Thoughts Inspired by Michael Pollan, Prophet

This is a part of my loose series about food which started with this introduction, and continued with this

Never heard of Michael Pollan?  Read this, and this, and this.

1. We spend an enormous amount treating chronic illnesses caused by our diet choices.  Conservative estimates are in the 500 Billion range.  The food industry in a symbiotic relationship with the health industry–our food makes us sick, our healthcare system treats us and sends us home with a bill.  Why isn’t this a more prominent part of the health care debate?

2. For various complicated reasons having to do with the cold war (see Larry Norman’s Great American Novel), food prices rose exponentially in the ’70s causing that political-social genius known as Richard Nixon to restructure our agriculture system, setting up the modern subsidy system, which pays farmers to a) develop a monoculture of either soy or corn, and b) dump that soy and corn into a bad market causing food prices to plummet.  The problem being that monoculture goes against 10,000 years of agricultural wisdom and has devastated our environment. 

3. As a result of #2 above, food corporations must process food to give it value in order to maximize profits.  Processed food is at best less healthy and at worst very, very unhealthy, which explains why we have the healthcare problem stated in #1, and why diseases such as type 2 diabetes and obesity have skyrocketed since the ’70s. 


2. It takes 10 pounds of grain to produce 1 pound of beef.  This is unethical for two reasons: 1) In consuming it 1lb of beef we are stealing 9 lbs of grain from someone who needs it more than us. 2) The greenhouse gas emissions from the process is killing our planet.  Cows that eat grass do not compete with humans for crops that we can eat, and are less harmful on the environment, and may actually reverse the effects of greenhouse gasses (carbon fixing).  Looks like my beef stew recipe needs amending.

3. Swine flu is not caused by eating pork.  However, swine flu came into existence in a pork processing plant as a result of the way that we process pork (think back to the first outbreak of H1N1, there were multiple report of how UN health officials traced the origin of the flu to a pork processing factory in Mexico).

4. Holy Shit!  The Bible was right!  Which animals were the Israelites allowed to eat?  The ones that chewed the cud i.e. ATE GRASS.  Which animals weren’t the Israelites allowed to eat?  The one’s whose production and processing is harmful to the well-being of humans and the planet.



  1. I believe he was also involved in the movie “Food Inc.” which will blow your mind. I’ve also seen “King Corn” and some movie about seeds that I don’t remember the title of.

    Seriously though, I’ve found my food habits to be among the most difficult to change. We’ve made the move to only buying organic free range meats, but that means we eat meat a lot less cause that junk is expensive!

    We’d like to make the move to local and organic food completely but we can only afford a % of our veggies to be that.

    Great ideas.


  2. Hold on, so now you’re saying that the dietary laws of the Pentateuch were designed to prevent global warming, to provide healthy dietary standards, or to enforce agricultural lifestyles (or all of the above)? How in the hell do you justify that kind of reading?


  3. What I am saying (or maybe what I should have said) is that the dietary laws of Leviticus seem to have found a new cultural context in our culture of overconsuption and apathy about where our food comes from. I wouldn’t contend that my reading is the one the biblical author intended, but it is one that has resonance with the ethical decisions we are faced with today.


  4. Let me preface by saying: I am a member of a CSA. I buy organic when I can find it in Texas. I have eaten at Chez Panisse on several occasions. I shop at farmers markets and natural grocery stores. So I’m not against any of this stuff.

    But I think the conversation has to be more nuanced than Pollan makes it. I’ve yet to hear him address issues of poverty and food costs. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve dropped $100 on a week’s groceries at the farmers market and then felt guilty passing the homeless guy on the street begging for change. “Nope, sorry. I just bought $7/pint strawberries.” Would that money be better spent elsewhere? I don’t know, but I do know that right now the majority of organic food and marketing, including Pollan’s work, seems directed at the wealthy.

    I think the issues of food and food security needs to be included in this conversation. An impoverished family, with our industrialized agriculture, can generally eat on the cheap, and eat healthy if they choose, comparatively speaking. That is important and has a social justice component as well.

    I guess what I’m saying is that I’m hesitant to demonize industrial ag and deify organic food. I think there has to be a mixture of both. The farmer’s market movement and the organic/local food movement pitches a solution too close to a kind of neo-medievalism which like its predecessor tends to favor the rich and wealthy.

    I have this debate with my wife all the time. She usually wins. 🙂


  5. I am heartened, I should say, by churches or community organizations who are planting urban gardens and putting this kind of food in the hands and under the control of the poor. Places like WE Gardens and Community Church Without Walls in Birmingham, Ala.


  6. Good words, David. It is certainly a very complex series of issues, and often good intended actions have unintended negative consequences especially on the poor.

    At this point it feels like a catch-22, since the destruction of our environment is also seriously harming the poorest of the poor, and will most likely continue to do so.

    I too am heartened by churches growing food and placing it under the control of the poor, that sort of thing is something of a dream of mine.



  7. At this point it feels like a catch-22, since the destruction of our environment is also seriously harming the poorest of the poor, and will most likely continue to do so…

    True, and we haven’t even touched on the exploitation of migrant labor!


  8. I don’t think that supporting corporate takeover of farming will deprive “the poor” (ie-me) of food so long as we make small farming sustainable again and encouraged local food exchange and penalized globalized food markets.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s