3 March 2014

The Omnivore's Dilemma

I recently finished Michael Pollan's book, The Omnivore's Dilemma. It's a slow and thoughtful reflection on the modern diet options of Americans, ranging from industrial agriculture (based heavily on corn), large organic farms, sustainable "grass farming," and foraging. One thing, discussed in the book, that I'd never given much thought to is how U.S. subsidies end up funding every food producer that utilizes corn, whether its the meat industry, which feeds corn to beeves and chickens, or the other processed food industries that stick corn syrup in virtually everything. U.S. tax-payers are essentially subsidizing the very foods that make them unhealthy and help raise the costs of their healthcare. At the end of the book, Pollan has some interesting philosophical reflections on the ethics of meat-eating, concluding that meat can be ethical if it's produced on farms where the animals move around freely and live according to their natural animal dispositions. If Americans adopted this attitude, it would vastly reduce U.S. meat consumption--which wouldn't be a bad thing. In my own case, I rarely eat meat except for fish. I suppose I could reduce the number of eggs I eat so that I don't support the poultry industry which is said to be one of the least humane.

In related news, Idaho just passed Senate Bill 1337, an "ag-gag" bill. The “agricultural production interference” act contains at least two provisions that fit the definition of an “ag-gag” law. First, anyone who misrepresents himself or herself in obtaining employment in agricultural production will face charges. Second, anyone who records a video or takes picture in a facility not open to the public will also be charged with a misdemeanor.  It isn't enough that corporate agriculture goes to great lengths to hide their practices from the public. Now, it's illegal for reporters to expose practices that are dangerous or ethically questionable.

P.S. I just came across a review of the book by Tyler Cowan. This is one of the worst reviews of a book I've ever seen--I'm quite sure that the author didn't read any more than  a blurb on the cover. You can see my comments (Comment #1) on Slate.


Vancouver Voyeur said...

It's scary how much power corporations have over every facet of our lives. I worked for Monsanto back in the 80s, long before the Internet and my own awareness of corporate and Agri-business control. I don't like the chemicals, hormones, influence peddling in Congress, and GMOs. I eat organic and heritage seed based plants whenever I can, but nowhere near enough. I'm currently trying to ween myself off wheat and dairy per my allergist's orders because of health problems. Once I master those, I will move to eliminating processed foods and sugars.

Tom Harper said...

I think there should be a boycott of Idaho. Between their new Ag Gag law and their determination to kill every last wolf and coyote in the state -- who needs them.

I hope that some farmers -- of the non-factory persuasion -- will undercut the factory farms by advertising that they "have nothing to hide," that "we won't put you in jail for filming our procedures," etc.

Karlo said...

In the last few years, I've slowly adjusted to a more wholesome diet. I've pretty much stopped eating all added sugar and have cut excessive salt as well. I'd like to limit dairy but have a hard time replacing my daily yoghurt. In the book, I personally found the in-depth discussion of Polyface Farm very inspiring. Hopefully, more of these will appear. As the book mentions, our current subsidies and laws are designed to thwart these farms while subsidizing their large corporate competitors.