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Wednesday, October 15, 2008
We're big fans of Michael Pollan here. Each time I read one of his books, or others in the food politics genre (Fast Food Nation, Supersize Me, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle) I am motivated again to revise our family diet. Over the years, we've quit eating at fast food chains and switched to more local, seasonal produce. So it wasn't that big of a change when we took up the challenge of In Defense of Food, an Eater's Manifesto, Pollan's latest book. "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants."
This book came out as we were revising our food budget, cutting it almost by half, and as food prices have increased dramatically. Now we're eating better, more healthy food than ever before. We have less trash, because we are buying no prepared/packaged food products. We have more compost, too.
The price is time. It now takes me 1-2 hours every day to make dinner, plus extra time to bake bread, make granola and granola bars and other snacks. But, interestingly, I don't resent the time spent in the kitchen or feel unduly put upon. On the contrary, I feel better about the work I do at home. Because I put more time and effort into our food, I take more pride in it.
I like his ideas, the vision he has for new local agriculture economies in our country. But the biggest problem I see with his proposal becoming reality is labor. Just as feeding our family now takes more time, thought and work, the small, sustainable farms he envisions will take more time, thought and much, much more work. And just as I receive no monetary payment for the astonishingly valuable work I do in our home, no small farmer is going to make money that reflects the true value of her work. She and her family may well live on the tight edge of an unforgiving budget for their entire lives. A few people have signed up for that life, but I can't see enough doing it to transform our agriculture system as Pollan wishes.
It comes down to the basic values of our society. Society determines our individual worth by how much money we are paid for whatever job we happen to have. Mothers, childcare providers, teachers, and small farmers, who do unquantifiable work hardly make enough to live on, if they make anything at all. And so, the work that is most crucial to our society is least valued.