I just recently read journalist Michael Pollan’s memo to the next President (it’s really long but worth the read). After reading it, I think there needs to be a food czar– just like the drug czar– only this position would likely be a lot more effective. This person would help direct food policy and oversee both the compromised and castrated FDA and USDA.
Michael Pollan probably knows more about food policy than any other American after researching his two excellent books The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food, so he is the obvious choice for food czar. I’d like to hear what others think and who they would like to see as food czar or members of the food czar’s staff.
That said, I have a couple of quibbles about his memo in the NY Times magazine.
1. His idea for an “oil calorie count” on packaged food, while well-intentioned, would only add to the confusion already presented by nutrition labels and bold nutritional claims plastered on the packaging. If consumers have to wade through any more information to try and decide what’s good and ethical to eat, they could just say “Screw it” and eat what they want, labels be damned.
2. His proposal to require institutions like schools, prisons and universities to source a certain amount of food from within 100 miles could also pose a problem. Small producers may not be able to meet the demand and would have to expand in order to do so, which would lead to not necessarily Big Food, but bigger food, which is exactly what we’re trying to move away from.
3. Pollan’s memo stops short at a very critical point in the food chain. Sure, it’s a great idea to grow more food locally and for more people to have gardens, but what happens when the harvest comes in? Some of it can be sold at Farmer’s Markets and in CSA boxes, but we’ll need food for winter, so someone’s got to preserve the excess.
Back when we were a more agrarian society, most women were still at home and could spend their days in late summer pickling, canning and preserving the bounty of home gardens for winter. It’s no small task to to tackle a few bushels of tomatoes or corn or cucumbers (not to mention the work that goes into tending a large garden), so in order to revert to a more localized food system, some people are going to have to leave the work force, and more likely, because this is kitchen work, it will be women who leave the work force, which presents two pressing questions: Can our economy withstand a large part of the population leaving the workforce to stay home to garden and preserve food and is this really what women want after decades of fighting for equal rights at work?
I’m not saying a more localized food economy is a pipe dream, but there are some serious issues to consider before we turn our backs on food processing done by corporate giants.
4. Pollan talks about regaining our food culture, which I think needs to be done regardless. Believe it or not, there are still people alive who remember what it was like to gather wild greens, can tomatoes, and butcher your own hog. We need to learn from these people NOW before it’s too late. They have a vast store of food wisdom based upon generations of traditions that’s not necessarily found in cookbooks. What’s more, this would be a way to engage our older citizens who are frequently marginalized in our youth-obsessed culture.
So, this is just some food for thought for Mr. Pollan and those of us who share many of his sensibilities about food. There are no easy answers to reforming our food system, but change is definitely in the air.