Michael Pollan on swine flu, Monsanto and more

The alternative news Web site AlterNet is featuring a wide-ranging interview with Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto. In it, Pollan looks at the investigation into the root cause of swine flu, Monsanto’s claims of sustainability and the food industry’s attempt to put on a healthy face by replacing high-fructose corn syrup with sugar.  Pollan’s words of wisdom on how to avoid these and other specious claims are quite simple:

… if you want to avoid all this, simply don’t buy any food you’ve ever seen advertised. Ninety-four percent of ad budgets for food go to processed food. I mean, the broccoli growers don’t have money for ad budgets.

AlterNet’s pages load slowly, but the interview is well worth the four-page read.

Greening Sysco

Before last summer, I probably wouldn’t have put the words Sysco and sustainability in the same sentence. Sysco, the sprawling food-service distributor with trucks criss-crossing the country, seemed the antithesis of a business managed with an environmental consciousness. But I began to question my assumptions a bit when I attended a conference on food waste and heard how Sysco was taking the excess out of its food-service operation at Montclair State University. I can’t find my notes on the talk now, but I remember being appalled at the waste and impressed by how much Sysco had cut out after its revamp.

Now an article in the April issue of Saveur is making me think even more about Sysco and sustainability. The writer looks at the company’s efforts to add local suppliers and implement a truck routing system that cut 10 million miles off its trips last year. And when she tells CEO Richard Schnieders he sounds a lot like Michael Pollan, he responds, “I think Michael is 90% right.”

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not going to give up cooking local food at home any time soon. But given the size of Sysco’s presence in American food, I’d much rather have it cutting its carbon footprint than not. And I hope it will continue after Schnieders retires later this year.

The Saveur article, alas, is not online. But Sysco has produced a report on its sustainability efforts, and you can read it here.

100,000 Americans for a sustainable USDA

food_dem_nowFood Democracy Now!, an advocacy group that includes farmers, writers, chefs, and lovers of good, sustainable food, is trying to raise support for that very thing in the new administration. The group has collected more than 85,000 signatures on a petition to change the factory food ways of the United States Department of Agriculture, but needs 15,000 more to make its goal. What is that goal? To get advocates for sustainability in the USDA as undersecretaries to its new head, Tom Vilsack, and to change the way America produces its food. Here’s part of its mission, in its own words:

We seek to transform today’s system by advancing best practices in food production, animal husbandry, conservation of natural resources, renewable energy and soil preservation. Through these efforts we hope to stimulate local food systems, promote rural economic development, encourage a new generation of farmers and respond to the growing public demand for wholesome, fairly-produced food. We will also support candidates who advance this vision and who embrace common sense policies that respect our nation’s air, water, soil, livestock, food workers, consumers and family farmers.

The group’s declaration has been signed by Michael Pollan, Marion Nestle, Alice Waters, Dan Barber and Rick Bayless, among others. To learn about its picks for undersecretaries–a group Food Democracy calls “The Sustainable Dozen”–and to add your name to the petition, click here. And tell a friend.