Michael Pollan: The problem with monocultures
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: The problem is, as we’ve learned, that monocultures in the field lead to monocultures in the diet. A diet that today is -- one-third of the calories in the average American’s diet comes from processed corn or processed soy, mostly hydrogenated soy oil, in which all of the fast food is fried, and high fructose corn syrup, which sweetens all the drinks and a great many other things in this food system. And so it’s no surprise that -- and then of course, the rest of it is fed to animals and turned into other forms of corn and soy on four legs or two legs.
So, this policy, though, of more, it worked in a sense. We all have, most of us have, I mean, there still are food insecure people, but you can get enough calories to get by, indeed to get quite fat. This cheap fossil fuel allowed also, not just for monoculture, but a far-flung food system. I mean, these supply chains are really, the more you look at them, are absolutely mind boggling. You know, the fact that they’re catching sustainable salmon in Alaska, one of the last sustainable fisheries, and then flying it to China to fillet it and then flying it back to the United States to eat it. I don't know if you can still call it sustainable. The fact that California is feeding Iowa, you know, the place with the greatest soil in the world is not growing its own food. The fact that we are exporting sugar cookies to Denmark while we import sugar cookies from Denmark: a mind boggling trade that one economist said, when he was told of it, “Wouldn't it be more efficient to swap recipes?”
But, you know, I think we realized last summer that these supply chains are not long for this world and that even though oil prices have declined lately because of the economic collapse, that in the long-term we won’t be doing this much longer. And, in fact, last summer, many people in the food industry figured this out. One of the more interesting developments last summer when we had such high fuel prices was that the price of shipping a box of broccoli from Salinas Valley to the Hunts Point market in New York when from $3.00 a box to $10.00 a box. And when that happened, the big growers in the Salinas Valley, [indistinct] and another one, they began buying cropland in New England. They realized that they’re going to need to grow food closer to where it is being eaten. But, of course, they shouldn’t be growing that food. We should be growing it. So, before they get here -- [applause] -- but they’re the first to recognize that we’re gonna have to squeeze the oil out of the system and that’s gonna mean re-regionalizing the food chain.