It may surprise you to learn that among the issues that will occupy much of your time in the coming years is one you barely mentioned during the campaign: food.
Pollan emphasizes that the old approach to agriculture, which has increasingly relied on cheap petroleum, is no longer sustainable, which he says
brings me to the deeper reason you will need not simply to address food prices but 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. Unlike food, these are issues you did campaign on — but as you try to address them you will quickly discover that the way we currently grow, process and eat food in America goes to the heart of all three problems and will have to change if we hope to solve them.
Pollan also highlights the zero-sum game whereby we have spent increasingly less on food and increasingly more on healthcare since the 1960s. In 1960, he says we spent 5% of our income on healthcare and 18% on food; today it's 16% on healthcare and less than 10% on food. Along with the availability of cheap, nutrient-free calories, the 1980s USDA Food Pyramid (aka the Pasta Pyramid) marketed them beautifully, launching an epidemic of the diseases it was designed to prevent: heart disease, stroke, type II diabetes, and obesity. Quadruple ooops! In Pollan's words:
While the surfeit of cheap calories that the U.S. food system has produced since the late 1970s may have taken food prices off the political agenda, this has come at a steep cost to public health. You cannot expect to reform the health care system, much less expand coverage, without confronting the public-health catastrophe that is the modern American diet.
My prose is inadequate to paraphrase more of Pollan's excellent letter. Just read it. Now. I've been called the "Al Gore of Nutrition" but Pollan deserves that title much more than I.
Pictured above, your editor and Michal Pollan at Stanford after hisIn Defense of Foodtalk.Your editor wonders if it's possible to have a crush on someone's brain.
Warm thanks to my friendRawDaddywho alerted me to Pollan's letter.