Part of the problem is that intentionally or otherwise, the dialogue about the “food problem” is being driven by people who are, if I may be blunt, a bit clueless.
If Michael Pollan actually tried to grow, process, and harvest his own food, he sure wouldn’t have time to write books and essays that analyze the crisis of American food. (Of, he could do it for a year as an experiment and then write a book about it, except that Barbara Kingsolver already did that. Note that both she and Pollan are part of the monied leisure class and have the wherewithal do try such an experiment.)
And I don’t say that to be snarky. There’s simply no way can someone crank out a book AND practice self-sufficiency. Thoreau’s mother and sister brought food out to the pond and took his dirty laundry into town where, no doubt, a servant washed it.
So what’s my point? I appreciate Pollan’s efforts to draw attention to the “food problem” in the U.S. I appreciate and admire all the young people who are spending so much time touting “local” foods, farmers’ markets, locavorish behavior, etc.
But I think all of them, including Pollan, are oversimplifying both the problems and the solutions. Worse, I see in them a kind of class-blindness, or (and I hate to use this word) elitism, that will alienate large chunks of the population and/or cause many people to tune out those who are trying to articulate a substantive critique about the complex problems of growing, producing, and eating food in a post-industrial society.
The rest of us live out here in the real world, where fashionable food isn’t at the top of the list of our daily priorities.
Is there a problem in American eating culture? Yes. When people regard Twinkies as real food, there’s a problem. I’m not sure what will solve the problem — but nattering at people about gardening and cooking ain’t gonna do it. Mind you, I certainly don’t have the “solution.”
Frankly, I’m not even sure what the problem is. Indeed, part of the problem is that the “problem” itself has been couched in absurdly simplistic terms — “Industrial farming is evil!” “Fast food is evil!” “Processed foods are evil!” Simple black-white statements like that lead to simple solutions (“Everyone plant a garden!”) that aren’t solutions at all.
Result? The truly complex issues related to food are being obscured by knee-jerk simplistic thinking. And when adults reduce both problems and solutions to simplistic equations, people who might otherwise disagree in a civil manner become antagonistic. They tend to shout at each other rather than discuss; to talk past rather than to each other.
(A good example is the debate over abortion. Early on, both sides grossly simplified a complex issue, and that issue quickly became an emotional all-or-nothing free-for-all.)
So, again, I don’t have solutions. Haven’t articulated a coherent statement about the problem. But I know that we need fewer starry-eyed essays about cooking and gardening, less knee-jerking and daydreaming, and more substantive critical thinking. In between, of course, figuring out what’s for dinner tonight.