Food for Thought Thought

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February 8, 2009 at 11:28 am

Rob Gardner

I guess the good news about the many sucky aspects of the new Chicago Tribune is that me, like a lot of people, probably did not see the ill-informed op-ed piece run the other day called Gourmet activists: Food for thought.

It’s authored by David Martosko, who is identified as director of research for the Center for Consumer Freedom.  Well, it takes all of a five seconds of Google to learn that Martosko’s connected to a food industry lobbyist named Richard Berman, and that Berman himself has a history of hiding his connections to corporate America.  Still, I do not begrudge Corporate Food from having its say, even if it tries to mask its say through benign sounding fronts such as Center for Consumer Freedom.  What bothers me is the clouding of the debate.

The first tactic, one much used by operators like Martosko, is the ad hominem, but not  a flat-out personal attack but an attack of belittlement and mockery.  If you are not with us, your with the “food snobs” the “white-tablecloth-and organic shallot set”, a “sprouting acolyte, growing heirloom radishes.”  I especially love the vegetable allusions to rile up the real Americans.  After all, who eats the more shallots than those swishy French, and should a radish be anything but round and red?  So, Martosko has you softened up.  What are those damn hippies saying.

What they are saying he assures you, is flat out wrong.  Michael Pollan he tells us, claims that meat production accounts for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. Ha! Martosko snags, “conspicuously out of date.”  Mmmmm, I think.  Could Michael Pollan get it so wrong?   Martosko cites the EPA for his counter-statistic of 3 percent (and we’ll come back to so-what in a moment).  It takes me no more than a minute on Google to find the reference in question, a 2006 report issued by the United Nations Food & Agriculture Organization.  Is it a question then, of being out of date or differing studies?  Not so clear cut now is it.

How ’bout organic foods.  Martisko assures us that we are not acknowledging “the growing body of evidence showing that organic foods are no healthier (or greener even) than what our parents fed us.”  Of course this growing body of evidence is not supported by any cites or references.  Again, I get to my Google.  I can find well cited studies on the superiority of organic foods.  I can find critique of that study from the NYTimes based on statistics.  Yet, this NYTimes article also has its own scientist supporting organic food!  One can find further critiques of organic food safety, focusing on the use of manure and large scale organic production, but that has to do with how organic is done, not with organic principles.  And I did find a study attacking the green-ness or organic, suggesting, get this, to chose local food instead.

All of this is to obfuscate, enrage and confuse, to halt progress towards food changes.  Let’s return to the 18 percent vs. 3 percent greenhouse emissions issue.  Let’s say for the sake of argument that meat production only covers 3 percent of greenhouse emissions, but it also covers a very controllable factor in greenhouse emissions.  Why not try to do something here?  Yes, it may be a pain to pay $7 for organic milk.  It’s also a pain to have to pay for all the costs and troubles associated with our current food system.  If you have to pay marginally more for milk, find some place else to cut back.  Can an extra issue of Nylon magazine be worth it? 

It continues to amaze me that a movement that has barely dented a scratch in the surface provokes such backlash.  Well, maybe I’m not amazed when I Google authors like David Martosko and learn why they are saying what they are saying.  I’m very convinced after several years of eating local that it’s not the easiest thing to do.  On the other hand, I have not been convinced in the least, that it it’s a smart, good thing to do.

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