Organic Farmer Prince Charles on Changing Our Faulty Food System

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New-Picture.bmp I've just received my copy of the book based on the speech given by Prince Charles at a conference I attended in Washington, D.C., a few months ago.

The tiny, 46-page book (published by Rodale and available online and at your local Indie) reprints the speech along with color photographs and a foreword by Wendell Berry and afterword by Eric Schlosser.

Grist asked me some questions about it.

What sticks out to you most in this speech/book? What surprised you? What do you most hope the reader comes away with?

I attended the meeting at which Prince Charles spoke and was impressed at the time by his broad overview and understanding of the problems inherent in industrial food and the implications of those problems. He described himself as a farmer, which was not exactly how I had imagined him. It's impressive that someone of his stature cares about these issues and is willing to go on record promoting a healthier food system.

Most Americans are probably not aware that Prince Charles is an organic farmer and long-term advocate of sustainable food. What do you think the ultimate value of hearing such an urgent message about the need to change our food system from him? In other words: Do you think it will have more weight/reach coming from him than, say, Michael Pollan or Alice Waters?

Americans in general love royalty. Whether food movement participants care about royalty is a different matter. I can't imagine anyone in America having more weight than Michael Pollan and Alice Waters but it's great to have Michelle Obama and now the Prince on our side.

On a related note, the food movement has been working to free itself of the "elitist" charges for years? How do you think inviting one of the true elite (i.e. he grew up in a working castle!) to speak about these issues impacts the discussion?

I don't know anyone in the food movement who isn't actively concerned and working hard to make healthy food available to everyone, rich and poor alike. I see the food movement as an important player in efforts to reduce income inequities. People will care whether the Prince has anything to say about this or not depending on their feelings about celebrities in general and royalty in particular.

In the book, Prince Charles says "farmers are better off using intensive methods and where consumers who would prefer to buy sustainably produced food are unable to do so because of the price. There are many producers and consumers who want to do the right thing but, as things stand, 'doing the right thing' is penalized." What, in your opinion, would it take to reverse this predicament?

This is a matter of public policy. Our agricultural support system rewards big, intensive, and commodities like corn and soybeans. It barely acknowledges small, sustainable, and "specialty" (translation: fruits and vegetables). Policy is a matter of political will and can be changed.

Prince Charles also suggests that it's time to "re-assess what has become a fundamental aspect of our entire economic model.... Because we cannot possibly maintain the approach in the long-term if we continue to consume our planet as rapaciously as we are doing. Capitalism depends upon capital, but our capital ultimately depends upon the health of Nature's capital. Whether we like it or not, the two are in fact inseparable." What role do you think can food play in re-assessing this economic model?

Food is such a good way to introduce people to every one of these concepts: capitalism, depletion of natural resources, and climate change, for that matter. At NYU, we explain what food studies is about by saying that food is a lens through which to view, analyze, and work to improve the most important problems facing societies today. I can hardly think of a social problem that is not linked to food in some way. That's what makes it fun to teach. It's also what makes the food movement so important.

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This post also appears on Food Politics, an Atlantic partner site.

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Marion Nestle is a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. She is the author of Food Politics, Safe Food, What to Eat, and Pet Food Politics. More

Nestle also holds appointments as Professor of Sociology at NYU and Visiting Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell. She is the author of three prize-winning books: Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health (revised edition, 2007), Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety (2003), and What to Eat (2006). Her most recent book is Feed Your Pet Right: The Authoritative Guide to Feeding Your Dog and Cat. She writes the Food Matters column for The San Francisco Chronicle and blogs almost daily at Food Politics.

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