Please read George Lopez’s review of Michael Pollan’s lecture last night which I had the privilege of attending. George Lopez is the Executive Director of Solar and Wind Living - home of the Solar and Wind Expo. I know this is a food blog, but food and energy intersect more than we realize and that is something I hope to be expounding upon in the coming year.
Last night Elvia Thompson of Annapolis Green, Sharon New of Local Food Beat and I had the pleasure of attending the Baltimore Speakers Series hear Michael Pollan, the renowned and extremely popular food expert. He spent over an hour describing what is wrong with our food choices at the market in a way that only Pollan can. Afterward he answered questions from the audience. What a great speaker.
After being introduced, Mr. Pollan came out of the side entrance with about eight plastic bags full of (you guessed it) groceries; it was great showmanship. He had earlier in the day visited a local supermarket (I think he said it was Safeway — not that it matters since they are all mostly the same). He reached in the bags and proceeded to bring out boxes of processed this and processed that. He described in detail why each one of these products was sold and packaged as it was. He explained that the food industry has taken the wholesome goodness that Grandma used to make and transformed it into some unrecognizable thing while telling you that it’s good for you. When the food industry claims it has removed something conspicuously dubbed harmful for you (like sodium or saturated fat), it neglects to mention what it put in to replace it – often even worse for your health.
Now I realize that this is not a food website and we are mostly here for energy news, but something about the food industry resembles the energy industry so bear with me while I make this point.
Vegetables, fruit and animals are out there just going through life not bothering anyone, not telling you how much or what to eat. Grandma used to be the one in charge of this duty. But times have changed.
Now the food industry with its money, lobbyists and studies they commission, is attacking the food that Grandma used to give you. It makes claims that new processed food is better, cheaper and oh so convenient. The average shopper sees this and is sucked in. Plain and simple, the cards are stacked against the food consumer.
Along comes Uncle Sam, and he is wearing some bling-bling that he just got from the industry. So Uncle Sam, in his infinite wisdom, says that to feed more people we must subsidize many of the products the industry uses to make processed foods. This includes the ubiquitous corn and soy. Now the good foods (plain old meats, fruit and vegetables) are more expensive than the bad, processed foods on the shelves so the less fortunate are more prone to buying bad foods. One great example was a package of instant mashed potatoes that claimed that is was made with real potaoes. What could possibly be in that package? A little bit of potato and 37, yes 37, other, unpronounceable, ingredients. Buying a couple of good old russets from Idaho would be a lot cheaper. And your tax dollars go to this harmful cycle. Sound familiar? Oil and coal.
Now our government feels it needs to tax the bad foods to help curb their consumption because they are making us fat and unhealthy. An example is taxing sodas – which are made mainly of high fructose corn syrup. This to me sounds like insanity. Why would you tax something that you are already subsidizing? Why not just take away those subsidies? This way you take away money that can be used elsewhere, you curb consumption and you punish the offender.
Mr. Pollan made this great point last night and is the reason that I am writing about this. We have come to the fork in the road – in the food road and in the energy road. One road goes off a cliff and the other begins to restore order. If we do not repair and begin to reverse the effects of greed by industries such as food, coal, oil (and banks too, as long as we are on this) we’ll go off that cliff. Some might say we’re already dangling on the edge.
These industries need to be regulated by the people who consume the stuff: us. Political leaders are not doing the job and it’s up to us to make the changes necessary to restore sanity to our food system. The argument that we should be educated enough to make the right choice is no longer valid when industry marketing makes really difficult to stick to plain old good food at the market anymore.
So here’s the energy connection. Subsidizing dirty energy is as harmful as subsidizing food used to make unhealthy products. We should not be dealing with the environmental issues of the Keystone pipeline or the Gulf oil spill. We should instead be focusing on renewable energy. All of us, regardless of our political affiliation, should make our displeasure known in Washington.
Your political party or tendency to swing left or right has nothing to do with good healthy foods, clean and renewable energy. Politicians, fueled by wealthy supporters, have hijacked the discourse by making everything political.
If we take that fork in the road we are going to end up with something that we just may not recognize. Our grandparents had it right. Home cooked meals and electric cars! Now that’s freedom.