Michael Pollan: A history of food policy
Michael Pollan was the keynote speaker at the Georgia Organics Conference March 21, 2009. The event was held at Agnes Scott College. He addressed the audience after they enjoyed a farmers feast (made from local food) about his thoughts on the "state of the movement." The address is available for viewing in its entirety or in separate parts.
So, that’s the bad news. The food system is broken and our agricultural policies are in large part responsible. Now, these problems that we face from food, they obviously were never the goal of those policies. Those policies, which were to produce food as abundant and cheap as we possibly could, made sense once upon a time. Because the public health problem in America for many years was simply adequacy of calories. There were people who were hungry. And so we had an agricultural policy whose goal was designed to serve that public good, solve that public problem. The problem is, it did it all too well. We learned that quantity is not the only issue, that quality at a certain point becomes even more important. So, keep that in mind: if the goal of food and farm policy is to advance the public good and the public health, our sense of what that is has changed, that now we need food that is abundant, yes, but higher in quality and produced in a way that doesn’t compromise either our long-term health or the long-term health of the environment. We are coming to the recognition, I think, as a society, that you cannot have a healthy population without a healthy diet. But the next step that the people in this room know but we need to convince the rest of the world, is that you cannot have a healthy diet without a healthy agriculture. And that’s really what we’re working on here.
Here’s the good news, though. American people are beginning to sense that the system is broken. A movement for reform is building. We see it in this room. The markets for alternatives is thriving. And here’s the even better news. The same policies that will reduce agriculture’s contribution to climate change and the energy crisis will also, if they’re followed, if we commit to them, will also vastly improve public health. We can make progress on all these fronts at once, make the system safer, more secure, and more sustainable, not only here in America, but in the developing world as well. What we probably won’t be able to do again is ever make food so cheap or something that we can take for granted. That probably won’t happen ever again.