Thursday, December 4, 2008

Being a Producer

A Bill Moyers TV interview with local food advocate Michael Pollan (my hero!)-- you can watch it here:

MICHAEL POLLAN: Make yourself a real producer. Put in a garden. I mean, that is not a trivial thing. You know, it sounds kind of sweet and old lady-like. But gardens are very powerful things.

BILL MOYERS: How so? What do you mean? Powerful things.

MICHAEL POLLAN: Not only will you discover that a very small plot of land, my garden now is only 10 foot by 20 foot, produces so much produce, I need to give it away. I have to spend time figuring out how to get rid of it. So you will actually get some of the healthiest, freshest food you can possibly get. It is the shortest food chain of all. But it teaches certain habits of mind that I think are really, really important. You know, Wendell Berry had a phrase. He talked about our kind of predicament with regard to energy. He said-

BILL MOYERS: -farmer, philosopher in Kentucky, right?

MICHAEL POLLAN: Yeah. And he said, "You know, we're afflicted by this cheap energy mind," that we, because cheap energy has allowed us to outsource so much of our lives. You know, we do one thing, right? We do our job, and everything else, we have a specialist who provides. They entertain us. They feed us. They clothe us. We don't do anything for ourselves anymore. It's one of the reasons that when we look at climate change, we feel so helpless, because we can't imagine doing any more for ourselves.

Well, as soon as you start gardening, it is a cure for the cheap energy mind. You're suddenly realizing that hey, I can use my body in support of my body. I have other skills. I can, you know, I can feed myself, if I needed to. And that is kind of a preparation, I think, for the world we may find ourselves in. But it's very empowering to realize that you're not at the mercy of the supermarket.

BILL MOYERS: We have 6.7 billion people on this earth, wanting to be fed. Do you think that we have a system that it will produce enough food, if we put into effect what you're talking about?

MICHAEL POLLAN: As long as the sun still shines. There is the energy to produce the food. The thing we need to remember, when people ask, "Can we feed the world sustainably?" is that about 40 percent of all the grain we're growing in the world, which is most of what we grow, we are feeding to animals. So there's an awful lot of slack there, if we're not eating nine ounces of meat a day. We're wasting 25 percent of what we're growing. I mean, there is, you know, there is plenty of food, if we organize our agriculture in a proper way.

The 'can we feed the world' argument has been used for 50 years to drive the industrialization of agriculture. It is agri-business propaganda, people who are not interested in feeding the world. They're interesting in driving up productivity, on American farms. Yes, some want to export it. ADM and Cargill want to ship it out to other places, but basically they want their raw materials as cheap as possible. I'm talking about Coca-Cola. I'm talking about McDonald's. And the way you keep you need overproduction to do that. You want your raw materials, if you're producing that McDonald's hamburger, or Coca-Cola, you're dependent on that corn and soy, and the cheaper that is, the more profit you're going to make.

BILL MOYERS: I'm sorry that I can't persuade you or convince you to take the job. You would be a provocative Secretary of Agriculture.

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