As a vegan who enjoys prowling the local farmer's market for new and
delicious produce to cook up, I've long been convinced that the way
most Americans interact with fruits and vegetables is fundamentally
problematic, and that Big Agribiz is to blame.
We have an agri-culture that is not just unhealthy for humans (pumped
full of toxins), but unhealthy for the planet (those toxins run off,
and intensive monoculture planting strips topsoil of its nutrients,
turning it into dust), unsustainable (highly dependent on oil) and
untasty (ever eaten a decent tomato grown in a family farm?). But I
always assumed that the economics of agriculture in America--with huge,
super-efficient factory farming--were unbeatable. It's just cheaper
that way, and in America that's the only justification you need. This
week The Washington Post told me I was wrong .
If you think the above assertions are typical vegan hyperbole, read
Michael Pollan's powerful essay for The New York Times, "The
Vegetable-Industrial Complex," for a description of how, for example,
the modern industrial farming process has destroyed the organic cycle
between produce and pastured cattle, creating entirely new problems of
feedlot bacteria that are to blame for the deadly strains of E. coli
that have been circulating lately. While more regulation might solve
some problems, as Pollan points out, it's far more urgent that we
radically rethink the way we grow our food. The federal government and
Big Spinach "treat E. coli 0157:H7 as an unavoidable fact of life
rather than what it is: a fact of industrial agriculture."
Pollan is the author of "The Omnivore's Dilemma," one of the best
extensive examinations of why an American diet is ultimately
unsustainable. As Pollan mentions, factory farming no longer uses
organic fertilizer (cow manure and compost) to maintain the highly
complex ecology of nutrient-rich topsoil.