Community Message Boards
Results 1 to 15 of 15

Thread: New Michael Pollan article: You Are What You Grow

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Oct 2000
    Location
    Orlando, FL
    Posts
    3,452

    New Michael Pollan article: You Are What You Grow

    From the NYT: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/22/ma...erland&emc=rss

    The gist of it is, the farm bill, that goes before Congress every 5 years, is coming up for renewal this year, so if people want to see changes in the US's food policy (like, stop subsidizing products that make us unhealthier), now is the time to write your congress-person!
    Anne

    When you start to cook, as when you begin to live, you think that the point is to improve the technique until you end up with something perfect, and that the reason you haven’t been able to break the cycle of desire and disillusion is that you haven’t yet mastered the rules. Then you grow up, and you learn that that’s the game.

    Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Dec 2005
    Location
    One Particular Harbour
    Posts
    2,375
    Is this the article from Sunday's Times magazine? I thought that article was fantastic - lots of information I was not necessarily aware of.

    Why is it that the media pushes information like American Idol and the like incessantly (I am not against seeing "lighter" feature stories, but i don't think they should be the leading story every day), and yet issues like this have far more impact on our lives.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Oct 2000
    Location
    Orlando, FL
    Posts
    3,452
    BucknellAlum, it probably is - I just saw it online today.

    And boy do I agree with you about the media! Although I think we all know exactly why they do it - there is more money to be made in pushing celebrity gossip than in talking about real, complex issues.
    Anne

    When you start to cook, as when you begin to live, you think that the point is to improve the technique until you end up with something perfect, and that the reason you haven’t been able to break the cycle of desire and disillusion is that you haven’t yet mastered the rules. Then you grow up, and you learn that that’s the game.

    Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Aug 2002
    Location
    Maine
    Posts
    316
    Thanks for posting.

    Pam

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Dec 2005
    Location
    One Particular Harbour
    Posts
    2,375
    I thought I would call out some of the article so people could get a taste (pun intended! ) of what his thesis is:

    Among other things, it [the farm bill ] determines which crops will be subsidized and which will not, and in the case of the carrot and the Twinkie, the farm bill as currently written offers a lot more support to the cake than to the root. Like most processed foods, the Twinkie is basically a clever arrangement of carbohydrates and fats teased out of corn, soybeans and wheat three of the five commodity crops that the farm bill supports, to the tune of some $25 billion a year. (Rice and cotton are the others.) For the last several decades indeed, for about as long as the American waistline has been ballooning U.S. agricultural policy has been designed in such a way as to promote the overproduction of these five commodities, especially corn and soy.


    And then, this really got me:

    But such is the perversity of the farm bill: the nations agricultural policies operate at cross-purposes with its public-health objectives. And the subsidies are only part of the problem. The farm bill helps determine what sort of food your children will have for lunch in school tomorrow. The school-lunch program began at a time when the public-health problem of Americas children was undernourishment, so feeding surplus agricultural commodities to kids seemed like a win-win strategy. Today the problem is overnutrition, but a school lunch lady trying to prepare healthful fresh food is apt to get dinged by U.S.D.A. inspectors for failing to serve enough calories; if she dishes up a lunch that includes chicken nuggets and Tater Tots, however, the inspector smiles and the reimbursements flow. The farm bill essentially treats our children as a human Disposall for all the unhealthful calories that the farm bill has encouraged American farmers to overproduce. (emphasis mine)

  6. #6
    Thanks for posting Anne - this was very informative. I had a vague idea about the farm bill and subsidies, but I had no idea about the effects of surplus crops on other countries. I'll be writing my congressman...and encouraging others to as well. Any idea if there is some sort of "form letter"?

  7. #7
    For anyone's who's interested, there's a great advocacy group called "Bread for the World" and a big focus for them this year is Farm Bill reform. They have lots of resources and info on contacting your congressmen. I saw a wonderful video from them on this topic.

    http://www.bread.org/take-action/rec...of-change.html

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Oct 2000
    Location
    Orlando, FL
    Posts
    3,452
    Quote Originally Posted by leightx View Post
    I'll be writing my congressman...and encouraging others to as well. Any idea if there is some sort of "form letter"?
    I haven't seen one, but I haven't looked yet either. I plan on writing my congress people about this, but I haven't quite figured out exactly what to say!! Not knowing precisely what the farm bill says, and not having time to read it all, makes it very difficult. I'm thinking I will include a link to the above article, and ask them to please work on eliminating subsidies for the overproduction of corn and soy. I'll take any better ideas on what to say, though - I will have to research that link jnoel posted.
    Anne

    When you start to cook, as when you begin to live, you think that the point is to improve the technique until you end up with something perfect, and that the reason you haven’t been able to break the cycle of desire and disillusion is that you haven’t yet mastered the rules. Then you grow up, and you learn that that’s the game.

    Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker

  9. #9
    Here's the "quickie" sample letter from Bread for the World. There's a longer one on their site as well.

    Sample Letter

    The Two-Minute Letter
    An effective letter to Congress needs only 3 things:

    1. Put your name and address at the end of your letter AND on the envelope.

    Members of Congress want to know that you are one of the people they represent.

    2. Ask for specific action from Congress

    Use the sentences below or your own words:

    I ask you to improve our nation's farm policy to provide better and broader support for U.S. farmers, strengthen communities in rural America, help hungry people in this country afford a sufficient and nutritious diet, and support the efforts of farmers in developing countries to sell their crops and feed their families.

    3. Give a reason

    Say something about your motivation and/or state a fact. Chose from the list below or share your own reason.

    Our current farm policy provides large payments to some farmers but does little to help farmers and other rural families of modest means.


    Our current farm policy also hurts farmers and rural communities in developing countries.


    In the United States, 35 million people live in families that struggle to put food on the table. Some of poorest areas in the country are rural.

  10. #10
    Thanks jnoel - that was exactly the kind of thing I was looking for. And welcome to the boards!

  11. #11
    Wow! I also had no idea our farm bill affected other countries so strongly. I am so grateful to Michael Pollan for giving us this info because I really had no clue how Twinkies with a zillion ingredients and preservatives and a marketing budget could be cheaper than carrots - it is all in the subsidies.

    Thanks for posting this terrific article beacooker!

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Feb 2005
    Location
    Wyoming MI
    Posts
    240
    Amen.

    It's also nice to see that this article is on the NY Times "most e-mailed" list today.

    Information is good.
    Be the change you wish to see in the kitchen.

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Nov 2005
    Location
    NYC
    Posts
    93
    I am really glad to see this thread. I am a Food Studies graduate student at New York University. Many of my classes have discussed these issues. I have always argued that it's more than just academics or fringe groups that are concerned with our food supply. I strongly believe that people everywhere are concerned with these issues, and that it's not apathy, but rather a lack of information, that puts us in our current position. It's the middle of finals. I typically do a quick lurk to unwind. Seeing this thread has really given me a positive feeling.

    I think I have seen mention of her before on this board...but if anyone is really interested in this topic, Marion Nestle's books are incredible. Her book "What to Eat" is a must read for anyone who is thoughtful of the food they eat.
    Last edited by punkin; 04-25-2007 at 11:52 PM. Reason: more info

  14. #14
    I am grateful to Michael Pollan for writing about these issues...which are truly close to my heart.

    Michael Pollan's two books are also highly recommended reading,

    "Omnivore's Dilemma" (an expose of what truly goes on in feedlots) and "The Botany of Desire". Both available at Amazon.com and some libraries. Changed my eating habits forever!!

    Dolores
    "we can't go 'round measuring our goodness by what we don't do, by what we deny ourselves, what we resist and who we exclude...
    we've got to measure goodness by what we embrace, what we create, and who we include."
    Pierre Henri in Chocolat
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    www.photographybydolores.com

  15. #15

    Not Accurate:

    • The poor buy “junk food” because it is cheaper than non-processed food.


    If the buying selections of the poor were price based then you would expect to see a low incidence of smoking among the poor. Likewise you would expect to them not to eat fast food because that is more expensive than home cooking. However, income and smoking are negatively correlated as are income and eating fast food. This also tells us the buying selections of the poor are not based primarily on price and that they tend to make poor health decisions.

    If you work with the poor you quickly find that one reason they eat “junk food” is that they don’t cook. Many of the poor can’t cook – they don’t know the first thing about cooking.



    • The difference in price between a pair of Twinkies and a pound of carrots is due to crop subsidizes.


    Ok, in April carrots in Delaware cost $0.99/pound. A pair of Twinkies is $0.78. The difference is 21 cents. How much wheat can you buy for $0.21?


    price/bushel
    bushels/ton
    price/ton
    price/pound
    wheat
    $4.30
    36.7437
    $ 158.00
    $ 0.08
    corn
    $3.20
    39.36825
    $ 125.98
    $ 0.06
    soybeans
    $6.50
    36.7437
    $ 238.83
    $ 0.12

    According to the chart above you can buy about 2.7 pounds of wheat for 21 cents. A pound of wheat yields about 0.7 pounds of bread. (A pound of wheat yields about 0.85 pounds of flour. A pound of flour yields about 0.8 pounds of bread.) So our 21 cent difference equals 1.84 pounds of bread. Our pair of Twinkies weighs 3 ounces or 0.19 pounds. According to the above formula it takes 0.28 pounds of wheat to produce 0.19 pounds of bread.

    Professor Pollan’s argument is then that without price supports 0.28 pounds of wheat would cost $0.21 more than it does today. That equals and additional $0.75/pound (0.21/0.28)

    That means that without supports wheat would be $0.83/pound ($0.08+$0.75). That is roughly 10 times higher than it is today. In other words, wheat price supports reduce its price by about 90%.

    It is easy to see that Professor Pollan is a professor of journalism and not agricultural economics.



    • Why are “the least healthful calories in the supermarket” (corn, soybeans, wheat) cheaper than fruits and vegetables?


    The difference is caused by how the crops are grown, harvested, transported and stored.

    Commodities such as corn, soybeans and wheat are capital intensive. To produce a living these crops require much land and expensive equipment. Fruits and vegetables are the opposite. They are labor intensive. With labor there are almost no economies of scale. This is one reason why 2,000 acre wheat farms are fairly common while 2,000 acre carrot farms are rare.

    There are also transportation and storage differences. Again the commodities can easily be handled and stored using large equipment. Whole ships and trains can be loaded with minimum labor requirement. When grain elevators are full, corn and wheat are just piled on the ground until they can be shipped. Properly stored in grain elevators commodity crops can last years. Fruits and vegetables require boxing and refrigeration. They are very perishable and prone to bruising. This is why you will never see a 60 foot high pile of cucumbers sitting on the ground outside a cucumber elevator.

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •