Monday, February 15, 2010

Thoughts on Pollan and King Corn

A few months ago I was introduced to Michael Pollan - not the man, just his writing.

I was reading one of my favorite blogs and was shocked and disheartened by some of the conclusions the author was drawing about farming, specifically corn farming, from her research on whole foods and healthy eating.

Her post reviewing the movie King Corn and introducing me to Pollan inspired some dialogue and caused me to dig into a genre of writing I otherwise would have never exposed myself to.

Here are my thoughts on The Omnivore's Dilemma as well as the movie King Corn:

1. Pollan is a brilliant writer.

His ability to give corn anthropomorphic qualities as he weaves his tale of corn domination is second to none. But let's be real. Hybrid corn came about to raise yields to feed the masses, increase consistency and improve farm profitability. Food is a necessity and there are a lot of hungry people in our world. Corn is an efficient source of food energy, it can be stored and transported long distances without spoiling and there are many ways it can be used in the food we eat. By including corn in livestock feed rations we are increasing the availability of quality protein sources.

2. People should be more conscious of what they eat.

This includes reading labels and a balanced understanding how their food is produced. How does this happen? We desperately need to start placing more value on the life skills classes and lessons taught in our schools. This includes home economics and agriculture classes. The lessons I learned in my ag classes, I carry with me to this day: how plants grow, how animals grow, how to work hard, responsibility, and leadership. The Ag in the Classroom program is a great way to integrate these important lessons into science classes but we can't only rely on science classes. How do we do this in urban areas? Check out the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences.

This is also a matter of personal choice. Once people have a balanced understanding of how their food is produced, let them make their own decisions.

I do not buy organic produce at the grocery store. I understand integrated pest management (IPM) and how overuse of pesticide affects the bottom line. As a farmer, I trust the produce farmers to make good IPM decisions and the government regulations that are in place to protect against those who don't. Same goes for antibiotic use in livestock.

In my own garden, I avoid pesticides. Mainly because I don't want to go into the house and wash my produce before snacking on it in the yard.

I also buy local when it's in season and available - that's only five months at best in the Midwest. And, I would rather the people I know benefit from my purchase. These are choices I'm happy I have the freedom to make.

3. We all need to look at the bigger picture.

We are a food insecure nation and world. There are too many people who can't afford enough food or simply don't have access to it. Before we begin a campaign to raise food prices so people eat less, let's improve people's ability to get healthy food.

Obesity and the diseases that accompany it are also part of the bigger picture. Why are people obese? We eat too much and move too little. I love Michelle's Obama's new Let's Move initiative. And, I love what she said, "Our kids did not do this to themselves..." We need to be parents. We need to say "NO" to all the snacking, turn off the televisions and game systems and encourage our kids to get outside and move.

I understand there are environmental concerns. We can always do better. Locally, I am not alarmed. Because of the efficiency of hybrid corn, fertilizer and pesticides, we can produce more corn using less fertilizer and nitrogen than ever before. And, advances in technology and practices are continuously being made. We know that we must be good stewards of the land we farm, with no exceptions. Our kids and grand kids will one day rely on the very same land to make a living and a life.

I am concerned about the conflicting, agenda based science that is out there. I am also concerned with people's ability to discern science from opinion. No wonder there is so much confusion.

4. The Farm Bureau advocates for farmers.

Just like a union. And, because so many people are so far removed from the farm is it crucial that this grassroots organization continue to be a strong link and source of information to those making policy decisions in our capital cities. The Farm Bureau absolutely represents our family's farming operation.

5. I believe in personal responsibility.

I recently did The Quantum Cleanse. I had to give up gluten for two weeks. I read every label before eating. Even with the High Fructose Corn Syrup, I eat loads more gluten than corn. Is this the government's fault or some evil wheat plant's? No. It's my fault for not choosing to eat a more balanced diet. Something that I will strive to change since my return to normal eating.

6. Agarian romaticism is alive and thriving. Thank you Mike Wilson for naming it for me.

This theme was challenging for me to wrap my head around. Why in the world would anyone want to return to the labor intensive, low yielding ways of the past?

Then it occurred to me. People are so far removed from their farming roots that's all they remember or have read about in children's story books. They want to return to their fairytale version of farming and the perceived simplicity that comes with it, not the reality of modern farming that feeds our world.

They also want to feel connected to their food, just like we do. We know where our meat comes from - it's the farm down the road. We know what it takes to grow the lettuce, potatoes, tomatoes, beans, etc. we eat. We plant, nurture and harvest it. I fed my family a balanced diet of mostly whole foods before ever reading Pollan or seeing King Corn, because that is what most farm families do.

People also want to feel connected to their neighbors. Our community may not look like it did 50 years ago but it still a agriculture based community with businesses that support a strong farming industry. It is a community where everyone knows your name, cares about your well-being and helps out others in need.

Pollan was an interesting, compelling read. The young men in King Corn were endearing. I don't disagree with the underlying theme: People need to eat better. I just disagree with how they get there.

1 comment:

  1. For anyone interested, here is a great article presenting the other side of Pollan and King Corn: