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.
Michael: Without going into great detail, I just wanna briefly summarize, how did we get to this point? How did we ever get to a system where we took photosynthesis, this amazing miracle of nature, this free lunch, and replaced it with so much fossil fuel? Why did that make sense? Well, as I said earlier, our policy as a country was to produce as much food as fast as we could. Oil was cheap. We learned techniques that allowed us to take cheap fossil fuel and use it as a source of fertility. Nitrous -- ammonium nitrate, which is a product of fossil fuel. We learned also right after World War II how to take these nerve gasses made from petroleum byproducts and turn those into pesticides. And that regime of fossil fuel-based fertilizers, fossil fuel-based pesticides, gave us this opportunity of farming in a new way. Giant monoculture. You didn’t have to rotate your crops because you always had fertility in a bag. And you didn’t have to worry about the monoculture problem of insects, because you had this opportunity of killing them with fossil fuel pesticides. It’s really a legacy of World War II. And that is why Vandana Shiva has famously said, “We’re still eating the leftovers of World War II in the form of this industrial agriculture.”
You see this as soon as you go to Iowa. And if you're there in the winter, and the candidates saw this when they were there campaigning, that from October till May, this long stretch of the year, the fields are black. What does that mean? It means they’re not using sunlight. And because they no longer need it to have cover crops or grow pastures for animals, because they are down to their corn and soy and chemical.
This system worked really well, as long as fossil fuel was cheap. It did; we must step back and acknowledge its accomplishment, because it’s an accomplishment many Americans still prize and that is the fact that anyone in this country can walk into a fast food restaurant today and for less than an hour at the minimum wage, get a really big, hearty, high-calorie, and superficially satisfying meal. And we’re kind up against that and we shouldn’t lose sight of that.