Nick Kristoff gets Michael Pollanized

I really like Nick Kristoff. He likes to dig in hard to see things from all sides. And then he takes a stand. Here I'm not so sure he dug into the other side.

Growing up on a farm near Yamhill, Ore., I quickly learned to appreciate the difference between fresh, home-grown foods and the commercial versions in the supermarket.

Store-bought lettuce was always lush, green and pristine, and thus vastly preferable to lettuce from my Mom’s vegetable garden (organic before we called it that). Her lettuce kept me on my toes, because a caterpillar might come crawling out of my salad.

We endured endless elk and venison — my Dad is still hunting at age 90 — or ate beef from steers raised on our own pasture, but “grass-fed” had no allure for me. I longed for delicious, wholesome food that my friends in town ate. Like hot dogs.

Over the years, though, I’ve become nostalgic for an occasional bug in my salad...profoundly unhealthy American diet.

I’ve often criticized America’s health care system, .... But one reason for our health problems is our industrialized agriculture system....

A terrific new documentary, “Food, Inc.,” playing in cinemas nationwide, offers a powerful and largely persuasive diagnosis of American agriculture...(It was particularly unnerving to see leftover animal bits washed over with ammonia and ground into “hamburger filler.”....)

“The way we eat has changed more in the last 50 years than in the previous 10,000,” Michael Pollan, the food writer, declares in the film.

What’s even more eerie is the way animals are being re-engineered. For example, most Americans prefer light meat to dark, so chickens have been redesigned to produce more white meat by growing massive breasts that make them lopsided... ...“their bones and their internal organs can’t keep up with the rapid growth,” explained Carole Morison, a Maryland chicken farmer .... “A lot of these chickens here, they can take a few steps and then they plop down. It’s because they can’t keep up with all the weight that they’re carrying.”

Huge confinement operations for livestock and poultry produce very cheap meat and eggs. But at what cost?

Agribusiness companies exercise huge political influence, and industry leaders often fill regulatory posts. The Food and Drug Administration consequently dozed, and the number of food safety inspections plunged.

The solutions aren’t simple, and may involve paying more for what we eat, although we may save some of that in reduced health costs for diabetes and heart disease. In any case, “Food, Inc.” notes that we as consumers do have power. “You can vote to change the system,” it declares, “three times a day.”
I can see and fully appreciate where Kristoff and Michael Pollan are coming from. But I do think there is another side. For my own eating habits I'm trying to follow Pollan's advice. At the same time, I don't think that recipe will work for the whole world. For the real poor in developing nations, we need cheap food. Cheap food means cheap food staples, like corn. Cheap corn means cheap meat. And for most of us in rich countries, well, that hot dog just tastes so good and is so, so affordable.


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