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Food

Reading In Defense of Food makes me angry. If even half of the things that its author, Michael Pollan, suggests are true, then it would be reason enough to reorganize the way we grow our foods and decide what to eat. If even a quarter were, it would. And none of them are surprising. They follow from the logic of profit of relegating to business the things necessary for our survive. So long as we treat food as a commodity, so long as we are interested in profits earned over food eaten, we will not eat healthily — or do pretty much anything well. But that’s another story.

Pollan of course puts this in a round-about fashion, which is probably required in writing to the American public. His prose is conversational, simple, and could be understood by an 11th grader — at least, I hope it could. His tone is that of a person who probably could express himself in a more interesting manner, but has practiced not doing so to be sure he is understood. The reasons he does this are probably much the same that lead Naomi Wolf to write The End of America in the way she did: the object of the books is to inform. I didn’t read Wolf’s book, because I already knew everything she had to tell me, but I’m learning stuff from Pollan’s.

Like that ‘refined flour’, or flour that is milled using steel or porcelain rollers to remove the germ from wheat, which wasn’t possible in the old stone mills. This allowed — because removing the germ also removed the enticing nutrients that attracted vermin and the oils that could turn rancid — flour to be treated more as a commodity than as a food, since refined it would have a much longer shelf life and potentially ship over a far greater distance. At the same time, the massive weight of the stones in traditional gristmills meant that they were located, most often, near water, which was channeled over a wheel to turn the stones; the new mills, with their far more manageable machine parts, could be located anywhere. In a single stroke, the switch from stone to steel or porcelain rollers decoupled flour as a commodity from two limiting factors (shelf-life and location) and so allowed for profit speculation to undercut established ways of doing business. Never mind that refined flour has far less nutrients. (Pollan doesn’t go into how this deracination and mobility is necessary for continued profitability as a given industry’s rate of return decreases over time — how, if entrepreneurs wish to compete they must always find ways to cut more corners or squeeze an extra cent here or there. But that probably would be a bit much.)

Or like the whole thing with fixation on quantity over quality. If you can selectively breed your cow (or corn) to produce more salable milk (or ears), this new breed will eventually achieve a hegemonic place in the market, becoming the breed that all commodity farms use. Never mind if this increase in production is really phantasmal, since each gallon (or kernel) contains less of the nutrients that we need (hell, if people need to buy more of a given commodity to get the same nutritional value, it’s a coup for business). So it is with Holstein milk cows (whose produce more of a less potent milk) and whatever the hell new strain of corn Monsanto is developing for our Cokes and biofuels.

All of this is sheer, lunatic madness. Because of it, we can have obese children with rickets. We can have a bloated , diabetic population shambling around breathing heavily as they climb in and out of their cars or climb a single flight of stairs. But again, nothing here is surprising. It’s the end result of how we do business.

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