Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Pollan row

I attended the panel discussion with Michael Pollan at Cal Poly today. For those unfamiliar with Pollan's work, he is the author of, amongst other works, "The Omnivore's Dilemma", a vastly popular look at 4 meals, from the field or ranch to the table. Pollan is an extremely vocal critic of industrial agriculture.

Pollan was supposed to have delivered a lecture. But a major donor to the College of Ag, Harris Ranch, threatened to withdrawn it's support if Pollan was allowed to speak, without presenting a "balanced" view.

Cal Poly pussed out. The lecture was changed to a panel discussion. All the introductory remarks, by the Dean of Ag and then the moderator, included hopes about respect for divergent opinions.

Pollan addressed this issue first off, despite the moderator attempting to dive right in. He called kow-towing to donors a threat to academic freedom. And I agree. Will Cal Poly now check with it's donors to see if all the speakers invited to address students are acceptable?

Dr. Gary Smith, an academic meat-science guy from Colorado State, thinks food should be cheap and convenience food should be available so all those soccer moms can be chauffeurs for their children, instead of slaving away all day in the kitchen. Pollan replied that, yes, organic, free-range foods are more expensive. But there is a correlation between the availability of cheap, fast food and the epidemic of obesity and Type 2 diabetes in this country. That crap that looks cheap costs us plenty. Would you rather pay the farmer, or the doctor?

One point made was the almost complete disappearance of home economics programs in schools. Home Ec, not just for girls, for everyone. The audience endorsed this idea with a round of applause. Earlier this week, I assembled a pot of turkey chili, enough for 3 meals. We had one meal yesterday and the other two are in the freezer. It took a total of 15 minutes prep time. Are we as Americans truly that busy in our multi-tasking, over-scheduled lives that no one has time to throw a batch of soup in a crock pot? And what about these kids being schlepped around? Don't they have feet? Couldn't they ride a bike to some of their activities? Also, a 14 year old should be perfectly capable of preparing a decent meal. Scramble an egg and make a piece of toast, at the very least?

Pollan's final point was that farmers have one answer to climate change. Apparently, and I didn't know this, soil can hold amazing amounts of CO2. By supporting sustainable farming techniques, we can help combat global warming AND eat better and enjoy better health. It's a win-win-win situation.

I'd have to say that Harris Ranch gave this event more steam than it probably wanted to. The PAC was full, mostly with supporters of Pollan's ideas. The conversations I heard, the tee shirts wore by the attendees, the flyers distributed, all lead me to believe that David Wood shot his company in the foot. It would be very interesting to see the profit and loss statement for this company for the month of October.

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