Here is a fascinating presentation by Michael Pollan, journalist and professor at UC Berkeley. I know that the video is pretty long, but Pollan’s presentation doesn’t start until 23 minutes in and I really encourage you to watch the whole thing, even if it’s in chunks of 10 minutes at a time. Pollan gives an in-depth history of the food system in the last 70 or so years. I think this video is important to watch if you’ve ever wondered “How did we get to this point, when our agricultural system is so wasteful, pollutive, and unsustainable?” or “When did we go from small, self-supporting family farms to the huge, standardized, pesticide-ridden farms so common today?” Looking back helps explain our current situation by showing us how we got here. In investigating the choices and ideas that led us to our current food system, we have to ask: “Do these ideas still hold up and work well? Or did they ever?”
In Examining our past and understanding how we came to our current situation, we can think about how we want to move forward. We may praise pre-WWII agriculture because it was more environmentally efficient, taking its energy from the sun rather than petroleum. But does is this the exact way we want to proceed? We have to decide if it will work to revert to these old ways and if that way of farming makes sense for our modern times. Pre-WWII, when people were growing their own food, the diet was less diverse and the life expectancy shorter. My grandpa told me once that never even saw fruits like kiwis or banans for most of his life because everything that people ate was grown close to home. Nowadays, many people probably aren’t willing to give up the exotic fruits grown in Hawaii or the peppers from Mexico that they can get year round because of the warmer climate. How can we apply the pre-WWII model to our situation and adapt it, tweak it to fit the current and predicted future conditions? Maybe it will work in some places, for some people, but we’ll need to incorporate more modern technology and knowledge. We can compare new methods in farming to the old ones and ask if it meets the same standards, even if the new techniques might seem completely different from the old ones. Maybe we just have to find the timeless core idea of that old farming, its strongest central value, and preserve that in all of our agricultural endeavors.
On a different note, our chickens have just started laying! They are so fresh and delicious. Right now, just three are laying so we’re getting light green, brown, and cream-colored eggs. But soon, as they all start laying, we’ll get white eggs and dark chocolate brown eggs too. It’s pretty exciting to go out and see the eggs and think about what we’ve given the hens so that they’ll give us their eggs in return.