Monday, June 05, 2006

organic Cocoa Puffs?

An article by Michael Pollan in yesterday's New York Times Magazine, "Mass Natural," neatly summarizes many of the arguments in the author's recent book The Omnivore's Dilemma. That book's central thesis is the need to be aware, and vigilant, in the choices we make about food. Those choices can affect the economy, the environment, and our own bodies in ways we often barely realize.

Wal-Mart's entry into organic will radically lower prices and making chemical-free food available to additional millions - the tough choices won't disappear, though. As Pollan writes:
To index the price of organic to the price of conventional is to give up, right from the start, on the idea, once enshrined in the organic movement, that food should be priced not high or low but responsibly.
Until the prices at checkout accurately reflect the costs - environmental, social, medical, moral - that society collectively pays, we will continue to encourage destructive choices, and our motto will continue to be "Cheap at any price," in the words of Wendell Berry.

I'm not suggesting we each need to calculate all those costs every time we reach for some organic Oreos; once you absorb some of the facts Michael Pollan relates though, it does affect you. Lately I'm finding that many of my meals are served with a large side helping of guilt. It's not pleasant to realize that one's tasty snack is polluting the air, destroying the land, funding war, driving people into poverty, etc. I'm not sure I like knowing these things, but knowing does change my appetites - "good to think" becomes just as important as "good to eat."

So I would very strongly encourage everyone to read this article and The Omnivore's Dilemma if you have any curiosity about food's impact. It might not make those organic Cocoa Puffs look very appealing, but it does present a shattering expose of the industrial food cycle - and an eloquent celebration of the true sustenance that nature affords.

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