What would you do if McDonalds went Organic?

I have tried to read Michael Pollan’s book In defence of Food. I think I got to the end of chapter one, and then got distracted by other things. When I saw that he would be speaking at The Opera House, I had to go.

When he came on stage, Michael seemed very tall and gangly. I think he had a slight limp.

Michael Pollan @thehouse

Below is a scribble of the ideas with a blunt pencil on the back of my ticket(s) in the dark from his conversation with Rebecca Huntley.

[RH]How to have children who are not fussy eaters?
[MP]Abandon the food pyramid, as it sends the wrong message.
[Me] If you want to be the best, you want to climb the mountain. Who hasn’t wanted to concentrate their eating efforts at the “top” of the pyramid?
[MP] Apparently the food pyramid has been abandoned in the USA.
[MP] Involve the kids in demystifying food, get the involved in the preparation. Usually they will want to try something they have prepared, even if it isn’t something they would “normally” eat. There is suspicion associated with sauces – what are you trying to hide?

[MP] “Nutrisinism” is the scourge of real food at the moment. You are not eating “food”, you are eating “nutrition”. MP is astounded that in the Australian context that you can get cereals that have “fibre”, “protein” (the latest buzz “additive”), “women’s special nutrition” – WTF?
[MP] “Locavore” type eating (eating locally/160 km diet) is more of a way of keeping money in farmers hands, remember you can’t rely on global food chains because they are at the whim of Wall Street/stock speculators, and they are fossil fuel dependant.
[Me] Locavore type eating is more of an attitude, taking responsibility and thinking about where your food comes from. There is no need to be millitant about eating locally – just be aware when you get your morning coffee: was this grown/roasted in Australia? Indonesia? PNG? Or has it travelled from Africa?

[MP] What would you do if McDonalds went organic?
[Me] Whoa. Celebrate. No wait. Organics is now mainstream… should I be rebelling against that on principle?
[MP] McDonalds may now be “organic”, but it is still at the end of a very long industrial supply chain*.
[Me] * selling a homogenous product that is the same from coast to coast, country to country. What about the local farmers? Can you have highly mechanised organic farming?
[MP] We could have organic corn farm growers trying to put their organic high fructose corn syrup into everything.#
[Me] Ew on the high fructose corn syrup.

[MP] 75% of the work in the health insurance/hospitals in the USA is because of chronic health conditions, which are as a result of diet.
[MP] The USA legislatative process ties two bills together. So if you want to vote for food stamps so that people living beneath the poverty line can have food, you are also voting on certain agriculture-related legislation.
[MP] so the interesting thing here is that the increased costs to the US health system have been a result of poor diet from the farming subsidies which pushed the growing of the corn/soy monoculture! The farmers received all these subsidies to grow something, and then looked for ways to sell it. Thirty years on, they have succeeded, but the health system is paying for it. We are paying twice over for these subsidies!

[MP] In order to achieve the biggest impact on food/excess calories: attack the consumption of soda (soft drink). In New York – the mayor can dictate the size of soft drink cups in movie theatres. Bloomberg wanted to restrict the size of soft drink sizes to 16 oz (500mL), from its current super size of 64 oz (2 litres). This is just to make people think when they order their soft drink: do I really want to buy 2 cups of softdrink. The legislation was defeated because of lobbying and pressure from the soft drink multinationals.

[MP] When women went to work, the food industry stepped in and directed all the advertisments to women. This short-cut the conversation that should have happened between men and women about the division of labour between men and women. It is still a conversation that needs to happen.

[MP] The tagline from his book “In defence of food”, which really summarises how to eat: Eat Food. Mostly Plants. Not too Much. really was polarising. It pissed off the carnivores (too far), it pissed off the vegetarians (not enough), and it pissed off the vegans (not far enough). It’s only a guideline though, it isn’t meant to be a be all and end all.
[MP] When, traveling I never eat airport food – in such a huge sterile environment, it is hard to ensure the quality and origin of your food. On the plane I eat as a vegetarian.

[audience] there’s no equivalent to Wholefoods (organic grocery store) in Australia*, what do you think of the concept?
[me] *yes there is! It was called macro, and they got bought out by Woolies
[mp] this was mentioned in the book, the omnivores dilemma. My issue with Wholefoods is that they have all these posters up on the walls in their stores proclaiming about how they support the small farmer and local growers. However, they are just as industrialized as other shops with the produce coming from larger farms in California and being shipped to New York.

So the CEO of Wholefoods invited me to a meeting to discuss my concerns. In a canny piece of marketing, he then wrote an open letter to me in a newspaper stating how he was going to source more locally, and set up a small farm fund to help support them. He was using ME to say “look at us, how we listen to our critics and respond to feedback.”
[audience] so what is the best method of farming?
[mp] It will be something that will involve animals. It won’t be just a monoculture. I talked about farming in the omnivores dilemma. Joel Salatin does something that he calls ‘grass farming’. First he lets the cows feed in a certain patch for 24 hours. He moved them on and waits three days. The chickens (‘egg farm’) is now rolled in, and they go straight for the cow pats. They tear these to bits, looking for all the grubs and maggot larvae. The field is then left to lie fallow for an extended period – say three months.

[mp] Joel made me get down on my hands and knees and look at the soil of one of the fields that he farms this way. This is the first time I have ever gotten down on my hands and knees to look up close at soil and grass. The soil was in fabulous condition – it was rich and he was actually adding to the soil whilst growing grass. How is this possible?

[mp] every time a ruminant (cow) grazes the tops of a certain plant, it shrinks down its root mass to match below how tall it is above. The earthworms and the grubs move in, turning the excess rootball into ‘soil’.

[mp] you can’t outsource something as important as feeding ourselves to large corporations. On average in America, the amount of food preparation time is 27 minutes. That’s over three meals.
[me] OMG. I just spend 30 minutes minimum on preparing dinner.
[mp] I saw the most amazing thing in the Australian supermarket whilst I’ve been here. It’s this little plastic grenade that you rip the top of off and glug glug, drink the contents down. It’s breakfast. Instead of spending 13 minutes eating a bowl of cereal: you chug down this grenade of ‘breakfast’.

[mp] there is not a trade off between sustainable and quality food.

[audience] your opinion on genetically modified food?

[mp] the thing that the GM growers keep pushing for is higher yield, but we’re not there yet. GM was introduced in 1998 with the promise of solving the world food crisis. But we’ve had some increase in disease resistance.

But that’s not the premise that we got sold GM on. What they’re doing is a sales technique called ‘bait and switch’. We are being sold one product on the basis of the promise of a future result.

[mp] In 2022, I don’t think we will be talking GM. Why? When GM started in 1998, I think the premise was 1 gene = the yield switch. But it is not a one to one relationship, and not as simple as the GM companies first thought. The human genome has been sequenced and we have less genes than a pea!

So all in all, a very interesting talk. Not having fully read one of his books, I might have to revisit them.

Certainly some ideas worth investigating further.

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