sun-food agenda…

tuesday night, author michael pollan spoke to the choir at oberlin college in ohio sharing a sun-food agenda for the next administration. in a recent letter to the next president published in the ny times, pollan relates the current industrial food system to 3 main issues of both candidates’ platforms: energy, climate change and health care. he contends that changing the industrial food system can have positive implications for all three. here are some stats:

energy: the days of cheap oil are over. 19% of fossil fuel consumed is used in our food system.

climate change: the meat that we eat is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gases. all told 37% of greenhouse gases come from food production.

health care: the percentage of national budget spent on healthcare went from 5% in 1960 to 16% today, while the percentage of personal income spent on food went from 18% to 9.5%. four of the top 10 killers are diet related: heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes and cancer

Michael Pollan in his garden. The New York Times via The Sydney Morning Herald
Michael Pollan in his garden. The New York Times via The Sydney Morning Herald

another alarming set of statistics show that in 1940, it took 1 calorie of fossil fuel energy to produce 2.3 calories of food energy, while today that ratio is 10 to 1. and more staggering, 55 to 1 for beef. in other words, we are “eating oil and spewing greenhouse gases”.

according to pollan (and i have to agree), we need to move off fossil fuels and on to sunlight…food is the original solar technology. how can we make this shift? well, if we look at nature, there is no waste. waste from one organism is food for another and so on….nature thrives due to biodiversity. pollan’s suggestions include putting a solar agenda in our land grant colleges, changing the farm bill so farmers are no longer subsidized for commodity crops (corn, soybeans, rice, wheat, cotton), but instead rewarded for removing carbon from the atmosphere, and finally putting animals back on farms. currently, most meat comes from CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations), where animals stand in front of grain troughs and wallow in their own feces instead of recycling nutrients from plants back in to soil.

in order to move towards a solar agenda, we need to have more farmers! these are the green jobs….we also need to preserve land near cities for farming. imagine if we looked at farms as we look at wetlands. developers preserve wetlands….why not farmland?

one big question….can we feed ourselves this way??? we don’t know. we haven’t tried…..and we don’t have a choice but to try. we can start in the marketplace…build local food economies…year round farmer’s markets…rebuild regional distribution systems….deregulate the local food system and regionalize food procurement. yes, it’s less efficient, but efficiency is not the only value. a highly centralized food system is a risky proposition, not to mention an easy target….

how do we start? pollan recommends starting in our schools. teach kids how to grow, cook and eat food, while teaching adults the implications of our current food system. add fossil fuel energy to food product labels (so consumers can make a more informed decision)….

while this may mean the end of cheap, fast food, the solar agenda idea implies that there is such a thing as a free lunch….that is, if you grow your own food using sunlight, water, and soil fortified with compost (natural fertilizer made from your own food and yard/paper waste)….