As the most gluttonous day of the year rapidly approaches, there's no better time to start being mindful of what foods we are buying, consuming and putting into our bodies. Unfortunately, I am not blessed with a Whole foods or Real foods, or farmer's market in the immediate vicinity. There is one lonely market called Urban Rustic that does stock up on organic and locally grown produce but lacks in selection and basics as well as being slightly more expensive than the Met Food that is so conveniently located around the corner from my apartment. Met Food does the job but I imagine that it is not so far removed from a grocery store in Poland. Most of the product labels are in Polish if that is any indication of what I am dealing with. Yes, I could trek over to Manhattan to purchase my locally grown organic produce but the reality of it is, it's just quicker and cheaper for me to go to the Met food. So the question becomes, why aren't organic, locally grown foods more readily available and affordable?

Which brings me to all this cabinet talk that the nation seems to be obsessed over. We all know that the pick for Secretary of Defense or State will be a very important and telling decision for Obama but what about who he picks for Secretary of Agriculture. It may seem like a decision stemming from the usual change of guard formality but really just as much attention and weight should be given to who is chosen for this position as it can and will directly affect our health, as well as environment and energy policies.

Enter Michael Pollan.
In recent weeks there has been a movement to endorse Michael Pollan which is taking the form of a petition to President-Elect Barack Obama. Pollan is an author, columnist, journalist, and activist whom is most noted for his book Omnivore's Dilemma. His area of expertise being agribusiness.

You may be wondering:
1) what does the secretary of agriculture do?
2) why this guy?
3) what does it matter?

The Secretary of Agriculture is head of the Department of Agriculture (USDA) which is, as defined by Wikipedia:
"a United States Federal Executive Department (or Cabinet Department). Its purpose is to develop and execute policy on farming, agriculture, and food. It aims to meet the needs of farmers and ranchers, promote agricultural trade and production, work to assure food safety, protect natural resources, foster rural communities and end hunger in America and abroad."
Basically, the Department of Agriculture is responsible for (but not limited to) policies that affect what we eat in the US, what is grown in the US, how it is grown in the US which all cumulatively affect our health, the environment, and energy policies in the US.

I admit I have not read Omnivore's Dilemma but I did read this extensive and thorough Op-Ed written in early October by Pollan for NYTimes. It takes the form of a letter written to the highly anticipated President-Elect. In it he implores the next president:

"...to make the reform of the entire food system one of the highest priorities of your administration: unless you do, you will not be able to make significant progress on the health care crisis, energy independence or climate change."

He begins by explaining how in the 70's, a crisis in rising food prices spawned an effort to make food cheap (hence a fast food nation), which changed the structure of government subsidies, strongly encouraging farmers to plant monocultures like corn and soy. The idea was that by bringing down prices in corn and soy, this would effectively bring down the price of other commodities. It worked but to sustain these monocultures, fossil fuels were implemented to take the place of human labor and petroleum based pesticides became common practice to maximize yield but all at the expense of eater and environment. He argues that our current system is based on cheap fuel intensive processes which leaves a huge and unnecessary carbon footprint. He also explains in great detail how the health, food and energy industries are interconnected. Pollan not only points to the problems, he also offers steps and solutions as to how to fix them on a conceptual level which could be indispensable regarding making informed policy decisions.

Next I would listen to Pollan on the Brian Lehrer show:

Here is the NYTimes article that Pollan refers to regarding melamine in US food chain supply.

Not unlike the Sub-prime mortgage crisis, everything is connected and Pollan makes a very good case on why we should care. We need somone who can connect the dots and will work with the health, environment and energy sectors to bring about effective change. It may be a long shot but if you feel the way that I do and think this administration should take a serious stand on reforming agriculture policies then join me in signing this petition to elect Michael Pollan.

Related links:
King Corn - is a documentary which began with the simple idea- finding out where our food came from. It follows the life span of the subsidized corn crop from seed to well almost everything we eat.
Just discovered- Aaron Woolf , one of the filmakers resides in NY, and opened a know-where-your-food-comes-from grocery store called........Urban Rustic!! The very market i mentioned in the beginning of this post. small world!

Slow Food International
- is good, clean, and fair food. The movement is founded upon this concept of eco-gastronomy – a recognition of the strong connections between plate and planet.

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