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Michael Pollan and the Food System: Bioneers

Bioneers is going on this weekend in California and green inventors, entrepreneurs, activists and enthusiasts from around the world are now gathered together talking about all that’s new and trendy and amazing in the green world. One of the keynote speakers was Michael Pollan, and I watched his speech this afternoon, after spending a hour or two roaming the Alemany Farmer’s Market in San Francisco and marveling at how much more beautiful the food was with its dirt-crusted glean in the afternoon sunshine, rather than the neon bulbs that distort the colors of the rotten spots from sitting for too long on the garlic I end up buying down the street in a pinch…

Photo Credit: Henkimaa

Pollan gave a great speech about the state of food production and what needs to change. It was great.

He began with some great numbers that illustrate how we are running a deficit on our food production, even as we are needing more food for more people around the world:

The Food System also contributes between 15-30% of greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere. The food industry creates 20% of the total fossil fuel use worldwide- more than any other industry. Wow, right?

Around WWII, we would get 2 calories of food energy for every 1 calorie of fossil fuels used (for production/ transportation/ etc.) These days, we get 2 calories of food energy for each 10 calories of fossil fuel energy. Double wow, right?

Then he did a great visual where he showed how it takes 26 oz. of oil to produce and ship one McDonald’s Quarter pounder with cheese- that same burger creates 13 lbs. of carbon emissions into the air- similar to driving your car 13 miles.

Triple wow. Watch the video:



Pollan also compellingly says that Obama cannot address climate change, health care and energy independence without addressing food issues. That’s one of the kickers that is coming up with all of the new politics- whether it’s food or water, those are the issues of the future- those are the bottom lines for all of us. Those are how we survive.

Pollan suggested several measures to consider, basic and simple to say but complicated to carry out:
1. How many crops are grown in a given field?
2. How many days of the year fields are green, how many days they are harvesting sunlight.
Both of these speak to the need to grow different things on the farm- stop growing monoculture and start growing what he is calling polyculture. He brought up a startling story that
3. Decentralizing the food system.
Basically, doing more local food creation and local selling. Full year farmer’s markets and diversified fields.
4. We need to plant gardens. We need to start cooking.

The big question he brings up is whether we can feed the world sustainably- can we actually feed all of the people on Earth who have grown up eating simple calories out of boxes and chips and cookies?
In the end, what he is suggesting that we swing the pendulum back from creating cheap calories for lots of people to making actual nourishment again.