Friday, February 19, 2010

Michael Pollan ... in Iowa

Like it or not ... Michael Pollan is coming to Iowa to deliver a lecture with the same title as his latest book, "In Defense of Food". I had not heard about it until the other day when I happened to be driving around the minivan (while my truck was stuck in the snow) and the hosts were talking about his upcoming lecture (I have no AM in my truck, so they may have been talking about it for a few weeks). Anyways, after I heard about it on the radio I also noticed an editorial piece in my latest Farm Bureau Spokesman. I guess the word is out there and I'm just late to jump on the bandwagon!

Here are the details if you are up around the northeastern part of Iowa :: Monday, Feb. 22nd at 7:00 PM at the Decorah Public Library (book discussion) and then on Tuesday, Feb. 23rd at Luther College he will be giving his lecture also at 7:00 PM. (click on the links above for more details)

The Iowa Farm Bureau (IFB) and others concerned with the strength of agriculture are strongly encouraging farmers to attend the lecture and ask Michael Pollan the tough questions, because he can't answer them (that's the IFB's stance not mine ... link). I too agree that Iowa's farmers (as many different types as possible) should attend if there is a way, and that they should ask the tough questions.

But, it is important that everyone not only asks the tough questions of Michael Pollan, but also of themselves. The IFB states that Mr. Pollan has, "written many biased articles" (who hasn't) and also that he, "has a lot of good ideas, but he also has some very dangerous and misguided ones." Again ... who doesn't!" So, by all means go to the lecture or the book discussion (and report back here if you do), but go with an open mind.

As a member of the IFB and someone who has read and enjoyed Mr. Pollan's "The Omnivore's Dilemma" I think this has the possibility to be a very profitable lecture/question and answer time. I did not agree with all of Mr. Pollan's ideas and opinions, but at the same time I could see a lot of the beauty in creation (he does not however believe in creation) through the agricultural system he writes about and envisions. We just need to be willing to learn and work together ... remember, he does have, "a lot of good ideas" ... even if he is a bit opinionated (that's what the IFB tells me at least).

8 comments:

Rob said...

Hi Ethan. I've been following your blog for a couple of years. I admire what you've done and I'm curious which of Pollan's ideas you disagree with. I've been meaning to read his books but haven't gotten to it yet.

Rough Rider said...

I've read some of Pollan's articles and listened to several interviews. I really appreciate his point of view, though I don't agree with everything. But as you pointed out, Ethan, who do I agree with everything about? The great thing is that he has the courage to face problems even if it means he's controversial. And really, without that courage, how do we ever find the truth? Or in this case, how will we find a solution unless we ask the hard questions?

Thanks for posting and encouraging people of all stripes to attend.

Steven said...

I don't know about Ethan but I have one major point where I differ from Pollan. That is what the government should or shouldn't do about what we both see as wrong with the food system. Pollan thinks that we should subsidize "organic" farming. I think that the government deciding to try and encourage one production model over another is the problem in the first place. I think many problems in the food system would go away if we didn't subsidize any farming.
(wow, that was my first comment in a long time)

Rob said...

I agree with Steven--and I imagine most small farmers would as well. The government is the problem that holds small, family friendly ag down--so using to subsidize organic is the last thing we want. Besides, organic isn't necessarily humane or family-friendly.

Yeoman said...

I'll make only a couple of brief comments.

1. Keep an open mind towards Pollan. He has a lot to say about farming methods that we can profit from. They should be considered for their merits.

2. Cast a very skeptical eye on criticisms of things of this type which are made by farmers. I know that sounds harsh, but after being around farmers and ranchers my whole life, being one myself, and but also as one who frequently has been called upon to aid them in various and legal matters, I can safety say that we're one of the most hidebound groups going. By and large, we oppose suggestions made by folks like Pollan because, we'll, he's not a farmer. It should be pretty evident to all that American farming isn't working very well for family farmers, and we should think twice before farm groups, especially those controlled by larger farming interests, criticize anything.

3. I respect Steve's opinion, but here, let's not fool ourselves, when we say we don't want a government solution, we're begging to keep the government solution we have.

Modern American farming is entirely based on platforms established by the government. Corporate farms, which control most of the land in the country, are in and of themselves a legal fiction that exist only because the government says "corporations" exist. Corporations were a creation of the law in the first place.

So is land ownership in the US. I'm in favor of private property, to be sure, but all land ownership in the US came about because the government determined it had a legal right to divest the original owners of their land, without compensation for the most part, and give it or sell it to somebody else.

Our tax structure is entirely the creation of a set of laws, and therefore is a type of government action. Get a break on your taxes in any fashion because you are organized as a corporation, llc, or partnership? Well, you're benefiting from a government program. Heck, if you drive on a public road you are.

Government programs are, I think, here to stay. We can and should rethink them. But when we talk about the government favoring small farms, or organic farms, let's conceded that what that means is that the government is merely readjusting the already existing favoritism that exists in favor of corporate everything, which in and of itself is a huge government sponsored act of favoritism that we're all very burdened with. Wiping out corporations would be the ideal solution, but that's not going to happen.

Rich said...

Is Pollan writing about changing farming or changing the way we eat? Or, is that the problem, both need to change at the same time?

From what I have read, his focus is the over-processing of our food, its effect on our health, and our eating habits as a culture.

How will subsidizing local. organic, or small farms change our eating habits or how food is processed?

It seems to me that changing our eating habits is going to be tougher than changing our agricultural methods.

On the subject of subsidies, I believe that most subsidies are eventually going to go away (hasn't anybody noticed that there isn't enough money available to keep throwing at government programs). Since existing subsidies are going to eventually disappear or diminish to even more insignificant levels (for both conventional and organic/local), it is almost pointless to worry about extending them to organic, local, or small farms.

Plan for no subsidies if you want to be profitable in the future.

Rich said...

Yeoman, when you say:

"...Corporate farms, which control most of the land in the country..."

What is that statement based on?

I don't see how that could be true, unless it is a distorted definition of the word 'control' (as in corporations control farmland because they rent, own, and hold mortgages on land).

Or, are the corporations actually just family operations that have incorporated for tax and/or legal reasons? If the corporate farms are indeed actually family farms that are incorporated, is the situation as bad as you portray it?

Yeoman said...

"What is that statement based on?

I don't see how that could be true, unless it is a distorted definition of the word 'control' (as in corporations control farmland because they rent, own, and hold mortgages on land).

Or, are the corporations actually just family operations that have incorporated for tax and/or legal reasons? If the corporate farms are indeed actually family farms that are incorporated, is the situation as bad as you portray it?"

Ownership of the land is control. But what I meant is that, in terms of controlling the direction of the market, the number of family farmers on the land dwindles every year. Farms are increasingly true corporate entities, not operations in which one family owns and operates the farm. If the farmer isn't farming, but sits in an office having other farm for him, it's not a family farm.

My point is no doubt exaggerated, but operations of a size that one family can run them are increasingly a rarity in the US. Corporations help this to be the case, as they aid size by their very nature. It's part of the Walmartization of everything in our economy, to our mutual detriment.

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