The Milkweed Diaries

Thursday, October 23, 2008

"Farmer in Chief" -- Michael Pollan's Open Letter to the Next President

Michael Pollan has an amazing new article in the New York Times Magazine: "Farmer In Chief".

Addressed to "Dear Mr. President Elect," Pollan's letter briefs the next president (pictured above, let's hope!)about food policy and lays out the case that this will be one of the most significant sets of issues that the new president will address during his tenure.

Here's a snip:

"Whatever we may have liked about the era of cheap, oil-based food, it is drawing to a close. Even if we were willing to continue paying the environmental or public-health price, we’re not going to have the cheap energy (or the water) needed to keep the system going, much less expand production. But as is so often the case, a crisis provides opportunity for reform, and the current food crisis presents opportunities that must be seized."

Pollan outlines specific ways that the next president can advance federal policies to encourage polyculture and discourage petrofertilizers, de-incentivize Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) and factory farming, encourage Americans to reduce their meat consumption, preserve farmland, reregionalize the food system, and change the culture and politics of food in the US. The article includes specific steps that the federal government can take in all of these areas. In short, IT ROCKS. Michael Pollan strikes again with a perfectly-timed piece synthesizing and simplifying complex issues related to the politics of food.

Pollan ends the article with a fabulous idea:

"The White House should appoint, in addition to a White House chef, a White House farmer. This new post would be charged with implementing what could turn out to be your most symbolically resonant step in building a new American food culture. And that is this: tear out five prime south-facing acres of the White House lawn and plant in their place an organic fruit and vegetable garden. When Eleanor Roosevelt did something similar in 1943, she helped start a Victory Garden movement that ended up making a substantial contribution to feeding the nation in wartime. (Less well known is the fact that Roosevelt planted this garden over the objections of the U.S.D.A., which feared home gardening would hurt the American food industry.) By the end of the war, more than 20 million home gardens were supplying 40 percent of the produce consumed in America. The president should throw his support behind a new Victory Garden movement, this one seeking “victory” over three critical challenges we face today: high food prices, poor diets and a sedentary population. ... Just as important, Victory Gardens offer a way to enlist Americans, in body as well as mind, in the work of feeding themselves and changing the food system — something more ennobling, surely, than merely asking them to shop a little differently."

Read the whole article here.

Read more about the movement to revive victory gardens here.


Heather said...

This was a fantastic read. I signed the petition! Thanks for bringing this to my attention :)

Milkweed said...

Turns out that Obama actually read the article, too - wooohoooo!

More here:

I listened to Terry Gross interview Michael Pollan about the letter, and Pollan said that "one of the campaigns' transition team" had contacted him and asked him to summarize the article in a 2-page brief. He declined! He said that all 8 pages were important. So it sounds like Obama read the whole thing.

Michael Pollan for secretary of agriculture!!