I'm Steve Ember.
And I'm Barbara Klein with EXPLORATIONS
in VOA Special English. Today we tell about the reporter and food expert Michael
Pollan. Mister Pollan is a professor of journalism at the University of
California, Berkeley. He also writes for the New York Times Magazine. But Mister
Pollan is best known for his two books about the environmental, industrial,
scientific, and moral questions about food.
The main question he asks in his writing is "What
should Americans eat?" His research shows that this question is more complex
than it seems. Mister Pollan's studies about American food production, farming,
health and diet have helped redefine the food debate in the United States.
In his two thousand
six book, "The Omnivore's Dilemma", Michael Pollan explores what he calls
America's national eating disorder. He
looks at how food is grown in the United States and the ways American eat.
writer begins by investigating the American industrial food chain. He starts in
the cornfields of the mid-western United States because most food Americans eat
is linked to this plant.
MICHAEL POLLAN: "Corn as a
food is wonderful. Corn as an industrial raw material, or as a food product is
another matter. One plant by virtue of its genius and its ability to manipulate
us has conquered our land, our food system, all our animals, and it's even
conquered our bodies."
Americans eat corn directly as a vegetable
and in cereals and other foods. But they also eat it in greater quantities
indirectly through corn-fed farm animals and the many starches, alcohols, and
sugars made from industrial corn. American farmers grow huge amounts of this
corn. To do this, they use dangerous fertilizers and pesticides.
Pollan shows other ways that the modern farming of corn has harmed the natural
environment. In the past, farmers grew many kinds of products. Today, most farmers
use all of their land to grow only one crop, such as corn. This has done great
harm to the biodiversity of farmlands. The writer shows that industrial farming
is unsustainable because it destroys the resources it depends on.
Michael Pollan also explains how federal policies have damaged
the American farming system. He explains how huge supply has reduced the price
of corn so much that farmers often cannot stay in business growing corn without
Corn-fed cows on industrial
feed lots are another part of this dangerous food chain. The cows are fed corn
so that they grow fat more quickly. But cows' bodies were built for eating
grass, not corn.
Over time, cows develop health
problems because of their living conditions, including their corn diet. So, the
cows receive daily amounts of antibiotic medicines. People end up eating these
chemicals when they eat beef. And, the corn-fed beef they eat contains a less
healthy kind of fat than the fat in cows that eat grass.
Petroleum is a big part of
this food chain. It takes huge amounts
of oil to grow, fertilize and harvest corn and transport it from farm, to
production center, to buyer, to eater. Mister Pollan says about one hundred
ninety liters of oil is needed to grow every four-tenths of a hectare of
The next food system Michael
Pollan explores begins with vegetables and a farm bird he buys from a health
food store. Food that is organic is grown or raised without chemical
insecticides or fertilizers. Historically, the organic food movement began on
small farms as a way of rejecting industrial agriculture's increasing
dependence on chemicals.
the organic food market is one of the fastest growing areas of the food
industry. To be called organic, producers are required to follow guidelines
established by the United States Department of Agriculture.
Mister Pollan shows that there are different levels
of organically produced food. Some big farms grow organic food with methods
similar to industrial farms. They follow the rules necessary to be called
organic producers. But many of their
methods are still not very healthful or sustainable.
organic farms ship their crops all over the world. One could argue that the
benefit of organically farmed products is cancelled out by the high amounts of
fuel required to transport them to buyers.
leads Mister Pollan to explore small-scale, local organic farming. He visits
Polyface farm in the state of Virginia. The owner of this farm, Joel Salatin,
has interesting ideas about farming. He describes himself as a grass farmer
because grass is the base of the food chain of his farm animals.
Joel Salatin is
not interested in having "organic" as a label describing his farm. He and his
family have built a farm system of rotational grazing that is based on the
biological patterns found in nature. Because they practice sustainable farming,
they do not need chemicals for any of the chickens, cows, pigs, and rabbits
These methods produce healthy animals
that are good to eat. And, Polyface refuses to ship food anywhere, so the farm
depends only on local buyers. The farm has become an important example of how
sustainable farming can remain local, environmentally friendly and productive.
Michael Pollan ends his book by discussing an
extremely local meal, one he produced himself. He hunted a wild pig, grew
vegetables in his garden and searched for wild mushrooms. He says this method
of eating is not possible to do everyday. But he shows that the experience is
important because it reminds us about the source of the food we eat and its
direct relationship to the natural world.
Mister Pollan's food investigations ask readers to think
more carefully about the kind of food they eat and the way it is produced. "The
Omnivore's Dilemma" also points out the ways in which America's food system should
Pollan's two thousand eight book, "In Defense of Food," continues the subject
of eating by discussing diet and health.
notes that the more Americans worry about nutrition, the more unhealthy they
become. Conflicting reports from scientists and advertisements about what foods
make people healthy make eating choices even more difficult.
So, Mister Pollan suggests
three simple rules: Eat Food. Not too Much. Mostly Plants.
defines "food" as whole, fresh foods that come from nature. He rejects
processed food products containing unrecognizable substances.
MICHAEL POLLAN: "The basic
idea is to take back control over our eating from the corporations we have
allowed to cook for us, because that is really what has happened in the last
fifty years. You know, fifty percent of our food dollars go to food prepared
outside the home. In the interest of convenience, in the interest of the
seductions of food science, we are letting large corporations cook food for us.
And we have learned and we see it reflected in the state of our public health,
that they don't cook very well."
Mister Pollan shows
that Americans could start to reverse many health problems and begin to build a
richer food culture by replacing processed foods with a diet of natural food.
In October of two thousand
eight, Michael Pollan wrote a letter to president-elect Barack Obama which was
published in the New York Times Magazine. In the letter, he told Mister Obama
that food would play an important part in his administration.
Pollan said food policy was not discussed during Mister Obama's campaign. But he
says the new president will have to face it because of its links to health care
problems, energy independence and climate change.
Michael Pollan makes several
suggestions to the president. He describes the importance of reforming
agricultural policies. These policies
would support farms to grow diverse crops for local communities. This plan
would reduce pollution and America's dependency on oil.
He suggests several ways that the
government can change the food system from its centralized organization to a
local one. He says such changes would protect America's food sources from
possible attack, reduce the spread of food poisoning and improve the economies
of rural areas.
Mister Pollan also suggests starting
programs to educate children about the importance of eating natural foods.
And, he says that one major way
President Obama could show his support for food system reform would be to plant
an organic vegetable garden at the White House. This garden could produce healthful
food for the president's family and nearby food banks that serve hungry people.
Michael Pollan says a White House garden
would set a revolutionary example of healthful eating and local farming for the
program was written and produced by Dana Demange. I'm Steve Ember.
I'm Barbara Klein. Join us again next week for Explorations in VOA Special