there was some magic wand waving going on (and we’ll…research…and this model will produce adequate food at reasonable costs!)

    Every year at local farmer’s markets there are fewer and fewer food vendors and more and more flower vendors. More money can be made selling flowers than selling food.

    As to his call for more farmers — good luck with that. People aren’t beating down the doors to enter an occupation that features long hours — especially during the summer — and iffy pay.

  • johnmark7

    Yeah, these are great ideas if you want to throw away the US Constitution and institute a dictatorship.

    I guess the idea of personal property and liberty is meaningless to you folks.

  • Nick

    johnmark7: For some of Pollan’s suggestions, I understand where you are coming from, but knee-jerk libertarianism often times neglects to recognize that the government has encouraged bad behavior in the markets and created barriers to entry that “freeing the markets” wont correct. Also, Pollan DOES advocate ideas of personal property and liberty and a cursory reading of Pollan’s books and his praise for Joel Salatin should be evidence enough of that.

  • Rhonda

    Great post Michael. Thank you! There is a documentary that PBS aired a while back called “King Corn” which complements Michael Pollan’s writing. It addresses how Farmers are literally starving to death because they have to grow inedible corn (inedible for humans in the raw form) to make a living. They also give a challenge to try and live without this product for one week. I highly recommend this documentary although it is a bit slow going at first.

    I am more familiar with the writing of Stephen Pollan, Michael’s father but intend to dive into Michael’s work as soon as I can. Damn, Ruhlman, you give a lot of homework. BTW–Your Pate rocks!

    All the best,


  • JSC

    Thank you for mentioning this article on your blog. When I read the original essay on the NYTimes I wanted to scream to every American ” Look at what we have become and what we need to focus on if we are truly concerned about the future of our country.” Maybe your mentioning this will be the spark needed to get the food blogging community to take action.

  • luis

    I don’t know about the rest of the country but here in Fl stores are being required to show country of origin. I think it applies to seafood, meats..and maybe produce too!. Don’t know canned goods included as well. Maybe on all food products. There is a grace period and then BAM!!!!!!!! show us the origin.
    This is sure to make Polland happy.

  • Jennifer

    About two years ago I attended an event where Pollan was the main speaker. This was shortly after his book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” had come out and there was a big buzz about it. During the Q&A portion of the event I asked if he had any solutions or suggestions he might have regarding the issues he raised. I was a bit disappointed that he didn’t, specifically for low-income families on food stamps or those lacking the disposal income to buy more expensive organic food. Therefore I was pleased to read the NYT article where he did offer some very realistic solutions.

    Although there is a segement of the population that realizes and understands many of his solutions to be just plain common sense, sadly there is a larger population that does not. The government needs to step up to the plate and raise food standards.

    Julie B.: In his other writings Pollan does propose doing away with the subsidies for corn, soy, etc. and giving them to farmers that grow fresh produce. Right now our food system is set up to reward those that produce commodities and penalize fresh food growers. By changing the system to provide a more steady income for farmers that produce real food will most likely draw more people into farming. There is a reason why soda is so cheap and fresh produce is not.

    I too hope that his words do not fall on deaf ears. This country really needs to put food as a high priority and empahsize the huge importance of sitting down at a table (with the T.V. off) and eating real food together with family and friends.

  • Sharon

    Hi Michael:

    You’ve obviously found the passion you need to create subject matter for your next book and with your readership and following you can help bring all of this information to the forefront for those of us cooking food for others. You keynote address at our Personal Chef Symposium in Charleston this weekend showed that you are one of many that will lead us in the right direction not only by making us more aware through your writing and your passion but by showing us the way.

    Many of us have subscribed to this theory for a long time and we are all glad those with a public voice are now crying out for what others saw a long time ago. I can reach out only one generation from me to my mother who grew food on the family farm for survival and lived on dirt floors in rural Western Kentucky as a child with no electricity. They grew hemp for the government, vegetables for the table and canning, slaughtered their own pigs, cured county ham in the barn, made their own butter, and the greatest pleasure was splitting a melon in the warm sun and eating it on the spot. They were obvious experts at putting food by. Now she lives in my home in the suburbs where she, salt of the earth, complains about the state of the pig and reminisces about how good fresh pork used to be!

    In the personal chef industry my own food philosophy is to use as much organic and local product as possible and grow as much of my own herbs and veggies as possible knowing it is not enough. We are also working collaboratively to make our services environmentally friendlier while helping families gather around the supper table. It’s a big deal to us. Thank you for showing us how to do more.

    Your friend in the kitchen,


  • johnmark7

    As I suspected a great number of you folks care more about what goes into your mouths than what comes out of it. You would trade your birthright for a mess of really organic, local pottage.

    I love food but I love America, liberty, and truth much more than that. I love our Constitution and Declaration much more socialistic, totalitarian schemes to reduce my choices and freedom.

    Put your priorities in order, people. Ordered liberty and the rule of law and representative democracy are more important than lima beans in season. If that means utopian schemes never come to fruition, you will always have heaven to find perfect contentment.

    The world will never be as you think it should be. Content yourself with all the very good things you have brought to you by free markets and the wealth they create for all.

    From what I see, good food, locally grown food, a variety of choices expands every year for home chefs and restaurants.

    Why are you crying about the utopia that is yet to be when you have a cornucopia slapping you in the face every time you go to the market?

    Never have so many had so much to choose from and yet it’s never good enough. Sheesh.

  • ntsc


    The only thing in Pollan’s list that is unconstitutional is the reference to ‘our Comander-in-Chief’.

    The only place I noticed the word require was in reference to Federal Institutions. Yes, there are suggested changes in existing Federal Regulations.

    “Content yourself with all the very good things you have brought to you by free markets and the wealth they create for all.”

    To see all those very good things brought to us by free markets simply read the front page of the Wall Street Journal any day in the last 4 weeks.

    On the column, Pollan is wrong about junk food having no caloric value, it often has a very high caloric value, that is much of the problem. The caloric value is far to high in relation to its nutritional value (percentage of daily requirements, an objective not subjective measure).

  • ntsc

    Should have been in above post.

    The United States does not have a Comander-in-Chief. The US Military has a Comander-in-Chief who is the President of the United States. The difference is not subtle and was well known to all presidencies prior to this one, even to Mrs. Wilson and Col. House.

    The United States not being in a State of War, it certainly is not a title that should be used.

  • Michelle

    Pollan is proposing, practical, well thought out solutions for a very difficult problem. I seem to recall an old high school history teacher once say something about high food prices and poor crops contributing to the fall of the Roman empire. (An interesting subject I’ll have to look further into.) Ironically, Pollan’s proposals aren’t about more government restrictions and control. It’s about putting the power back into the peoples hands. And removing corporations from their stronghold on the food supply. When I walk into a Walmart Supercenter, the only place I have to shop in the winter months, I see absolutely no food untouched by corporate hands: hard, tasteless fruit; hormone laden beef; sugar ridden cereals; ersatz butter (a.k.a. margarine); not to mention corn syrup in everything. Do we really want corporations choosing the food we eat and where that food comes from? The rise in diabetes and the melamine found in foods from China are just two examples that corporations do not have our best interest at heart. There must be a better way. The previous person who posted sees a cornucopia when he grocery shops. I see one big disaster. One that is causing poor health, an unclean enviornment, poor food quality, and even higher food prices. Who pays for all this advertising and lobbying? For these reasons and many more, it is imperative that the right political figures intervene. Let us hope our new president has the foresight to read Pollan’s suggestions and take heed before it is too late.

  • luis

    Putting the Gennie back in the bottle…back to the womb…the beginning never quite works out.
    But neither do failed policies. Clearly the cheap oil age is going to end one way or another. At that time a new age will emerge that will produce food and maintain the land in a cheaper more efficient fashion.
    Planned economies do not work. Yet we seem to keep going there?. What is up with that?.
    Polland raises some very important issues and points out many things that require improvement. This is a good thing.
    Country of Labeling “COOL” is Here Now! this is very important to Polland’s vision of growing food locally and not depending on shipping. It’s all about quality and freshness.
    COOL, “One of its many provisions requires country of origin labeling (COOL) for beef, lamb, pork, fish, perishable agricultural commodities, and peanuts” also “The recently enacted Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 (2008 Farm Bill) expands the list of covered commodities to include chicken, goat meat, ginseng, pecans and macadamia nuts.”

  • ruhlman

    thanks for the info, jesse, and for the important correction/distinction, ntsc. not to mention all the excellent comments.

  • Ted

    Last year, a friend of mine planted nearly a half acre of fairly organic potatoes (this is in Virginia). She had a bumper crop and contacted food banks to see if they wanted them. They wouldn’t take them, because they only wanted packaged produce from a commercial venue.

    If there’s a food bank program for excess venison from hunters here, why can’t they take produce. Weird.


  • Frodnesor

    Re: johnmark7

    What seems to be a knee-jerk conservative reaction misses sight of the fact that many of Pollan’s suggestions are in fact fully consistent with the “conservative” goals of getting government out of the way of businesses’ ability to deliver what customers want to them. Things like easing federal production regulations (or tailoring them to the nature of the business), encouraging the regionalization of distribution networks, localizing inspection and slaughterhouse facilities, etc. all seem like they’d fall right in many political conservatives’ “sweet spot”.

    If the availability of good locally grown food is increasing, it is often in spite of rather than because of government involvement.

    As far as controlling how federal food dollars are going to be spent (i.e., re-defining “food” for food stamp programs, encouraging local purchasing, etc.), this is a practice that both parties routinely observe. Perhaps the best example (not to open up an entirely off-topic can of worms) is the repeated Republican effort to cut off federal funding for institutions that provide abortions.

    Take a moment to think and analyze before patly concluding that any suggestion that sounds “green” must be “socialistic” or “totalitarian”.

  • Kate in the NW

    Ted –

    In Seattle, local gardeners are encouraged to contribute to food banks:
    and also in our state capitol, Olympia:

    Perhaps something similar could be arranged where you live? I don’t know what legalities are involved, but I’m pretty sure if you contacted the folks in those articles, they’d be happy to talk to you about it.

    And you can decide for yourself whether that’s socialist, totalitarian, or fiercely self-reliant. I think it’s just being good stewards, good neighbors, and decent human beings.

  • Darcie

    While I think Pollan’s ideas are great, I think it will be difficult to get Americans to change their habits. Many people say that they would like more local food and/or reduce our dependence on oil, but their actions speak otherwise. I still see lots of folks barreling down the freeway, alone in their SUVs, to go shopping at Walmart. One of the easiest ways we could reduce our oil dependence is to change our daily habits, but people seem to think that “someone” should do something about the problem – that is someone other than themselves.

    Perhaps I’m just a pessimist, but I also believe that the big agribusinesses have far too much influence and can successfully mount opposition to any meaningful change in policies. We’ve seen it with the farm bills that have been passed and with the crappy organic standards act.

    Finally, I think Americans are spoiled. We expect to be able to eat whatever we want for a very low cost (compared to most other countries, the percentage of our income that goes to food is quite small). We waste an incredible amount of food (among other things). But part of that is personal freedom that johnmark7 is touting, and I agree with him that our individual choices should not be curtailed by legislation. But if they aren’t, I don’t expect a major change until it becomes an absolute necessity. People will drive their SUVs until the oil runs out, and only then will they change.

    However, I disagree with johnmark7 about changing policies – the market is not truly free with all the subsidies and policies skewed toward the benefit of big corporations. That is no less “socialistic” than a policy designed to help a small farmer, just benefiting (IMO) the wrong part of society.

    Boy, I think I need more coffee or something. I’m not usually such a downer. Sorry for the depressing outlook, and I hope to be proved wrong.

  • elise

    My thoughts after reading Ruhlman’s notes on the article, most Americans are too lazy to want to do this. Just wish it wastn’t that way and they had the desire to make and grow better food.
    Two days ago, I waded through the weeds in my garden and found a couple of gallons of green beans, not all were usable, but the good ones were so worth it. (The hens got the bad ones.) I also cooked a farm raised chicken in tomatoes and onions picked that day. It gives me so much pleasure to cook and eat that way.
    Makes one wonder if the rest of the country has lost it taste sensors of their tongues.

  • jscirish27

    Johnmark7, you are so misinformed on this issue I don’t even know where to begin. First of all you posit about the “free market” and “freedom of choice” yet fail to acknowledge that much of the current agricultural mess we are facing is due to government subsidization of certain market sectors (i.e. the corn and sot industry) at the expense of small farmers. Also, government regulations for small organic farmers are overbearing and costly by comparison to those the “big boys” face. Small biodynamic “grass farmers” cannot even slaughter there animals at their own processing facility unless a separate bathroom is provided for a government inspector (freedom indeed).

    Furthermore, where was our freedom of choice when for years the beef industry was feeding ground-up cattle to other cattle to fatten them for slaughter, a practice that made both humans and cattle sick. Or how about our freedom of choice from new superbugs that came about on these Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO’s – sounds appetizing doesn’t it) where animals were given antibiotics intended for humans? Our government had no problem looking the other way when big, vested money was concerned. It is only concerned about the small farmer that wants to sell raw milk or beef to his or her neighbor.

    How about our freedom of choice from hostile petroleum producing countries who we are now invariably tied to because our economy and our food production system is so heavily dependent on oil? Or the freedom of choice of the people that live next to these industrial farms and CAFO’s whose soil and drinking water is being contaminated due to chemical run off? I guess they don’t matter either.

    This has nothing to do with disbanding the constitution or the bill of rights or your ability to eat a tomato in Decemeber . . . no one is ever going to legislate that. It is about a fundamental shift from a food production system based on an industrial/petro-chemical model to a more sustainable and organically based model.

    What do I know, though? I am just a line cook in a small seafood joint in NYC.

  • johnmark7


    Why should Americans change their habits? Their habits are good ones. To produce more goods and services that people want and need and do it as cheaply and efficiently as possible.

    Spoiled? Why? Is there a law that food should be more expensive, life harder, less fun, and no joy riding down the road in the vehicle of your choice?

    We are dependent on oil in our economy because its relatively cheap, abundant and incredibly safe as a power source.

    It is the free market which is giving you all this wonderful “new” food and nobody had to get the government to make it happen.

    Never before in human history have so many enjoyed so much and will live so long and well, and most of you seem to despise that fact with all these sneers about Wal-Mart and corporations, etc.

    I would love to see a nation of yeoman farmers, but the fact is that we don’t need a lot of farmers now any more than we need so many coal miners or merchant seamen.

    Some time ago a bunch of yuppies discovered sushi and now, many millions enjoy it, but fishing stocks suffer from our appetite for it. Sushi is good and healthy, but a world wide love for it has consequences. Americans were just as happy before they ever heard of sushi as they are after finding it.

    Perspective, folks. Put things in perspective. Enjoy your food, but none of you are saints so quit acting and sounding so self-righteous, holier than thou, and superior than your fellow Americans who keep you safe, provide you with power, water, sewage treatment, food, clothes, and freedom.

  • jscirish27

    Johnmark7, this is not about the free-market, as you like to keep chirping on about. It is about a fundamental shift away from an industrial model which causes pollution and a less nutritious food supply towards a more sustainable model. No one is trying to take away your SUV, and no one is trying to make your life less fun. This isn’t about being self-righteous either. Do you really think the rise of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, etc. in the US is a good thing? How about inner city kids that know what a hot pocket is but can’t even identify a basic vegetable or have never seen a farm. Also, the current generation of children are actually supposed to have more health problems and a shorter life expectancy than their parents, so your claim about longevity isn’t exactly accurate either (besides, you know as well as I do that longevity and quality of life are two different things).

    Oil is abundant? Really? If it is so abundant then why is our government so interested in alternative power sources. Basically, you like to play with a stacked deck like most “free market” guys, where the big guys get taken care of and the little guys pushed aside.

  • Hysterical

    Low nutrition, corn-based food is kept artificially cheap by government subsidies, not by the sweat & meddle of plucky American capitalism. I would welcome the chance for small local farmers to compete with big agribusiness, but they never get the chance. That doesn’t seem very capitalist to me– nor does it seem very constitutional.
    Pointing out that yuppies like to eat sushi isn’t convincing me that all this is hogwash. You may see self-righteousness in these comments, but I see a desperate plea for the government to stop supporting such a poisonous economic environment for our food growers. Do you really think that such pleas assume some kind of superiority to our fellow Americans?

  • Darcie


    I hate to feed the trolls, but here goes: Since when is wastefulness a good habit? Greed? Last time I checked, those weren’t high on Santa’s nice list.

    No, life shouldn’t have to be difficult, but we are spoiled because we take for granted and/or ignore what it takes to give us cheap clothes and food. We eat cheap on the backs of farmers who barely eke out a living, and wear cheap clothes on the backs of sweatshop labor. Perhaps eventually a global economy will balance, but there will be a lot of suffering until then.

    Oh, and guess what? Our life expectancy is now *decreasing* due to our poor habits. And what really increased our life expectancy is NOT the free market, but rather *public health initiatives* like regulated water and sewer systems that reduced the spread of disease. That is the single most important factor that allowed our life expectancies to shoot up meteorically. In fact, if it were up the free market, we’d probably still be drinking from the same streams we shit in.

    I don’t claim to be a saint or to be superior, nor I am being self-righteous. I’m not telling you where to shop – I’m just trying to give you facts so you can make your own informed decision. If you’ll recall, I agreed with you on not limiting an individual’s choices. But like many other of your ilk, you chose to ignore this olive branch and instead attacked.

    PS – my brothers are putting your bread and pasta on the table, so a thank you would be appreciated.

  • milo

    Good article, thanks for the link and summary.

    He has a lot of good ideas, but I think one of the biggest things to help would be ending or at least fixing the heavy subsidies, which currently hurt farmers far more than they help.

    Right now it’s not really a free market at all for food, and it probably would be much better if it was. And while I’m a big Obama supporter, I think he’s dead wrong on ethanol, I hope he rethinks it after the election.

    It simply isn’t a level playing field – the huge corporations lobby to get the laws to favor them and make it harder for the smaller local farmers. It would be a huge boon to both consumers and farmers if the laws were more fair so that people could buy from a small farmer more easily without the government getting in the way.

    There is definitely a ton the government could do that would be a huge help without getting in the way. Better labeling, encouraging positive farming through incentives, making sure the government itself is supporting healthy and local farming through having schools serve more local food.

    There is much the government can and should do without being tyrannical about it.

  • Rhonda

    This is perfect timing:

    About four hours ago, the (my) Canadian Government took a stance on Organic Farming and decided to send Michael Schmidt, an organic farmer to jail for selling raw milk which is currently illegal here. Mr. Schmidt has been trying for years to educate the government and public about farming and food practices. His argument is that bacteria in raw milk is developed from WHAT THE COW EATS AND HOW THEY ARE RAISED. He is trying to set an example and has asked the government to give him the maximum sentence.

    So far, it is not working out. He will be sentenced on Monday. Hope you guys have better luck.

  • SPK

    Please people, it’s nice to have a cause to believe in, but do you really have to push it on everyone?
    Here is some rebuttal I found on another blog.

    “Well, lets go back to economics 101. The reason we do not all grow our own food, make our own clothes, etc. is because the global division of labor allows food and clothing and everything else to be produced more efficiently by people who specialize and invest in those activities than by all of us alone in our homes. So instead of each of us growing our own corn, in whatever quality soil we happen to have around our house, some guy in Iowa grows it for thousands of us, and because he specialized and grows a lot, he invests in equipment and knowledge to do it better every year. The cost of fuel to move the corn or corn products to Phoenix from Iowa are trivial compared to the difference in efficiency that guy in Iowa has over me trying to grow corn in my back yard.”
    Follow this link for the rest.


  • milo

    Who is pushing it on everyone?

    And it’s not like Pollan is saying everyone should grow all their own food. Even growing a little bit has great value both as food and as education. That “rebuttal” only picks a couple tiny bits of a really long article and ignores the rest.

  • Rhonda

    Good point SPK.

    However, I think the point that is trying to be made is that 93% of the corn grown in Iowa is inedible by humans. It is subsidized and targeted for other products. The farmers there literally are having a hard time feeding themselves. The other point that I think is trying to be made is that many do not have a realistic definition of what “food” is and subsequently, we are eating ourselves into an early grave.

    I mentioned earlier in a comment, an excellent documentary called “King Corn”. These guys have also set up a website.

    As for the “point being pushed on everyone”, well, most of the people attracted to this group conversation/site are in search of good pure food and how to prepare it. You may find the point belabored but it is a common concern to those who are interested in cooking and classic technique.

    I think there is concern that we as a culture may be a bit off track.

  • Darcie

    SPK –

    Although it may be more efficient to use the mega producer model currently in place, there other aspects to consider. What happens when the crop gets tainted with something like E.coli or salmonella? Whoops, that’s already happened, and there is a tremendous problem since it’s been distributed hither and yon. This also raises the discomforting scenario of a terrorist easily contaminating our food (and/or water) supply. Also, in case of natural disaster, blight, or plant disease, the public is at a disadvantage by relying on a few large producers. Finally, as more crops become “Roundup Ready” and are genetically engineered, we lose diversity in the crop species. This again leads to severe potential problems in disease – think Irish potato famine.

    The most efficient way may not, in the long run, necessarily be the BEST way. (I can’t believe I said that since I’m German by heritage and we all know the German love of efficiency LOL.) There are other factors to consider besides efficiency, although I agree that every small farmer driving his/her product to market leaves a rather large carbon footprint. But I think we could easily devise a more efficient transportation solution for the small farmers. After all, we did send men to the moon (unless you are a conspiracy theorist and don’t believe that, then never mind).

  • jscirish27

    Isn’t it interesting how these “economics” lessons are always presented, touting efficiencies of scale without ever really alluding to how these efficiencies are achieved, i.e. the use of petrochemical fertilizers which damage soil and create pollution and the government subsidization of commodity crops.

    We are not talking about cameras, tv’s or ipods people, we are talking about food, the very thing that sustains life and health on this planet. I just don’t understand why “the cheaper the better,” mantra is being invoked here. I also love how those of us with a desire to see food produced in a sustainable manner are “pushing our beliefs” on everyone else; this despite the fact that industrialized farming dominates the American marketplace. I guess Cargill and Montasano need their paid hacks too . . .

  • johnmark7


    Waste is a part of everything. Everything you do or make generates waste. Hell, the Universe is almost entirely a wasteland. Life expectancy is not decreasing in the West but increasing.

    My father grew up when America was far more polluted in water, air, food, etc. He died at 81 when emphysema from previous smoking killed him. Many of his generation are living easily into their nineties. There will be millions of people living past 100 in a few years or a decade or two.

    This is country is not killing more and more people earlier and earlier, but people with poor lifestyle habits do die earlier. That’s on them.

    The Soviet Union had public health initiatives, too, and the life expectancy has plummeted in Russia. It takes wealth to create well made and well maintained public works systems like sewage treatment. Wealth can only be created by free markets, property rights, the rule of law, and liberty.

    You may not like sweatshop labor but poor, unemployed people do. It makes their futures brighter. It creates wealth and employment. If you think there’s a lot of suffering in the world today, try a hundred years ago when 90% of the people lived in dire and abject poverty compared to only 50% or so now. And died very young.

    As for subsidies of corps? Guess what, that ain’t free market economics. Get rid of them, though and food would still be relatively cheap.

    If corn is cheaper because of subsidies, then sugar is higher because of tariffs.


    The rise of heart disease, cancer and diabetes is because we are living so much longer and so much better with so many better treatments. If poor kids eat poorly, that’s their parents’ fault. Not mine. People are responsible for their choices.

    Yeah, free market guys really sock it to the little guys. In 1894, Congress created an income tax to go after the rich who earned $4000 or more a year, all 13,000 of the bas***ds in a population of close to 100 million.

    Now we are 300 million and guess what, we have close to 3 million millionaires in this country and a couple hundred million people living lives of awesome affluency. Yeah, the little guys really got the short end of that stick of wealth creation.

    And guess what? It ain’t a zero sum game. When some hard working or rich guy gets richer, it doesn’t make someone else poorer.

    As for oil and natural gas, we have no idea how much there is since, surprise, it isn’t a fossil fuel. We’re drilling for oil five miles deep, far below the possibility of T-Rex’s and ferns’ decomposition. It appears that hydrocarbons are a part of planet making conditions, and it may leak the stuff into the mantle from very far below and do it for who knows how long.

    Facts people. Facts.

  • Natalie Sztern

    the seeds of change MUST begin in the school system, and that will take a village in each and every community; while solving the government’s concern of the obesity problem in our young, we can also teach them the value of the food we eat and grow and how it affects our bodies: One subject cannot exist without the other or change will never happen…I see it in kids on a daily basis and not in the school system..

    Maybe Nov 4 will see the generation gap closing and incite all to act on the changes they desire openly and intellectually which means those in the food and farming industry must begin a path of education which will ultimately be their salvation…

    I see teaching farms everywhere…and if nothing else; it opens inner city kids to a life they don’t know exists and the opportunities to add to their futures….which can only benefit the United States…

  • Kate in the NW

    I don’t think that anyone’s arguing for each and every family to grow all their own food. We need and want chefs to be chefs, architects to be architects, doctors to be doctors, and farmers to be farmers.

    And an entirely organic-boutique-farm model is not feasible with our current world population; it’s CERTAINLY not feasible with the world population skyrocketing.

    But surely we’ve swung the pendulum too far toward big agribusiness. It’s just simply not sustainable or desireable in its current form.

    There has to be a reasonable middle ground, but I don’t think the “free market” will find it. Deregulation hasn’t made our food, water, schools, or economy better. Government is the only organization capable of reining in corporations, which do not posess a conscience or any concern for our health or for the future (other than how that next quarterly report is going to look).

    Look at what greed, corruption, and lack of enforced regulations did for the food supply in China. And we have no one in this country to inspect imports and enforce our own food safety regulations, so we end up importing poison food (not to mention growing our own tainted meat and frankenfruit/veggies).

    All in the name of $$ and competing in the “free market”.

    No – I’m going to stick with what I learned this democratic country and its Constitution is all about – giving the PEOPLE a voice and some power against the rich and powerful – whether it’s King George and the House of Lords 200+ years ago, or King George W and the Boards of Directors nowadays.

    Viva la Revolution!

  • SPK

    For those of you that replied to my comment and still claim no one is trying to push their point of view on anyone.
    All of you seem very intelligent, but did you actually read Ruhlman’s blog? Almost all of the bullet points from the artical will take new laws and taxpayer dollars to enact, thus the “pushing” comment. Do you think this money is going to come from the big corporations?
    “Preserve every acre of farmland”
    “Build an infrastructure for a regional food economy”
    “Ease federal production regulations”
    “Create local meat-inspection corps”
    “Establish a grain reserve”
    “Create a Federal definition of food”
    “Require federal institutions that prepare food (school lunches, prisons, military bases, etc.) to buy a minimum percentage of that food locall”
    “Food stamp debit cards should double in value when swiped at a framers’ market”
    “plant gardens in every primary school and equip them with kitchens”
    “pay for culinary tuitions (or forgive loans)”
    “increase school lunch spending by $1 a day”
    “have a second calorie listing how many fossil fuel calories”
    “Finally, there should be a White House vegetable garden and our President should set the first example”

  • milo

    If they ended the ethanol subsidy (not to mention other ones that can go as well) they could spend some of those billions on the programs suggested in the article and probably have money to spare.

  • faustianbargain

    fuck no..i didnt even want to comment when i noticed that ruhlman conveniently left out the bit from pollan’s article which stresses the point that we should move away from animal protein and how all this is stressing the environment than SUVs on freeways can ever manage…

    but since my name shouldnt be invoked in vain…

    […]It will be argued that moving animals off feedlots and back onto farms will raise the price of meat. It probably will — as it should. You will need to make the case that paying the real cost of meat, and therefore eating less of it, is a good thing for our health, for the environment, for our dwindling reserves of fresh water and for the welfare of the animals. Meat and milk production represent the food industry’s greatest burden on the environment; a recent U.N. study estimated that the world’s livestock alone account for 18 percent of all greenhouse gases, more than all forms of transportation combined. (According to one study, a pound of feedlot beef also takes 5,000 gallons of water to produce.) And while animals living on farms will still emit their share of greenhouse gases, grazing them on grass and returning their waste to the soil will substantially offset their carbon hoof prints, as will getting ruminant animals off grain. A bushel of grain takes approximately a half gallon of oil to produce; grass can be grown with little more than sunshine.
    The final point to consider is that 40 percent of the world’s grain output today is fed to animals; 11 percent of the world’s corn and soybean crop is fed to cars and trucks, in the form of biofuels. Provided the developed world can cut its consumption of grain-based animal protein and ethanol, there should be plenty of food for everyone — however we choose to grow it.

    pollan makes excellent points about the impact of raising food costs if we were to change our methods…but then again, that was his thrust from the beginning, after all…”Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

    let me repeat that..”Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

    always a pleasure to post here…just checking in to register so i am not confused with other people who also may have valid opinions different from the usual suspects.

  • johnmark7

    The very government many of you are complaining about for screwing everything up, is the very same government you want to make everything a happy fun time for true believers and the rest of us. Please explain?

    The Constitution doesn’t give government the authority to do 95% of what you want it to do.

    Speaking of education, did none of you learn that “The government that governs least governs best.”?

    Remember anything about our inalienable rights – life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?

  • jscirish27

    Johnmark7 and SPK chose to ignore the part about industrial farming and pollution, government subsidies towards commodity crops, the abject diets of poor inner city kids, the rise in diseases barely known before the industrial diet and focus on the benefits of an oil based economy (which causes our direct involvement in the affairs of hostile governments). Wow, you guys really make a convincing case. You talk about stating facts but I have yet to see one. How, btw, is the rise of type II diabetes in children the result of “us living so much longer.” You guys make me laugh. Obviously the agribusinesses you work have decided that it is high time they get their message out , , ,

  • FoodPuta

    With 49% of Americans eating their meals AWAY from home, and the number ones reason being convenience, these noble suggestions of Pollan’s are going to be a tough sell to the masses.

  • Rhonda

    faustian bargain: I liked your post very much but should register, as this is a public forum, that I am very much in favour of the food chain. Meaning that sometimes man must eat pork… I Respect everything you have said but as we are all finding our way through this maze — there is enough room for all of us. There is a great beauty to nature and the food chain. I do not wish to get into an argument about vegetarianism, etc. I wanted to let you know that yes, I agree with you on some levels and now I have to go and tuck into a big pot of cassoulet. All the best to you. – R

  • SPK

    jscirish27, I didn’t ignore anything.
    Government subsidies – I’m not for them.
    The abject diets of poor inner city kids- WTF?
    diseases barely known – better tests now.
    type II diabetes – corn syrup period.
    agribusiness – I’m a professional chef thank you.

  • Jennie Cesario is Jennie Tikka

    ” …requiring culinary graduates to give some service back to such undertakings such as teaching kids how to cook…”

    Okay, I can comment on this one personally.

    I’ve been trying to do this since I graduated from school. I have offered to cook for a lot of different agencies for free. One school did actually offer me a paid position – BUT, since the general public out there is so hostile to the notion that they may not be good cooks, they tend to be generally offended by anyone who’s been educated in culinary school.

    Even when you offer to cook for free or teach for free – there are very few takers.

    The notion that the “salt of the earth” good hearted people eat McNuggets while only snobs eat food made from scratch is so deeply ingrained, it makes people turn down things like culinary grads offering assistance.

    Nobody listens to culinary grads. They only listen to people who have a t.v. show – period. A t.v. show is the public’s litmus test for who can and can’t cook.

    I’ve stopped offering – except for cops & firefighters. They are the only ones humble enough to appreciate the help.

    I would work for free 100% of my time if I had enough takers since I don’t need the income. But sometimes I have to actually get a job because even at free I can’t find takers and I need to fill my time. Even with letters of recommendation from Fire Chiefs people just get hung up on the idea that they don’t need help because this is more a moral issue than an education issue. It is somehow seen as immoral to educate yourself about food.

    I wish I could find whoever started this idea so I could kick his @ss.

  • luis

    Well if age means anything other than you got old, my experience is that change in a free society takes time. The economics need to line up or something compelling like a disease or virus or other push everyone consciousness out of their confort zones and into the new.
    You want to effect change FAST! you do it by being least cost producer. As has been noted in this blog local, organic, free range…all the desirable qualities cost more.
    Cheap oil is finished. Will be finished forever soon. At that time society will be open to change. That time could be here now depending on the outcome of this presidential election. We could be at a cross roads in many many things.

  • johnmark7


    Yeah, you’re right. I admit it. Life sucks. And it sucks for everyone because you’re so miserable. USA? What a rotten place. Stop the world, you want to get off. Especially because it has Americans on it. What rotten people we are. Billions of people lifted out of abject misery and early death by our economic engine, science, and technology, but hell with that. We suck. Oh woe is us!

  • johnmark7

    Cheap oil is finished? Six years ago it was even below $1.00 a gallon in a few places. What changed? Supply changed. Not reserves. Add the trillions of gallons of natural gas and the billions of tons of coal with clean coal technology and hydrocarbons are very much in business and cheap if government will get out of the way and let suppliers supply.

  • faustianbargain

    rhonda..i am not advocating vegetarianism..i only pasted from pollan’s article(lest you think that i was the wordsmith..nyet…i dont punctuate on the interwebs…i want to make that clear..you are respecting what pollan says)…and neither is pollan..’mostly plants’..is not ‘eat only plants’ or ‘dont eat animal protein’.

    the point is that there has to be an end to ‘cheap food’. the country is brimming with ‘cheap’ food..only its not because we pay the cost many times over with the environmental damage, economy etc…and this is especially true of calorie dense animal protein…reverting back to using solar energy to create our food will still bring that pork to your table..only, it will be more expensive, but it will also be more flavourful..and ethical…

    i urge everyone to read the pollan article instead of making up your mind from ruhlman’s ‘bullet points’.

    please. read all of it.

  • Kate in the NW

    JC is JT –

    You sound pretty cool to me. I hope you find a place to contribute your expertise. My grand-father-in-law(??) (old-school Italian-American) had a “retirement job” cooking in his local school cafeteria. He grew lots of vegetables and herbs in his garden, wanted to cook, and had time. When he walked in there, no one cooked anything that didn’t come in a Government-Surplus box or a freezer bag. He educated and organized the whole cafeteria staff and before long people from all over the district were coming to his little elementary school cafeteria to eat. They actually had teachers and administrators from other schools coming in for lunch. They had to greatly increase their production to meet demand. Kids who had never voluntarily TOUCHED a vegetable would come back for second and third helpings of things like zucchini and salad. Kids are not stupid. Give them good food and they will eat it. I don’t know how he got around regulations and such (it was a small town), but everyone loved him and his food, and a lot of kids were given a priceless life lesson in kindness, cooking, and health.

    And yes, Johnmark7, I readily acknowledge that he did have to get around those evil regulations. You know – the ones that say schools have to buy crappy food from big agribusiness. Believe me, I am not, as a knee-jerk liberal, in favor of ALL regulations. I’d like to see the stupid ones done away with just as much as you. Though we may disagree on which ones those are.

    Meanwhile, JC is JT: if you need help in the @ss-kicking department, sign me up. I rue the day (as we all will, eventually) when intellectual and educated started equalling immoral, unpatriotic, and elitist.

  • Rhonda

    Faustian Bargain:

    Great comment. Thank you. I understand. We are all a bit sensitive. Please do not dismiss Ruhlman’s comments. He is a Grand Master writer and trained not only to cook but to separate the wheat from the chaff. What a metaphor! Not trying to spark controversy.

    I am trying to make it clear that I respect what YOU SAY. I don’t agree with it always but I respect your voice and as usual we are a group that has a common purpose in mind no matter how we get there but can’t get the language right.

    It would be much easier if we all spoke different languages and had a common translator. Not kidding, I did this with a 120 different countries at a forum and it is waaaaay easier.

    It seems to me that we all have a common purpose.



  • jscirish27

    Wow, sophistry abounds in this discussion. First SPK, as a fellow professional chef, I am actually surprised you hold these views. You honestly believe that better tests are the only reason we more people are being diagnosed with chronic diseases? You don’t think it has anything to do with the nature of the processed food so many Americans consume? You don’t think feeding ruminants corn to make them fat (and unhealthy) has anything to do with the rise in heart disease. How about putting animals on antibiotics and hormones? This is o.k. too, I suppose? I think you know the real answer. As far as corn syrup goes, it is among the top evils but not the only one. Hydrogenation of fats, cheap unhealthy oils, etc. are also right up there.

    Johnmark7, yes it follows logically that because I want to see our country adopt a more sensible food policy that I must be miserable and hate America. Is that what happens when you start an argument you can’t win, you resort to the “I am a miserable liberal who hates America” card? Point in fact, I am dead set against most government regulations as they are overbearing and wasteful. The current regulations protect big agribusiness and subject the small farmer to greater regulations. If you follow the history of farm policy and food processing in the US for the past 75 years or so you will see this is the case. Don’t let facts get in the way of your arguments though. The best thing we can do for future generations is establish our independence once again, claim responsibility for our own food and energy needs, and be mindful about the gift we were given in this great land. I can’t understand how this position can be equated to anything even remotely resembling elitism.

  • luis

    johnmark7, Did you say the gov get outa tha way….?… My point exactly. Cheap oil is finished or on the way out. This could take a few days or a few years.. but cheap oil is finished. The world is ready for something else. Economics will dictate when.

  • Darcie

    jm7 – My bad – U.S. life expectancy is only decreasing among the poor:

    “Over the past two decades, life expectancy has actually declined in dozens and dozens of counties throughout the U.S., mostly in poor, rural areas. Since life expectancy has continued to improve in more affluent areas, this trend has nothing to do with the limits of human survival, but rather with disparities in education, employment, social services and health care,” said Dr. David L. Katz, director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University School of Medicine. “…right now, what we see is a wedge of social inequities driving apart the survival experiences of different parts of our country.”

    Of course it’s easy to lay the blame on the victims – but these people lack the education to make the best food choices, and also lack access to healthy alternatives. This is an example of laissez faire economics marginalizing the poor. (One could also argue that our big bailout is the result of too little supervision of the financial services sector.) I’m certainly not for Big Brother, and I enjoy and exercise many freedoms found in the good ol’ USA including my right to bear arms. However, I feel that some essential services are too important to leave to the vagaries of free market. These include food and water. (Contrarily, I think there should be no laws on seat belt use, helmet use and the such – as long as the costs of the stupid aren’t borne by the rest of us. But I digress.)

    Those poor people are also the hardest group to reach by many of the methods that Pollan is promoting – most live far from farmer’s markets, don’t have any land to grow their own food, etc.

  • luis

    faustian… what you said is right. less red meat and dairy wouldn’t hurt Americans one bit. This is right. But there is chicken, pork, turkey… ahh the turkey breast I just cooked this am…hm hm hm…. getting scary good at it. Love red meat in meatloaf and steak and fajitas and braises and stews.. luv it. But a couple of times a month with leftovers is all I do in my cuisine.

    OBTW folks I meant to drop kick my recipe database outa here but instead I am going to start a new one.
    Rather than by dish, It will be by breakfast, lunch or dinner. This will help me out considerably. As I don’t have to feel around for a whole meal… It’s a go to database. Well this is were my cooking recipes are headed.

  • Frodnesor

    I’m not going to exert any further energy arguing conservative ideology with folks who apparently haven’t bothered to actually read or comprehend the Constitution, but will note several proposals in the Pollan article that were left out of Ruhlman’s list above:

    – revise farm subsidies to reward farmers for growing different crops and/or keeping their fields green throughout more of the year
    – require municipalities to compost food and yard waste and distribute compost free to farmers
    – invest in research in “perennial” grains
    – FDA should ban routine use of antibiotics in animal feed
    – CAFOs should be required to clean up their waste like any other industry
    – provide grants for year-round farmers markets

    (Incidentally I would admit that some – but not all – of these could raise conservative hackles).

    Second faustianbargain’s comment – read the article. There is plenty in there to think about even if you don’t agree with all (or any) of it.

  • johnmark7


    You admit Government Farm Policy is bad, its Energy Policy is bad, untold other policies are terrible, and you want a government Food Policy because bureaucracy is so good at managing affairs it has no constitutional right to manage?

    Uh huh. Okay. Flow with it. The answer to bad government is more of it. Brilliant!

  • Tori in NC

    Thank you for brining this article to light. I have followed Pollan’s work for some time and the issues/proposals that he talks about in his article are something of which he has spoken of for quite some time. I only hope that more people will pay attention to him now with our ever mounting health, environmental and food crisis. We would be remiss as citizens of the global community to wait for our collective governments to solve our issues through bureaucracy. Here is another good audio interview I came across w/ Pollan http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=95896389

    “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it”
    ~Albert Einstein

  • SPK

    I didn’t say that.
    I take antibiotics when I’m sick, and I get better.
    I answered “corn syrup” because you mentioned type II diabetes. Where does the hydrogrenated fat come in with that? I don’t use them.

  • SPK

    Before you tear my head off, I know Trans Fats are not healthy and that a high fat high sugar diet/lifestyle contributes to developement of diabetes.

  • Greely

    There are a lot of good ideas on that list above. Sadly, I keep seeing a diminishing amount of farmland in my area. Why? It’s being bought up by developer’s to build malls, schools, office buildings. Why? Then people wonder why more and more deer and other animal’s are being struck by vehicles each year.

    I’m not a tree hugger or someone who’s anti-development but it seems to me that we need to take a look at what’s being developed and is it something that we really need or something that we just really want.

    One farmer in Clinton County is waiting to see if the Casino issue in Ohio passes. If it does, he’s selling his farm to the developer’s. Yes, he’ll make money on the deal but I don’t think it’s worth it.

    Farming used to be a proud, family tradition but at some point in time it became something else. A lot of that I think had to do with the loans and farm foreclosure’s (Think John Mellenkamp Farm Aid) we had not too long ago. It was viewed as a risky proposition to continue farming.

    My brother in law doesn’t farm the land he owns that’s been in his family for a while but he does rent it out so that it can be farmed. He would also never think about selling it because he has said this is family land for his three girls.

    Also, while I remember taking Home Ec as well, what happened to personal responsibility. That means Mom and Dad spending more time with kids to teach them how to cook, clean, etc. School’s can only do so much and then parents need to understand that it’s their “ultimate responsiblity” to ensure their kids learn certain things.

    I know that I am just starting down the pathway of becoming a father (wife is two months pregnant). However, as I cook and so does my wife, I do know that we will have a garden in our yard and our kids will learn how to take care of it. They will learn the value of food and how to prepare it from three or four very distinct styles of cooking (Mine, my wife’s who is Russian, my mom’s and my wife’s mom also Russian as well as our family friends). They will also learn the importance of supporting the little guy by buying at local Farmer’s Markets as well.

    I don’t plan on being one of those Latchkey dads or my wife being a Latchkey mom. We both understand and accept that being a parent means that we will be setting the example and instilling in our children a respect for what’s around us. That means learning how to take care of the environment and what is around us.

    Children are the hope of the future but they do have to be taught. Who does the responsibility fall to? What legacy will we leave behind?

    Global warming is not a topic that should be ignored because it won’t happen. All those people and governments who said in years past, it’s not something to worry about. Well, look at the environment today. It’s not what it was 20 years ago and neither is the economy either. Who’s to blame?

    Michael’s last sentence says it all. “I’m grateful to Pollan for what he’s set out to do and hope that our legislators acknowledge the sad state of food in America, recognize that how we produce and consume our food may be the biggest determiner of the quality of life in America generally, and put it at the head of their agendas with whatever administration we elect next month.”

  • luis

    If feed lots are becoming a problem due to composting waste out of control. This is an issue for scientists to resolve and agricultural engineers to implement its solution.

    The larger issue is one of unhealthy unbalanced food comsumption in the American diet due to goverment economic policies.

    Unwinding the compost pile of failed economic policies is nearly impossible. The bright spot here is that Cheap Oil is finished. We are past peak oil in my opinion and oil will cost more and more to produce as time goes by.

    Polland does a good job of outlining issues and solutions. That is his job. As oil becomes less of an option the free market should decide on which direction our food production will take. Scary thought is if it goes global and we stop growing it here in the US. Ultimatelly the free market should decide and not the goverment.

    Goverment should get out of the way and take back its regulatory role to insure we avoid the big pitfalls, such as the investment banking swindle of the American people.

  • Darcie


    You said “The answer to bad government is more of it. Brilliant!”

    No one has said MORE government – just different government. We can change the subsidy programs, and ease restrictions that pinch the small farmer. (hey, that’s less government!)

    I love America, and my motto is “like it or change it.” That’s the beauty of the U.S. – citizens can, in theory, change the government, although it gets more difficult as our politicians (both Dems & Reps) are increasingly beholden to the special interests that buy them the election. I guess the free markets are only free if you have a lot of money.

    In the financial sector, we have found that when you give the markets nearly free reign, you privatize the rewards but socialize the risk. I think we are doing the same thing with health. We all pay for the smokers, the morbidly obese, etc. Yet we don’t do anything to help them make better choices OR do anything to make people responsible for their own actions. I think a sky-high tax on crap food would pay for a lot of the policies – and people would be free to not eat the crap and thereby pay no taxes on it. People are much more willing to pay for stuff they want than stuff they need. Not that I love to pay taxes, but I don’t see a better way to make people pay for what they do to themselves – because once they get sick, the cat’s out of the bag. It might also raise awareness of how crappy some of the food is.

  • MessyONE

    JC is JT:

    I don’t know where you live, but here in Chicago, Chef Mary Ellen Diaz runs a cafe in the Lillstreet Art Center called First Slice. Her mission (besides providing terrific food to a bunch of artists) is to provide healthy meals to inner city kids. You can find out about her program at http://www.firstslice.org.

    She also employs and trains some of those inner city kids. They work in the organization learning skills that will help them get jobs in restaurants. If you were to contact her, I know she’d welcome you as a volunteer. She’s a terrific lady, and she’s making an impact on the lives of these kids that will help them for a lifetime.

    Sorry for the shameless plug here, but Chef Diaz deserves the recognition. Anyone who is willing to do what she does and put in the hours that she does is worthy of a mention…. and a donation.

  • jscirish27

    SPK, I am not going to rip your head off . . . we can agree to disagree. Your point about antibiotics is way off base however . . . the cattle in CAFO’s get sick and infected specifically because of their living conditions and diets . . . this isn’t the same as you getting sick and taking “antibiotics” to get better. Also, I listed hydrogenated fats as evil because the weight gain associated with these fats also leads to diabetes.

    Johnmark7 is playing strawman and I will no longer respond to anything he posts. I think the case for a more sustainable agricultural system has already been made convincingly by many in this thread. I can personally say that nowhere did I call for MORE government; I lean libertarian in fact. What I called for is the leveling of the playing field so small farmers are not held to an impossible standards while big agribusiness reaps the rewards of a subsidized system. Wow, crazytalk. Anyway, my days off are over. Time to go cook.

  • Jason

    Interesting synopsis but as Yogi would say, “It’s like deja vu all over again.” Policy for policy if not word for word, Pollen is restating the policies originally (and probably not originally – see Diet For a Small Planet) espoused by Alice Waters and The Edible Schoolyard.

    The Food Crisis, like the Energy Crisis, is destined to be endlessly repeated like some bad version of Groundhog Day. As our lifespans grow longer our attention spans grow shorter. There has to be a way to move the long term 30-year plans that we know and understand (mortgage, retirement savings) to energy, transportation, education, food, etc. Long range planing is not the forte of our short term leaders. This type of thinking is not going to be accepted or implemented by someone old enough to read these comments but may start at the birth of the next generation.

  • milo

    I definitely agree with faustianbargain that people should read the whole article and not just the bullet points, there are a number of things that didn’t make it into the bullet points.

    Particularly eating less meat (and yeah, that includes chicken, pork, and turkey). Not going vegetarian, just eating less. If everyone in the USA just ate ONE more veggie meal per week, it would reduce carbon dioxide emissions as much as taking a half million cars off the road.

    And many of Pollan’s proposals require no more government than we have now. Subsidies can be changed (or eliminated), programs such as school lunches that are already in place can be improved.

    It’s hardly a call for more governement, the government is already VERY involved with food and farming policies, and the biggest first step would be if they’d get more out of the way.

  • JBL

    “This is an example of laissez faire economics marginalizing the poor.”
    Darcie, please mind your terms; Laissez faire Capitalism has NEVER existed in the U.S.

  • Pavlov

    Thanks Michael for the article. I for one being a conservative typically can understand where Johnmark7 is coming from in that some of the ideas brought forth by Pollan’s Proposal smack of Big Gov’t. This being said, there is also validity in that education of how food comes to us should be brought to the classrooms of America. Also, discussions brought forth to adults and children alike regarding cheap food not equaling “good” food.

    Introducing these subjects from an education standpoint make good sense. But in the end free will, will prevail (you can lead a horse to water etc…). As far as new thinking in the world of food and getting back to organic, natural, sustainable, local, in-season, non-petrol based ways of farming be it veggies or animals… Take a trip as I’m sure most of us do or have, to your local farmers market, Co-Op or Whole Foods market and you’ll see we don’t need the Gov’t dictating how to do these things.

    Adam Smith knew in 1776 that specialization and the division of labor will dictate how things will be done. Some folks saw industrial farming as bad and have decided there is a better more nurishing way of growing food and they are doing so at a mind boggling pace. It is available out there so people just need to be educated about their choices.

    I was one of those folks who just a decade ago lauged at a package of organically grown local carrots costing a lot more than the commercially grown ones. “Who in their right minds would buy those?!” Well, now I am! The prices are dropping as demand for them rises. Simple economics and it didn’t take an act of congress thank goodness, it seems neither the Dems. or Repubs. can tie their shoes these days without a filibuster.

    Educating ALL people on the benefits of sustainable, locally grown, seasonable, organic, non-petrol based food products is not a right-wing or a left-wing thing. What it is….. is smart, and best of all inexpensive.

    I also wouldn’t have a problem with schools being made to keep certain nutrition standards in their lunch programs if they included healthy locally grown produce. I mean let’s be serious here folks, letting a kid eat pizza everyday in the school lunchroom is just silly no matter your political leanings.


  • ruhlman

    for the record, i too agree that we need to reduce our reliance on animal protein in our diets, and i like pollan’s simple suggestion of reducing the number of meals i eat that contain meat by one each week.

  • luis

    I also think folks need to know their numbers. Do their bloodwork. Understand your health status. I neglected myself as far as looking at my numbers between 2000 and 2008. I am all in, as far as my normal range was when I was young. But I slipped a few points. Why? because I let go of the dairy products constraints. Maybe too many pizzas? or pasta? I know dairy did me wrong because I let it.
    Now I am going back on track. Because you can NOT excercise cholesterol away. No!. You diet it away. So in addition to less red meat Michael I am less dairy sat fats as in less cheese. Cheese flavors our lives along with meat and bacon. But I will run 5k’s into my 80’s if I get there.

  • Darcie

    @JBL – you’re right, there has never been a true lassez-faire capitalist society. Then again, we don’t have a true democracy, either. Perhaps I should have called the policies “lassez faire-esque”. The spirit of the policies, as it were.

  • JBL

    @Darcie – The euphemism I’ve heard is Mixed Economy and Democracy I think can be defined as Mob Rule.

  • Carri

    Pollan was on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terri Gross yesterday,you can still listen to it on their web site…he sounds so…reasonable!

  • spicehound

    I like the idea of having more year-round farmers markets with permanent facilities. I currently manage Cleveland’s oldest farmers market (Coitmarket.org) and I can tell you that it very hard to maintain a building and property and still keep the rents low for the farmers. At this point, I think people are wise to avoid owning property for their markets but we have always felt that more markets being able to operate year around is important to teaching people to eat what’s local and seasonal. I hope more markets will make to jump in the future.

    P.S. We have promoted the WIC voucher program and the Senior voucher program since their inception and soon will be the first farmers market in the area to have a program for food stamp recipients.

  • Karin (Grew up in Cleveland and miss it in VA)

    Late to the party as usual!

    Having heard most of the Michael Pollan’s interview on Fresh Air, I agree with all that I heard.

    Unfortunately, policy can be changed all it wants. If there is no one there to act on the benefits, it’s just words on paper.

    Too many people have become used to the “MacDonalds” way of feeding themselves. They don’t know how to cook. I mean in the everyday way to feed themselves or a family. If they have to buy it and peel it or add something to it to make a dish/meal, then it doesn’t fit into their daily lives. All you have to do is walk the aisles of a grocery store.

    Moving all the goods to one place and spitting it out as something makes it less expensive. A box of frozen broccoli is still cheaper than fresh. It should be the other way around since I don’t buy the packaging or pay to keep it frozen. And I intend to impart my labor from start to finish in it’s preparation.

    I live 80 mi. west of Wash, D.C., in what is still very rural Virginia. Close enough to be irritated by it’s doings almost daily and far enough away to be “in the country”.

    Being surrounded by agriculture had not made it any easier to get what I consider fresh food in plentiful quantities.

    When we moved here 11 years ago, there were 2 miserable chain grocery stores and 1 local farmer’s market.

    I used to drive my daughter to school through a neighborhood of “MacMansions” with cow pastures as their backyard.

    I have 4 family owned meat processors in a 35 mi. radius and one local butcher shop that opened 4 month ago.

    He is supplied by several of the local processors. The meat is divine and competitively priced. But… I recently went in to buy a whole chicken, mostly for stock. He no longer carries them. Apparently, I was the only one buying a WHOLE chicken. They were literally spoiling in the case. Now he sells only boneless, skinless breasts.

    This speaks to Ted’s above comment about not even a food bank wanting fresh food. They won’t take it because most of the volunteers don’t know how to use it much less their “clients”.

    To another point, where I am at is also the heart of VA’s apple growing region. Apple crop prices still make headlines in the local paper. Watching our farmers continually take a loss on crop prices because of cheaper produce from other countries is just as unsound a policy as supporting the fuel miles/costs that it takes to bring their product to our shoes.

    Until more people people value where they get their food and value the ones that work to bring it to them, we will continue to pay. On all levels.

  • jscirish27

    Karin, that is the insidious nature of industrially produced food; they sell the consumer on the notion that industrial food can do it better, quicker, and healthier. They even can tout their “health” claims on the box, whether it is true or not. The American consumer has bought into it hook, line and sinker. It is sad, really. Soup comes in a can. Meat in a plastic package. Fish in a stick. We can do whatever we want from the top down, but for Pollan’s ideas to ever really take hold it has to be a grass-roots movement from the bottom up.

  • Aaron

    I agree with most of what Mr. Pollan says, but I do worry about Mr. Pollan using food to further a political agenda (in this case energy independence). Should we make people feel guilty for eating something that may have not been grown locally, but A) provides the eater something pleasurable and B) provides an income for the family that produced it?

    What happens to the potato farmers in Idaho when only people in Idaho buy their potatoes?

  • Jennie Cesario is Jennie Tikka

    Ultmately, the argument underneath all of this seems to be “what exactly does it mean to be an American?”

    For some of the posters here it apparently means “the freedom to do anything they want that pleases them – consequences be damned.” I don’t think that’s what the Founding Fathers were getting at at all when they drafted our founding documents.

    Freedom has always required RESPONSIBILITY to balance it or else it become something else: Anarchy.

    The same applies to food.

    It is not just about what we want – its about what is responsible, too. That may put a crimp in somebody’s personal preferences, but that’s what being a responsible citizen is all about (versus being an anarchic citizen who feels no responsibility towards anyone besides themselves).

    Anarchy masquerading as freedom is a very dangerous element.

  • milo

    “Should we make people feel guilty for eating something that may have not been grown locally, but A) provides the eater something pleasurable and B) provides an income for the family that produced it?”

    I don’t know about feeling guilty, but people should be aware of the benefits of buying food that is more local and seasonal. One thing you learn when you educate yourself about food is that often when food is from farther away, the QUALITY is necessarily worse than local stuff because it has to be varieties bred for shelf life and rough handling while sacrificing flavor and nutrition.

    “What happens to the potato farmers in Idaho when only people in Idaho buy their potatoes?”

    Why do they have to grow just potatoes? If they were growing a variety of things they could probably sell it all within a much smaller area, in addition to the other benefits Pollan explains.

    Something is wrong when idaho is shipping potatoes to california AND at the same time california is shipping something else back to idaho.

  • faustianbargain

    milo, mcdonalds buys most of the potatoes for it’s french fries from idaho.

    and we are back to the issue of fast food. we not only want our fast food…we want it to taste the same..every day..everywhere..we want consistency for that 99c!

    now..do you think we have a problem?

  • Bob LaGatta

    It’s good to know that I’m not alone when it comes to writing articles about quality, good food. And I love sharing good recipes too. You could check https://www.technocooks.com if you want a different “menu.”

    I’ll better check the archived posts from your site. Ciao!

  • Julie B.

    “‘What happens to the potato farmers in Idaho when only people in Idaho buy their potatoes?'”

    “Why do they have to grow just potatoes? If they were growing a variety of things they could probably sell it all within a much smaller area, in addition to the other benefits Pollan explains.”

    You’ve never been to Idaho, have you? The farmers there would starve to death if they only grew for local consumption.

    It’s just not that simple to say, “Well, they should grow other things — a variety of things.” Different crops require different infrastructures. You have to have a place to sell what you produce, and a booth at a farmer’s market that nets a couple hundred bucks a day during harvest season is laughable. If I’m an Idaho potato farmer I know I can sell to Simplot. Who would buy other things?

    That’s not even touching the capital investments that individual crops require just to grow them. “Just grow different things” would require huge capital investments.

  • Julie B.

    Of course you can buy Idaho russets in Idaho. My larger point is that growing lots of different things is much easier to say than to accomplish.

    I think Pollan has some good points, but I don’t believe you can turn the clock on American agriculture as far back as he wants to without causing food shortages.