The Omnivore’s Delusion?, Ctd

by Patrick Appel

A reader writes:

This has got to be your worst post that I've read, Patrick, and not worthy of the Dish. The very book that's being attacked here refutes almost every argument presented. Did anyone actually read the damn book? This author is a vicious and willfully ignorant denialist, and his supposed indictments of Pollan are so tone-deaf that I find it almost impossible to believe he even read this pragmatic, sensible, and well-supported book.
You wrote '"sustainability" gone too far.' There is no such thing as sustainability gone too far. The very idea is infuriating. Sustainability means not letting anything go too far--and that's exactly what Pollan advocates. It's like "sensibility gone too far" or "decency gone too far." Come on. Nothing in Michael Pollan's suggestions is economically unsound, and indeed, what he prescribes is as necessary as any plan to root out a big, big problem, like the ones we face with health care or the environment.

I've not read Pollan's book (it's on my long list), though I've read many, but not all, of his columns. I thought that the Hurst paragraph quoted made an undervalued point, though parts of the linked article are annoyingly partisan. My comment was directed more towards the sloppy economics of some organic boosters and GM haters generally rather than Pollan specifically. The slow food movement, organic produce, and local eating are all wonderful trends, but this excellent Prospect article from a few years ago changed my mind about the practicality of their widespread adoption. Another reader:

After reviewing Blake Hurst's so-called attack on Michael Pollan, I have to wonder if he really even read The Omnivore's Dilemma. First, Pollan is as critical of industrial organic farming as he is of industrial farming in general because he thinks that centralized food production makes us susceptible to attack or disease and limits the diversity in a healthy diet and severs important cultural ties to food. He came away from writing the book an advocate of local polyculture, not an advocate of organic farming. Hurst claims that "Pollan thinks farmers use commercial fertilizer because it's easier, and because it's cheap. Pollan is right. But those are perfectly defensible reasons." That's false. Pollan thinks farmers use commercial fertilizer because they have to, because they've removed other sources of fertilizer, like cattle, from the farm and placed them in CAFOs or concentrated animal feeding operations where they are fed corn (something their bodies have not evolved to digest) and antiobiotics.

The documentary King Corn reveals that 70% of all the antibiotics in the US are fed to animals that humans eat. The animal waste generated by a CAFO, which once might have fertilized the soil, is now its own problem as well. Pollan is undoubtedly idealistic, but I don't think he's as naive as Hurst claims. He is simply arguing that we must eventually begin turning to solar sources of energy in agriculture and relying less on petroleum to sustain it. He also knows that we have to find ways to do that on a large scale and is looking to places like Argentina where cattle-crop rotation is performed on an industrial scale. Moreover, his arguments for the relationship between food product and chronic disease is strong. This is about more than agriculture alone, and I don't think Pollan would ever describe the use of pesticides as easy or cheap. That's simply not the basis of his critique, and anyone who has read his book could see that.