Covid Journal, May 13, 2020
Michael Pollan is a food writer and scientist that talks about our diets in context of globalization.
In ‘The Omnivore’s Dilemma’, he wrote about how corn – if it were a sentient being – is clearly the most intelligent one on the planet because it’s convinced us to plant it everywhere and use it for everything.
Here are a few quotes:
“Only when the tide goes out,” Warren Buffett observed, “do you discover who’s been swimming naked.” For our society, the Covid-19 pandemic represents an ebb tide of historic proportions, one that is laying bare vulnerabilities and inequities that in normal times have gone undiscovered. Nowhere is this more evident than in the American food system. A series of shocks has exposed weak links in our food chain that threaten to leave grocery shelves as patchy and unpredictable as those in the former Soviet bloc. The very system that made possible the bounty of the American supermarket—its vaunted efficiency and ability to “pile it high and sell it cheap”—suddenly seems questionable, if not misguided. But the problems the novel coronavirus has revealed are not limited to the way we produce and distribute food. They also show up on our plates, since the diet on offer at the end of the industrial food chain is linked to precisely the types of chronic disease that render us more vulnerable to Covid-19.
… As the industry has grown steadily more concentrated since the 1980s, it has also grown much more specialized, with a tiny number of large corporations dominating each link in the supply chain. One chicken farmer interviewed recently in Washington Monthly, who sells millions of eggs into the liquified egg market, destined for omelets in school cafeterias, lacks the grading equipment and packaging (not to mention the contacts or contracts) to sell his eggs in the retail marketplace. That chicken farmer had no choice but to euthanize thousands of hens at a time when eggs are in short supply in many supermarkets.
Four companies now process more than 80 percent of beef cattle in America; another four companies process 57 percent of the hogs. A single Smithfield processing plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, processes 5 percent of the pork Americans eat. When an outbreak of Covid-19 forced the state’s governor to shut that plant down in April, the farmers who raise pigs committed to it were stranded.
Pollan clearly lays out how we are now in a system of liability protection as opposed to the protection of individuals. A company’s right to produce supercedes the right to a person to live.
The answers are here too … I’ve discussed them before, but they are worth repeating:
Local food systems have proved surprisingly resilient. Small, diversified farmers who supply restaurants have had an easier time finding new markets; the popularity of community-supported agriculture (CSA) is taking off, as people who are cooking at home sign up for weekly boxes of produce from regional growers. (The renaissance of home cooking, and baking, is one of the happier consequences of the lockdown, good news both for our health and for farmers who grow actual food, as opposed to commodities like corn and soy.) In many places, farmer’s markets have quickly adjusted to pandemic conditions, instituting social-distancing rules and touchless payment systems. The advantages of local food systems have never been more obvious, and their rapid growth during the past two decades has at least partly insulated many communities from the shocks to the broader food economy.
We all eat.
It’s time we ate better and that our economic, social and political responses to Covid reflect this new mindset.
Adjustments will have to be made. Thousands of jobs in meat-packing plants and others mass-production facilities will disappear, but local markets and redistribution to CSAs and other effective means of coordination of food on a local level will be our key to survival.
Putting our fates into the hands of a few VERY greedy people that don’t care about the lives of their buyers is just plain meat-headed.