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Foodie author advises Obama on ag

Popular author, president-elect link cheap food to rising health costs

Cookson Beecher
Capital Press

Article from

As the nation's "Farmer-in-Chief," President-elect Barack Obama - and his family - will have a wonderful opportunity to set an example for families across the nation by eating healthful meals made from fresh local ingredients.

That was one of the ideas proposed to Obama by author and University of California-Berkley Professor Michael Pollan in a 16-page letter printed in the New York Times on Oct. 12.

Pointing to rising food prices, Pollan warned Obama that, "with a suddenness that has taken us all by surprise, the era of cheap and abundant food appears to be drawing to a close."

One of the main reasons, Pollan said, is that the days of cheap oil, which the nation's current industrialized food system was built on, are over.

But all is not lost - in fact, much is to be gained, said Pollan.

Instead of relying on fossil fuels, farmers can return to relying on the sun to provide the energy for producing a diversity of crops instead of subsidized crop monocultures such as corn and soybeans that leave the land barren of any vegetation during much of the year.

Pollan refers to this approach to farming as the "re-solarization" of agriculture.

Pollan also warned Obama that when he goes to address the issues he campaigned on - the health care crisis, energy independence, and climate change - he'll 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."

"There are many, many people who are trying to take back control of their family dinner from the fast-food companies," he said.

Obama read the letter, and in a subsequent interview with Time magazine reporter Joe Klein said it was about "the fact that our entire agricultural system is built on cheap oil."

"As a consequence," said Obama referring to the content of Pollan's letter, "our agriculture sector actually is contributing more greenhouse gases than our transportation, and creating monocultures vulnerable to national security threats in the form of sky-high food prices or crashes in food prices and huge swings in commodity prices."

Also referring to Pollan's letter, Obama said this situation is partly responsible for the explosion in our healthcare costs because they're contributing to rising cases of Type 2 diabetes, stroke, heart disease, obesity, - "all the things that are driving our huge explosion in health-care costs."

Later, in a conference call arranged by the McCain campaign after the letter appeared, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, blasted Pollan's letter, saying that it's "ludicrous to blame farmers for obesity and pollution."

But during the recent Tilth Producers of Washington's annual conference, Anne Schwartz, president of organization, was upbeat about the letter, telling her audience of almost 400 people that it was a blueprint for changes that need to be made in American agriculture.

Schwartz said later that if the president and his family are eating healthful food, it will serve as a "very strong example of how people should be eating."

When looking at the benefit of Pollan's letter and Obama's response, Schwartz said it will help connect people with agriculture and "help start a conversation and increase an awareness of the need to rethink our nation's agricultural policy."

Staff writer Cookson Beecher is based in Sedro-Woolley, Wash.

E-mail: [email protected].


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