With his newest book, Cooked, Michael Pollan is generating plenty of attention in the press. He takes on the challenges of families everywhere: who’s doing the cooking?
Michael suggests that since women entered the workplace, industry has stepped into the void and allowed everyone to avoid the harder conversation about division of labor for household tasks. In the meantime, the food industry ran off the rails engineering an abundant and highly adulterated food supply.
In Cooked, Michael Pollan’s addresses the history of cooking, diving into the critical issue of biodiversity: what we grow, what we eat and ultimately the ability for us to continue to do the same. He discusses the gut microbiome and how current food culture cultivates a gut flora that is more likely to increase inflammation, compromising our immune system and metabolism. This is exactly what we need to be talking about.
FAST FOOD AND THE FOOD SUPPLY
In the middle of the media tour for Cooked, Michael Pollan is interviewed in a Yale Environment 360 newsletter. McDonald’s is referenced enough for me to take notice. The common theme centers on the dubious assertion that fast food drives food technology and is responsible for the dismal state of the food supply. My cursory research shows that the advent of industrial “factory” farming most closely aligns with the industrial revolution, with an increasing dependence on machinery instead of human labor. The development of antibiotics and vaccines in the 1940’s (with widespread use by the 1950’s) “allowed” animals to be housed indoors in highly crowded conditions with less risk for catastrophic disease.
The McDonald’s brothers opened a single BBQ restaurant in 1940, and by 1948 founded the first McDonald’s restaurant using a limited menu and employing assembly line practices– what most people today identify with “fast food”. I’m guessing a couple of restaurants was not responsible for driving farm industry practices during those years.
It is curious to me why Michael Pollan, and the media in general, continue to tag fast food as the culprit here. Both graphs depict USDA data showing significant changes far before fast food established a foothold. Isn’t is possible these scientific “advances” in farming paved the way for cheaper commodities and the growth of fast food, not the other way around?
A DIFFERENT ROLE FOR FAST FOOD
In a 2006 Pew Research survey, convenience was identified as the number one reason people eat what they do. Life isn’t getting simpler, so I don’t see fast food going away.
Maybe instead of demonizing fast food, we should engage the players. Educate them about the costs of industrialized farming that burden all of us: pollution, soil erosion, antibiotic resistance, loss of biodiversity, compromised health and entire ecosystems. Cheap food really isn’t so cheap. The good players understand that stewardship of resources and sustainability are important. There is opportunity for fast food–in fact we need fast food– to be part of the solution.