the irresistible fleet of bicycles

Leave a comment

michael pollan’s latest work

A Natural History of Transformation

In Cooked, Michael Pollan explores the previously uncharted territory of his own kitchen. Here, he discovers the enduring power of the four classical elements—fire, water, air, and earth— to transform the stuff of nature into delicious things to eat and drink. Apprenticing himself to a succession of culinary masters, Pollan learns how to grill with fire, cook with liquid, bake bread, and ferment everything from cheese to beer. In the course of his journey, he discovers that the cook occupies a special place in the world, standing squarely between nature and culture. Both realms are transformed by cooking, and so, in the process, is the cook. Each section of Cooked tracks Pollan’s effort to master a single classic recipe using one of the four elements. A North Carolina barbecue pit master tutors him in the primal magic of fire; a Chez Panisse–trained cook schools him in the art of braising; a celebrated baker teaches him how air transforms grain and water into a fragrant loaf of bread; and finally, several mad-genius “fermentos” (a tribe that includes brewers, cheese makers, and all kinds of picklers) reveal how fungi and bacteria can perform the most amazing alchemies of all. The reader learns alongside Pollan, but the lessons move beyond the practical to become an investigation of how cooking involves us in a web of social and ecological relationships: with plants and animals, the soil, farmers, our history and culture, and, of course, the people our cooking nourishes and delights. Cooking, above all, connects us.

The effects of not cooking are similarly far reaching. Relying upon corporations to process our food means we consume large quantities of fat, sugar, and salt; disrupt an essential link to the natural world; and weaken our relationships with family and friends. In fact, Cooked argues, taking back control of cooking may be the single most important step anyone can take to help make the American food system healthier and more sustainable. Reclaiming cooking as an act of enjoyment and self-reliance, learning to perform the magic of these everyday transformations, opens the door to a more nourishing life.

There’s also an MP3 file you can download with an excerpt from the audio book. Check it out at by clicking here.

Leave a comment

Shaping Food Policy

Here’s a re-post from Daily Finance, with some promising, happy thoughts.

Pollan, Waters influencing food politics more than we know
sarah gilbert
Mar 22nd 2009 at 6:00PM

Filed under: Economy
Blame Tom Vilsack’s grandchild, blame Sasha and Malia Obama, blame 30 million American children. Blame them for this: food politics are changing mightily, and the Secretary of Agriculture is out to prove he’s no longer a shill for Monsanto. Call him a convert to the ways of Michael Pollan and Alice Waters: he’s got a grandchild he wants to stick around for, and he’s eating organic yogurt for breakfast. (And who wants to bet it’s Stonyfield Farms?)

Continue reading

Leave a comment

old mcdonald had a farm bill



I haven’t been in touch for a while, and some of you have written asking for an an update on the 2008 Farm Bill.   After many, many months of wrangling, the bill was just passed by Congress, overriding a veto by the President. In my view, it is not a very good bill– it preserves more or less intact the whole structure of subsidies responsible for so much that is wrong in the American food system. On the other hand, it does contain some significant new provisions that, with luck, will advance the growing movement toward a more just, sustainable, and healthy food system.

You might rightly ask why there was so little movement on commodity subsidies, in a year when crop prices are at record highs and public scrutiny of the subsidy system has been intense. Indeed, the people on the Hill I talk to tell me they have not seen so much political activism around the farm bill in a generation. All the calls, cards, and emails sent by ordinary eaters clearly made a difference. So why so little change on the key issue? Why didn’t we get a food bill, rather than another farm bill?

Here’s what I think happened. Critics of farm-policy-as usual– and I count myself among them– did a much better job of demonizing subsidies than they did proposing alternative forms of farm support that would have won over some percentage of the farmers now receiving subsidies. The whole discourse depicting subsidies as a form of welfare — payments to celebrities, rich people in cities, mega-farms etc– convinced many farmers that the ultimate goal of the farm bill’s critics was to abolish subsidies, rather than to develop a new set of incentives that would encourage farmers to grow real food and take good care of their land. Had the reformers crafted proposals that were easy to explain and attractive to even just a segment of commodity-crop farmers, we could have made much more progress. Instead, faced with what appeared like a threat to their livelihood, the old guard hunkered down and defended the status quo, refusing even to negotiate on the central issues. Better alternatives could have split this block, and it was our failing not to devise and promote them. What the Old Guard did instead of negotiating a new system of farm support was what it has always done: pick off the opposition, faction by faction, by offering money for pet programs. The history of the farm bill has long been about such trade offs: Urban legislators support subsidies in exchange for rural support for food stamps. That Grand Bargain has now been extended to supporters of organic agriculture, local food systems, school lunch advocates, etc. The reason that, in the end, most of the activist groups wound up urging Congress to override the veto is that, by the end, they all had been given something they liked in the bill. You could put it more baldly, and suggest they’d all been 
bought off– that the $300-plus billion bill represents the exact price of buying off all the critics of the farm bill, plus the cost of maintaining the status quo. But this is how the game is played, and the fact is, some good will come of these programs, modest as they are–they will sow seeds of change and legitimize alternative food chains, or so we can hope.

The challenge for the next farm bill is clear: it’s not enough to engage the public, important as that is; we also have to get much smarter about both policy and politics, and craft some attractive proposals that will divide the farm block as well as move us to a healthier and more sustainable food system– economically sustainable for farmers and farm workers and environmentally sustainable.  This is the project for the next few years. We’ve got our work cut out for us.

Below is a very good article summarizing what in the bill, for better and worse. It’s by Debra Eschmeyer, a farmer and activist who has been an important player in the reform movement. I pass it on with her permission.   Best, Michael

Read Old McDonald Had A Farm Bill from Debra Eschmeyer

1 Comment

Shooting with the King Corn boys

California: North, Bay and a bit of inland.

October 28 – November 5, 2007

This is an account of my first major shoot for The Greenhorns. Really the schedule was a narrative diatribe in the form of an itinerary. Oh, and the sweet spots of great light: 8 am and 5.20pm- when we could get highlights on cheekbones, and veins in the tree kale.

The boys arrived into San Francisco airport. I went to pick them up on my folding bike with a backpack on my chest and one on my back- both full of special water with green powder and lime (against headaches) and a gallon of ratatoille I had made on an electric stove with vegetables from Ned’s farm, Blue House Farm. And a lovely little jar of sea salt that Brooke collected from the ocean in Mendocino. The one thing I knew for sure about those boys is that they’d be hungry. Boys generally are.

Icali shootan Cheney and Taylor Gentry have started a little film business together called Wicked Delicate Films. I thought this was because the equipment was so wicked delicate, but turns out that is a compliment for really delicious blueberry pie. They like to wear blue shirts and blue jeans. Taylor comes from Iowa, and is a sweet dear– a hot, rolled-up-jeans-wearing, visual person. He gets a kick out of the good light, and though he started the trip riffing to his friends about the “environmentalist” documentary he was working on, by the end of the trip he’d fallen in love with a Santa Cruz surfer girl/farm-hand, and sought out fresh raw sweet corn–for the flaves. No more reindeer-hide pumas for this cat.

Ian and TaylorIan is still surfing his King Corn project, a well timed, well made, and very sweet film about Ian and his friend Curt, made by Aaron Woolf. The two boys went to Iowa and planted an acre of corn. Although I feel that the most interesting parts of King Corn’s kingdom was excluded from the film’s narrative (GMOs, Atrazine, NAFTA, the irresistible monoculture, Biofuel, Mexican immigration due to corn price depression in Mexico, hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico…) these boys are good boys. They have this affable story, and benign insouciance that seems to charm reporters and critics alike. Its all very jauntily hip.

To read about the farmers we interviewed, see our About the farmers page. A few slides below, but clicking on them won’t get you anywhere. Viva la tierra. Severine.