More good Pollan in the NYTimes mag yesterday, which many others will note, surely.  But I want to underscore one of his most important points.  That eating locally is not a romantic mandate from the Alice Waters camp, and that its impact goes beyond the pleasures of eating seasonal foods and helping out the local farmers, and that it goes beyond reducing the fossil fuels required to ship, say, spinach to New York, which is a main point in his recent book.  It  is this:  “Keeping local food economies healthy—and at the moment they are thriving—is a matter not of sentiment but of critical importance to the national security and the public health, as well as to reducing our dependence on foreign sources of energy.”  National safety and the public health.  Our food supply is dangerously centralized, and I will do everything I can to urge people to do all they can to ensure their local food economy continues to thrive.

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15 Wonderful responses to “”

  • Tags

    Pollan is a national treasure.

    We can’t depend on the avunculati at the food network and we certainly can’t depend on WalMart to ensure local autonomy.

    Marion Nestle’s “What to Eat” is another great resource, Peter Kaminsky’s “Pig Perfect” yet another. And, of course, Charcuterie, fighting the good fight.

  • Bux

    Pollan is surely no romantic with simple solutions. I’m not sure he even articulates complex solutions, but he does have his eye on the problems that make our choices as omnivores so important and so difficult.

    Most of what he says in the NY Times seems to echo that which he’s already written in his recent “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.” After devouring the early parts of the book, I’ve found myself with little reading time and have been moving slowly to the end, but every time I pick up the book, no matter how little I read, there’s at least one sentence that makes me stop and rethink my connection to food and it’s not long before something he says about the evils of the industrial agriculture economy, manifests itself as a news item and health or ecological problem for us all.

    The NY Times article covers a lot of ground, but the problems are more deeply probed in the book. Still, the article is a must read.

  • Fauren

    I’m grateful that Pollan has such influential platforms like the Times to continue being vocal about all this. I can only hope that soon enough people will be converting en masse to buying local not because of another industrial food chain disaster, but simply because publicity like this has helped make it the norm.

  • the pauper

    well as someone in his mid-20′s, i can tell you that there’s no way anyone will get me to buy free-range chickens or grass-fed beef when my local grocery store has purdue chicken breast on sale for $2.99/lb.

    it’s my belief that people act out of necessity for the most part; individuals keep track of what is best for his/her needs. sure, a social conscience might creep in, but let’s face it… money matters.

    implicitly, you make it sound like people who do not whole-heartedly support local farmers are against national security and public health. is that really the case?

    in terms of whether people do care about those things… it is only fair to analyze that or even to hint at that if a free-range chicken costs the same as chicken i buy from Purdue Chickens.

    so if keeping myself fed means that i don’t care about national security or public health, then so be it. as long as my chicken tenders don’t break the bank, i’m quite fine with letting the rich and socially conscience deal with national security and public health.

    (i don’t have anything against what you say, or what the ‘eat locally’ advocates say… just preface it by saying, “do it if you can afford it.”)

  • Steve

    Pauper, it is true that money matters, but it is by no means the *only* thing that matters. I am a grad student, and my classmates and I are all $140,000 in debt (on top of any undergraduate students loans remaining). We are generally in our mid 20s to early 30s, and most of us are not even particularly socially conscious. Yet many of us routinely purchase produce at local farm stands, not out of any sense of social guilt but because it’s cheap and fresh.

    At the local supermarket, I find that humanely raised (e.g. “Certified Humane” or “AHA Free Farmed”) eggs and meat (not locally grown) tends to be anywhere from $0.50 more for a dozen eggs to $1 more for a pound of chicken. At one of my supermarkets the humanely raised chicken is $0.03 more than the average of the other brands (Purdue and generic store brand). Even if you were to eat a pound of home-cooked chicken a day, that’s up to $365 more per year. That’s hardly breaking the bank or an insurmountable barrier to keeping oneself fed.

    Money matters aside, I think the point of the “buy local” sentiment, at least Pollan’s take, is to make people aware that the Purdue breast tenderloins came from a chicken, who lived a certain lifestyle, was killed in a certain way, was processed and transported to your supermarket in a certain way. There are certain consequences to all of those steps, and for the consumer to even be aware of those consequences is a huge step forward. Whether you act on that information is a matter of choice. Personally, the majority of the food I eat is industrially produced, and I do eat at fast food restaurants for money and convenience reasons. But to suggest that buying locally — even buying a free-range chicken breast now and then — is only for the rich and socially conscious is simply rhetoric.

  • Bux

    “Can you afford not to?” may be the equally relevant question. Let me back track to say that I buy meat and vegetables at a number of sources and price figures in most of my purchases. My benchmark question for paying more has always been “Can I taste the difference?” When you buy Purdue chicken you are getting more chicken, assuming the fat counts as chicken, for your money. The question I would now ask you is “Are you getting more, or less, nutrition for your money?” Pollan provides a number of sources that indicate our food supply is becoming less nutritious in a number of ways, even when it seems to be safe, i.e. not a source of deadly e-coli strains. What are you buying when you buy chicken other than bulk commodity meat? How well are you taking care of your own body and life.

    I think Pollan adequately expresses his concern for the inequities of the distribution of wealth as well as for the access to local foods. One of his model farmers admits he can’t serve communities remote from his farm and has no suggestion to serve city dwellers beyond the dismantling of urban America. This is among the reasons Pollan’s book is about dilemma, not solution, so let’s not ignore the messenger because his message is a difficult one for us to accept. This is a book for the masses as much as it is for the well off. The reason your supermarket chicken is cheap is that we are all paying for the subsidies that encourage the industrial agriculture economy that produces the less nutritious and less healthy food most of us consume, sometimes out of choice and sometimes out of necessities beyond our control. Many people’s access to food is restricted to supermarkets.

  • Bux

    I might add, that for those with an overriding concern about finances, chicken breasts, boneless or not, at $2.99 a pound is not the economical way to buy chicken. You can get cheaper poultry which is likely to be healthier and more nutritious as well as contibuting to sustainable farming of a sound ecological nature, but you’ll have to deal with cutting up the bird and making use of the bones to make free soup in order to avail yourself of the savings. The issues are complex, as are the potential solutions. Brand name supermarket chicken, by the way, is the one thing we gave up on, way before I read “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.” It just had no chicken taste.

  • rockandroller

    When I was buying grocery store meat I was throwing my money away on tasteless food. Why not spend your money more wisely, get more bang for the buck AND support people doing it right, be the local or organic (or both) by buying those breasts (or as someone pointed out, the whole chicken, which is cheaper and gets you further) from a better source? The difference once you start eating the real stuff that’s more like it’s supposed to taste is unbelievable. I want to spend my money on products that both taste good, are a good value and help support people doing things the right way as often as I can.

  • ruhlman

    I’m completely sympathetic to pauper’s concerns. I’m both a glutton and miser, so when I see a boneless pork butt for under five bucks, a cut i could feed my family with for two meals, it’s a real temptation. but i think we have to consider the potential impact of all of us making the decision not to buy factory pork. it’s bad for the pig, bad for the worker, bad for the environment, bad for the dinner. if we started making better choices–we meaning even a fraction of those contributing to the $350 billion we spend at the grocery store–we would not put tyson or smithfield out of business, we would change the way they do business.

    my strategy as a wretched miser and glutton–i’m spending the same amount, but eating less. I don’t need a monster strip steak. i need a few pieces of beautiful grass fed, humanely raised, perfectly grilled strip steak.

  • the pauper

    hey guys.

    very interesting points, so lets try to address as many as possible.

    I’ve lived in a few areas of the country. Let me list the chains I’ve shopped at before. Krogers, Albertsons, Piggly Wiggly, Meijer, Keyfoods, PathMark. This is only to show that mostly, national/store brands are much cheaper than organic no matter where you shop. Generally in my experience, there are not many, if any brands clearly marked for “humanely raised chickens.” Generally organic would cost around $3 dollars per pound more in my experience. Perhaps the non-organic but humanely raised chickens are on their way to my supermarket, we shall see.

    It does seem that Pollen wants the consumer to have a greater understanding of where our food comes from. Surely, this has certain consequences regarding what ends up happening around us. Everyone can agree on that. What I am simply saying is that in every issue, there are certain factors that sway a consumer more than other factors. If you want to see this in action, just pay attention to the mid-term elections. Those things are sometimes referred to as, “voting issues.”

    I bring this up because there are a variety of things that may tug at a consumer’s mind… price, taste, quality of life for the chicken, ease of preparation. And this is not the full list of questions either. On top of that, those are only questions one asks when presented with the options. Perhaps some people out there don’t have humanely raised chickens in their supermarket, or perhaps the green market closes before they get out of work. And sure, I know foodtv.com has videos on how to cut up a whole chicken, but what if the avg consumer doesn’t know how to or want to cut up a whole chicken? sometimes taste and social conscience are not “voting issues” when it comes to buying chickens; this is not to say in the future this wouldn’t change on a grand scale.

    The reason I replied originally was because of this line, “National safety and the public health.” Doesn’t that suggest every action we take, however small or trivial such as buying eggs, may have far reaching implications on national security or the ‘war on terror?’

    Do you consider that shirt you buy or the fast european sportscar or that hot german knife contributes to our increasing trade deficit? if our food purchases affect national security, doesn’t every single purchase have the same type of effect? If people like Pollen knows enough economics to explain to me that his private purchases of material goods has no adverse effect on the future stability of the U.S. economy, then I can take what he says at face value.

  • Steve

    Pauper, your initial post certainly made it seem like money was the only consideration in your food decisions. In your words, there is “no way anyone will get me to buy free-range chickens or grass-fed beef” so long as a less expensive option exists.

    I don’t believe that Pollan’s (or Ruhlman’s) point is that if you buy Purdue chicken then you hate freedom and are supporting the terrorists. Pollan is simply stating that there is a demonstrable link between the centralization of the national food supply and the dependence on fossil fuel as well as the potential widespread outbreak of food poisoning. That a similar link between any purchase of goods and national security may exist in no way invalidates the point that buying locally is a relatively easy and mildly more expensive (and significantly tastier) way to deal with these issues.

  • Bux

    “It does seem that Pollen wants the consumer to have a greater understanding of where our food comes from.” — the pauper

    I’ve tried to stress Pollan’s understanding of our dilemma for which he hasn’t got the solution. I believe you’ve hit on the essence of his book and recent writing.

    I’ve tried not to bring the discussion into too wide an area, but your last paragraph touches on good points that may be expanded and fall well within what Pollan discusses. Pollan goes to great lengths to make us aware of the use of petroleum products in our food supply chain, from the artificial fertilizers to the jet fuel that is expended to transport our foods. He’s not a fan of industrial organic food either. Local is at least as important as organic. There’s not a straight forward comparison to be made about buying all of our goods from local sources, but a case can be made that there are some similarities between buying locally produced chickens and locally made clothing, furniture and machines. All of this is in opposition to the current global economy and the importance of free trade.

  • Barbara Church

    I saw a clip of chickens packed in cages like bottles of milk, it truly made me sick. I feel so sorry for these poor living creatures thinking about the adrenelin that goes through systems because they are packed in such a manner. Mr. Purdue, you must be a multi millionaire, please allow these creatures to roam, take them out of those cages. I cannot never eat your chicken again, not with them living in these conditions.

    Barbara Church