Michael Pollan: The components of the address
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: Now, it’s particularly beautiful to be here on the first full day of spring and on a day of great promise for the food movement nationally, this movement of which we are all a part, the talented farmers here as well as the chefs, the health policy professionals, the activists, the organizers, and the highly-conscious eaters in this room. And how great is it that yesterday in Washington D.C., Michelle Obama broke ground-- [applause] -- on not just a vegetable garden, but an organic vegetable garden. On the White House lawn, how great is that? This movement clearly has a powerful new friend in Washington. What I'd like to do tonight is offer a kind of "State of the Movement Address," talk about where we are as a movement, at this moment, I think, of very opportunity and challenges, and where we need to go because we are at a turning point. Those of us who have been working for many years, and many people here far longer than I have, to reform the food system and the whole American way of eating, suddenly find ourselves in this strange new place. No longer holding a sign outside on the steps, a protest sign, but suddenly invited in, into the building, with a seat at the table. And the question now becomes, what do we say? What do we do? What do we want?
Now, let me start with a little quiz. Listen to the following quote and tell me who you think said this. “Our entire agricultural system is built on cheap oil. As a consequence, our agricultural sector actually is contributing more greenhouse gasses than our transportation sector. And in the meantime, it’s creating monocultures that are vulnerable to national security threats and are now vulnerable to sky high food prices or crashes in food prices, huge swings in commodity prices, and are partly responsible for the explosion of our healthcare costs, because they’re contributing to Type 2 diabetes, stroke, and heart disease, obesity, all the things that are driving our huge explosion in healthcare costs.” What radical said that?
President -- Actually, it was Candidate Obama back in October. We have a President who understands these issues, who I think, as that quote shows, can connect the dots between the way we’re growing our food in this country and the healthcare crisis and the energy crisis and the climate change crisis. That’s huge. He has appointed as his Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack, a former governor of Iowa who, since moving to Washington, has been sounding some very surprising notes, talking about making nutrition and health the watchword of what the USDA does, talking about committing the USDA to combating climate change through agriculture, and using crop subsidies to create new incentives on the farm, who has also been talking about the value of local and urban agriculture. These are sounds the likes of which we have never heard from that particular building.
And you know, it isn't just talk, too. His first appointment, Kathleen Merrigan, his number two, who we hope will be confirmed very soon, is as you know a pioneer of the organic movement. She helped write the organic law, the organic rules, and is an agent of change. She will be running the Department of Agriculture. Who would have guessed? But the question remains, is there a mandate for real change? Is Obama prepared to use his political capital on these issues? And that’s a different question than the question of his understanding of these issues. Obama did not run on a platform of reforming food and agriculture. He did not talk about it that much during the campaign. Yet, I would argue, as I’ve done, that he will have to confront these issues sooner or later, if, as he did say he -- as he did campaign on, if he hopes to tackle issues like climate change, the health care crisis, the energy crisis. Because he does understand the links, he will find himself, I think, needing, wanting, perhaps, to wade into these issues; or he won’t make progress on much of what he ran on.
Why? Well, as his -- that quotes suggests, the way we’re feeding ourselves is at the root of all three of these problems. And I want to very -- this will be familiar to some of you, but I want to kind of basically run through that logic a little bit. I think it’s worth doing.