My crush on Michael Pollan and why making responsible meat choices matters

Omnivore's Dilemma

Food activists are my rockstars (well, I guess rockstars are my rockstars too, but that is irrelevant to this blog). Either way, since reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma last year, I have been a devout follower of Michael Pollan.

He has done great things for the whole food/conscious food movement, as he distills an overwhelming amount of information on food history, food system processes and the culture surrounding food, and conveys it with journalistic flair to the masses. He is also friends with Oprah.


Speaking of which, here he is speaking on Oprah this week, during her “Vegan Challenge” (side note: Oprah had her staff of 380 people eat vegan for a week; I will update you with the details soon – I’m waiting to hear more about the aftermath!):

Michael Pollan on Oprah

Link to video - excuse the advertisement at the beginning, it's not available ad-free on Youtube yet

I know a lot of vegans are unhappy with his promotion of eating any meat at all, but the expectation that the mainstream is going to embrace giving up animal products completely at this point is unreasonable. His emphasis on family-run farms, grass-fed animals and eating less meat is important; it is a step that the vast majority of meat eaters that are not planning to give up their steak can take – they’ll just have to buy “happy meat” (that’s what I call it, though I should probably call it “happier meat”) and make it more of a luxury than an every-meal necessity.

When buying meat from family farms, you reduce:

1. The ethical concerns: the animals are (typically) treated more humanely[1] – speak with the farmer if you’re at the farmer’s market; you can usually get a good sense of what kind of treatment the animals are receiving.

2. The environmental concerns: the animal waste is effectively used for fertilizer for farming rather than sitting in manure lagoons seeping into groundwater; the CO2 emissions from cattle are reduced as they are being fed their natural diet causing them to release less methane gas (studies have shown up to a 50% decrease – and this doesn’t include emission reduction from carbon sequestration in organic soil![2] [3]); and their feed is less likely to be grown in a monoculture (which erodes topsoil, requires more chemical fertilizers and just generally wreaks havoc on the land).[4]

3. The health concerns: there is significantly less saturated fat (2 grams per ounce rather than 10 grams per ounce)[5] and more healthy fats in grass-fed meat; factory farmed meat is at an increased risk of e-coli and salmonella contamination due to the animals living in close quarters with each other and sometimes being fed by-products of their same kind; and the antibiotics used extensively in factory farming have been shown to contribute to antibiotic-resistant strains of disease-causing bacteria among humans.[6]

Even Jonathan Safran Foer (another influential writer in the food movement, due to his book Eating Animals), who disagrees with Pollan on eating meat (he’s vegan), agrees it is imperative that the greater population starts reducing their meat and dairy consumption and choosing their sources more carefully. I saw him speak at a CBC interview in Toronto last September, and he did an exercise with the audience that separated it into a small section and a larger section. “If this small section,” he said, “were to all become vegan, it would make less of a difference than if the larger section were to eat just 25% less meat.”

So rather than alienate our omnivore friends with an all-or-nothing approach, let’s encourage family-farmed meat and dairy, answer their questions openly, and maybe even offer them some of our quinoa salad. I think Michael Pollan would agree.


[1] Sustainable Table Org
URL: http://www.sustainabletable.org/issues/animalwelfare/

[2] Foster, C., Green, K., Bleda, M., Dewick, P., Evans, B., Flynn A., Mylan, J. (2006) Environmental Impacts of Food Production and Consumption: A report to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Manchester Business School. Defra, London. (p. 85)
Available online: http://www.heartland.org/custom/semod_policybot/pdf/20893.pdf

[3] Time for Change
URL: http://timeforchange.org/are-cows-cause-of-global-warming-meat-methane-CO2

[4] Beyond Factory Farming
URL: http://beyondfactoryfarming.org/get-informed/industrial-vs-family-farms-comparison

[5] Pirello, Christina. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/christina-pirello/is-there-more-in-your-bur_b_663540.html

[6] Eat Wild
URL: http://www.eatwild.com/healthbenefits.htm

This entry was posted by erin on Monday, February 7th, 2011 at 8:13 am and is filed under Food. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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