Thought for Food
One evening in late November, my wife and I were browsing through the fare on the San Francisco public television station when we found ourselves at the beginning of an episode of Bill Moyers’ Journal. We do not ordinarily watch Moyers, but we were pleased to see that Moyers’s guest that evening was Berkeley journalism professor Michael Pollan, whose article on food policy, whimsically titled “Farmer in Chief,” we had admired when we read it online in the October 9 issue of the New York Times Sunday Magazine.
The article was in the form of an open letter to the winner of the then-upcoming presidential election. Pollan’s starting point was that, although agriculture had not been a subject of debate in the campaign, the new president would soon learn that reform of our nation’s dysfunctional and vulnerable system of industrial agriculture was an essential part of any program initiated to solve the problems that the candidates did address, including national security, energy independence, skyrocketing health care costs, and environmental protection.
According to Pollan, the underlying weakness that makes it impossible to continue our existing food production system is that, although everything we eat comes ultimately from photosynthesis (the natural chemical process by which plants use the sun’s energy to convert atmospheric carbon to oxygen and food), industrial agriculture has become dependent upon the consumption of fossil fuels—for fertilizers, insecticides, farm machinery, and the transportation of food from farms to distant processing plants and markets. When we promote solar power, we ought to begin not just with innovative ways of producing electricity, but also with the re-solarizing of agriculture, that is, with a return to sustainable ways of producing food by abandoning crop monocultures and gigantic animal feedlots.
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Phillip E. Johnson is Professor of Law (emeritus) at the University of California at Berkeley. He is the author of Darwin on Trial, The Wedge of Truth, The Right Questions (InterVarsity Press), and other books challenging the naturalistic assumptions that dominate modern culture. He is a contributing editor of Touchstone.
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