“I recommend eating dinner before the lectures, because you’re going to hear a lot of things that will put you off your appetite.”
— Michael Pollan, introducing Edible Education 101
Michael Pollan kicked off this year’s Edible Education 101 lecture series with a talk on the rise of industrial agriculture. As threatened, much of the lecture was unappetizing, from the description of feedlots and manure lagoons to modern agriculture’s disastrous impact on our environment, economy, and health.
(The conversation on french fries did manage to make me hungry despite myself, even though the context was the incredibly toxic pesticides used just to prevent a cosmetic flaw particular to the breed of potato favored by a certain multinational fast food corporation. Such is the power of salt, fat, and a lifetime of advertising exposure.)
This the third series of Edible Education lectures put on by the Edible Schoolyard Project and UC Berkeley, and it’s no less popular than the first two. More than 500 students registered for the course, and the 200 seats reserved for the public disappeared within 20 minutes of being offered on the Edible Schoolyard Project’s website.
Tickets for each lecture become available the previous Tuesday morning at 10 am. For those who can’t attend, video will be posted about a week after each lecture — this week’s video can be found here: http://vimeo.com/album/2192316/video/85778743. An open access MOOC (massive open online course) is said to be in the works.
“Eating is your most powerful engagement with the natural world. Nothing else you do on a daily basis has as much impact.”
Pollan discussed modern industrial agriculture’s roots in the war machinery of WWII, when we shifted “from a sun-based food chain to an oil-based food chain” to satisfy the growing population’s demand for cheap food — particularly the meat, fats, and sugars they’d been deprived of during the war — and to reduce the political clout of the country’s farmers.
Cheap food remains the lynchpin of our economy, he said. As food costs have dropped, so have wages, leaving the poor to subsist on unhealthy food (the production of which is heavily subsidized) while unable to afford fresh produce and sustainable meat. Food is a labor issue, he said, and it’s a political, moral, and ethical problem to advocate policies that will raise the price of food without also addressing people’s ability to afford it.
“This is not just agriculture doing its thing. This is us doing our thing, three times a day.”
Pollan promised that things will gets less grim in the second half of the course, when the focus shifts from problems to solutions.
Next Monday, February 3: Raj Patel on The Green Revolution and the Economics of the Food System