Sunday, February 24, 2008

In Defense of Food An Eaters Manifesto-- Michael Pollan-- Review, Future of Food

A Bioshelter (Ecological Solar Greenhouse) At Three Sisters Farm

In Defense of Food An Eaters Manifesto by Michael Pollan is a book which challenges many of the ideas of modern nutrition. Michael Pollan writes about a different way to look at food, one which is more local, and more focused on eating fresh plants; fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Food additives, even vitamins are looked on as suspect in Michael Pollan's view. The idea that you can simply add a vitamin and it will make a food better for you is challenged. Whole foods are easier to digest than vitamins.

Processed foods like white flour, corn sweeteners, and margarine are viewed as a kind of false promise. They do not deliver any health benefits and everything that is good for you has been removed from them. The reason people eat them is that they taste better and are easier to store over long periods. They bring diseases, obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay. According to Michael Pollan these are western dietary problems.

He points out that not everyones diet is universally the same. What is universal in healthy populations is that people eat locally produced fresh food whether it be meat, vegetables, milk, or sea food. Most people are not designed to eat a western diet. I certainly am not. I do not do well with milk, corn, pork, or fish. Many things like cheeseburgers and milkshakes don't make me feel that well.

The author even sees some problems with organic produce. Organic food often is shipped from California and China is not that fresh. I personally find the substitute foods in many organic markets just as disturbing as pumping things full of additives. Things like sesame butter, gluten hot dogs, tofu ice cream, carob and similar fair don't seem that healthy to me. There are also a proliferation of unhealthy health food fad diets which come out of organic markets.

In Michael Pollan's view the best diet comes from your local farmers market and your CSA-- community supported agriculture initiatives. You should eat locally from local grown produce. He suggests that you grow a garden or get involved in gardening to produce your own food. This is the healthiest food you can produce in his view. Try and find grain fed beef and chicken if you must eat dairy and meat.

The author further creates a philosophy of eating where one eats slowly with company, avoids eating fast food, sticks to three meals a day, doesn't eat from convenience stores and gas stations, and eats a variety of different fruits and vegetables in season.

This book is very much a book on how and why to eat locally. It is not just an organic book, it is a book about the philosophy and history of eating. If you like reading about food this book is quite interesting.

The thing missing from this book are photographs and diagrams. There are none. There are only two pages of information on Pp. 229-230 for resources on eathing slow and local food. This could have been more extensive.

This book is on the New York Times Bestseller list. I think it represents a shift in philosophy which is occurring in the background for many Americans. There really has been a greater focus on the idea of community involvement, energy independence, and self-reliance which has been shifting into the mainstream.


I think the future of food is heading towards a disaster where there will simply be not enough land to grow food in an ecological sustainable way. We will end up with things like this. Giant vertical buildings filled with produce. To me this is somewhat of a nightmare. But, it is something which they are really considering doing. It is kind of funny, there was even a fake article put out claiming that Las Vegas was going to build a vertical farm in 2010. It really is not very likely.

I think the original concept came out of the work of John Todd with his bioshelter farm concept. There are a number of bioshelter farms already in place. A bioshelter is a kind of solar greenhouse built on ecological principals. I think the vertical farm concept is taking a bioshelter and moving it from horizontal to vertical.


Pam Hoffman said...

And if you live in an area where it snows all winter long, what? you starve?

I know that you can 'can' foods. That gets pretty old after a few months, assuming you plan that well.

We may not have the best system yet; we do have 'fresh' carrots in Northern Ohio (where i was born & raised, i live in Southern CA now).

My mother used to can peaches and some jellies. I can only imagine what it would have taken to get us thru even one winter - the work during the growing and canning season and then the storage during the winter. God help us if the jars ever broke.

I suppose if you raised your own chickens you COULD have fresh eggs & their flesh in the winter - I don't even know if they will lay eggs in the winter.

You're from NY, what would you do? Lots of folks live in apartments. Would they put their canned produce everywhere in the winter and the jars stacked high in the summer??

This is a nice sentiment, I'm not sure how practical it is in some areas of the world though.

Pam Hoffman

Book Calendar said...

You are right in most senses it is not very practical. However, you do run up against a wall in some cases. The real objective I think isn't to turn off modern agriculture but to change it.

The focus is not so much fruits and vegetables but things like processed sugar pops, twinkies, fruit jello, and soda. Also things like vitamin fortified candy bars.

I am not sure that the author has a problem with natural products being shipped short distances. He objects to having food shipped from China and Brazil over view long hauls to the United States.

I think the author is objecting to large factory farms. Things like monoculture corn fields, soybean fields, and banana plantations.

If you think about it, smaller farms produce more per acre. Also things like biodynamic agriculture, and greenhouse agriculture are not attacked by the author. Greenhouses run all year round.

The focus is more on creating a cleaner more local agriculture.

The central idea is to grow agriculture closer to where people live. Part of this is energy cost. You can still have a large farm. Shorter trips cost less gas and diesel.

Food transportation is going to go up in price, especially things like milk, egss, and other refrigerated perishables. Milk costs as much as gasoline right now.

Something to remember is that the fastest growing segment of farming is organic farming which is growing at a pace of over 20% a year, farmers markets have doubled in number in the last 12 years.

Because of the cost of fuel, it has ceased being profitable for many small farms, they simply go out of business if they don't find more local customers. They can't compete with heavily subsidized big farms.