food system thoughts

A friend and I were email-discussing this Sunday’s NYT magazine piece by Michael Pollan, whose recent work on food and the American food system is really superb. But he stops short of real policy recommendations to create the “right” incentives instead of the perverse ones currently on offer. Here's an excerpt of what I was saying (at the beginning, I qualify to his suggestion that we need to retrain many farmers in order to reduce the massive surplus of commodity corn, wheat, and soy).

I don't know – I actually disagree some about "retraining" because don't we actually need more farmers of smaller size, producing more diverse crops in more places?

If anything the human cogs in the monsanto / cargill / adm machine should be retrained in managing sustainable farm ecosystems (on their own). So we should create systematic incentives for consumers to want high quality local, sustainable, seasonal food; for distributors to make it available to consumers; and for producers themselves to disperse so as to reduce, if not strictly minimize, distance from field to table for most of what we eat.

For me as a consumer, the only incentive I need is sublime fresh food. Fresh green zebra, black cherokee, and brandywine tomatoes in august keep me from buying tomatoes the rest of the year. Two caveats: I know I am an anomaly in that level of zealotry (or devotion to tomatoes), and I do feel somewhat hypocritical with respect to geographic-heritage foods like Parmigiano-Reggiano.

But I think Pollan shares my problem: not eveyone is, shall we say, enraptured by food as I am (and I would venture he is). I hope you read his last article in the nytm. It feels like he, though much more knowledgable and eloquent than I, still quickly reaches the point of, "Doesn't the food just speak to you??" — if it doesn't, then where do we start to change the food system? It's very frustrating.

There's still a market, senseless to some of us, for out-of season shit from far away; for factory farmed meats (truly don't get how anyone could shop at a grocery store after having anything fresh – the time from slaughter is at least several more days, not to mention the other problems); for any and all the products of preservatives and new!improved! marketing.

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