Boss Farmer: Michael Pollan and the Department of Food

Food writer Michael Pollan has a letter to the next Farmer in Chief in the NT Times. Pollan – a writer who has been floated as a dark horse candidate for Secretary of Agriculture – says that food policy will be a major (if unforeseen) focus for the Obama Administration, not only for for soaring food prices contributing to shortage and hunger but also due to the impact of our food policy on our energy policy:

After cars, the food system uses more fossil fuel than any other sector of the economy — 19 percent. And while the experts disagree about the exact amount, the way we feed ourselves contributes more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere than anything else we do — as much as 37 percent, according to one study. Whenever farmers clear land for crops and till the soil, large quantities of carbon are released into the air. But the 20th-century industrialization of agriculture has increased the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by the food system by an order of magnitude; chemical fertilizers (made from natural gas), pesticides (made from petroleum), farm machinery, modern food processing and packaging and transportation have together transformed a system that in 1940 produced 2.3 calories of food energy for every calorie of fossil-fuel energy it used into one that now takes 10 calories of fossil-fuel energy to produce a single calorie of modern supermarket food. Put another way, when we eat from the industrial-food system, we are eating oil and spewing greenhouse gases. This state of affairs appears all the more absurd when you recall that every calorie we eat is ultimately the product of photosynthesis — a process based on making food energy from sunshine. There is hope and possibility in that simple fact.

I was hoping for Bill McKibben as Energy secretary, but maybe Pollan will bring some “next wave” visionary cred to the cabinet (though after watching the video below, I’m thinking maybe not). 😉 Here’s Michael Pollan’s web site, his blog at the NYT and  The omnivore’s next dilemma video talk at

The Washington Post lists a few safer candidates that are not at all exciting to me. Bill Kristoff isn’t too excited either. He suggests that with just 2% of people engaged in farming, we focus on the 100% that are engaged in eating and rename it the Department of Food. He links over to where you can see 6 more interesting candidates and sign a petition to encourage the President-elect to think outside of the bigbox.

The photo is Striations by Nicholas_T. Be sure to view it bigger and/or in his New Jersey Skylands slideshow.


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