Monday, July 21, 2008

Sanity in the Debate Over Food and Agriculture

I was deeply affected by reading Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals recently. In it, I discovered that there is a myth of the pastoral farm that is in stark contrast with the reality of the modern food production system (see the Meatrix), and that much of what we call food is entirely synthetic. Profits from food manufacture go up with the amount of processing that the manufacturer provides, leading us to a tremendously processed food supply. Reading this was a good way to get inspired to pay attention to the source of our food and start to visit the local farmers' markets.
One thing nagged at me, and Pollan only paid passing reference to it in his book. That is the question of how can you scale this up to serve the whole country, or more to the point, the whole world? It is impossible to read the book and not fall in love with Polyface Farms, but the fact of the matter is that we do not have the land or the resources to feed everybody from farms like Polyface.
I was pleased to see a little piece in the Austin American Statesman on this today called "Microgreens for the Masses". In it, the author outlines some practical recommendations for change with a very sensible realpolitik tone. If you're interested in this kind of thing, click on over. Then write your senator...


Jenni said...

I saw a news report recently about a family run farm in eastern Travis county that has been growing organic veggies for years and selling to individuals and at farmers markets. The recent housing boom in the area has taken a drastic toll on the water table the farm uses to irrigate and for their home. They have so little water pressure now that the woman has to take her children to the YMCA to take showers. She has wash their close at the local laundry mat. Their crops have suffered badly and their cash crop of tomatoes was non-existent this year (and wouldn't have been affected by the scare).

My point is that if our country continues to take away farm land for urban expansion, there will be nowhere left for the farmers to grow natural foods for the population. I hate to see cheap housing going up in former crop fields.

Tim said...

It's a good point. One of the few bright sides to the current economic conditions is that high gas prices are discouraging new suburban development, and the credit crunch is putting the brakes on runaway housing developments in rural area. At this point I'm very glad we didn't opt for Presidential Meadows or Shadow Glen. We'd be hurting in our gas budget and would have tough time selling when I'm done with school.

Jenni said...

I'm embarrassed about my missed spelling error. Sorry!

Tim, I think you guys are in the best location for you, no doubt. There's a mentality in Texas that since we have so much space to build out instead of up. City slickers don't realize how these new developments on the outskirts of Austin are destroying farms and ranches that support their city way of life. If a rancher sells his land and quits raising corn and cows, who will fill the void left behind? It has to come from somewhere.

Anyway, I'm glad the housing boom has slowed down. It was crazy for a while.