Home » Losing Organic Meaning with Michael Pollan

How is it that we keep losing the meaning of organic in the USDA? During the symposium, Michael laid out a complex chain of thought that helped me understand. It is an important interview, and we highly recommend listening.” – Dave Chapman

 

Losing The Meaning of Organic with Michael Pollan

Your challenge is telling the truth about “Organic” without damaging it. But people don’t know. People don’t really know that you don’t need soil anymore in “Organic.” People don’t know that there are “Organic” feedlots.”
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“You get the story out about why you NEED that add-on, and you’ve damaged organic. But organic HAS been damaged! That’s just the truth. So politically, you have to thread this needle very carefully. You have to tell a story that organic has been undermined, yet can still be saved.”

– Michael Pollan

Michael Pollan Real Organic Podcast Episode 53
Click here to listen to the Real Organic interview with Michael Pollan.

Michael Pollan: “Our Cicero”

Dear Friend,

In this year’s symposium, we were privileged to include Michael Pollan. A friend described Michael as “Our Cicero.” Cicero was a Roman citizen famous for his eloquence in defending the Republic against the destruction of democracy. Michael has proven himself to be a resolute defender of our republic, even though, once again, we seem to keep losing.

During the symposium, Michael laid out a complex chain of thought that helped me understand. It is an important interview, and we highly recommend listening.

How is it that we keep losing the meaning of organic in the USDA?

Organic farming’s value doesn’t seem complicated:

  • Organic farming is defined by building soil health.
  • Soil health is the foundation, achieved by maintaining organic matter in the soil.
  • That organic matter provides both home and food for microbes that, in turn…
  • …create the nutritionally dense food that sustains us.

Healthy soil nourishes healthy plants and healthy animals. We are literally children of the soil. And for bonus points, this is done without using biocides. Thriving healthy soil is the ultimate first step in preventative medicine.

Michael Pollan smiles at the camera while wearing a collared light blue shirt and white tshirt. A tree trunk is in the background.
“A handful of companies are feeding us, and they’re doing it in a way that is brutal to workers, brutal to animals, and they’re hiding from us how our food is produced as best they can.” – Michael Pollan

Here is Michael’s take on why we keep losing organic:

Our government has a policy of cheap food. It is known that people will turn against a government when they can’t afford to eat. So USDA policy, starting with Earl Butz in the 1960s, has been dedicated to providing us with the cheapest food possible.

In order to get cheap food, they deregulate, removing the restrictions on environmental impact and labor protection. This allows for the poisoning of our waters, the killing of our soils, the abuse of our farm animals and farm labor. They will allow ANYTHING, as long as it produces cheap food.

The easiest way to produce cheap food is to centralize and industrialize the process. Enable huge companies that create “simple systems,” removing biological diversity wherever possible. Their goal: “Make it cheap and pile it high.”

 

Dave Chapman and Michael Pollan talk to one another virtually. Each appear on one side of the image.
“Democracy is threatened by large concentrations of wealth. People knew this and understood this at the turn of the last century. That’s why they wrote the Sherman antitrust act and all the other antitrust legislations.”
“They were written not to protect consumers from price-fixing, although that’s all we hear about anymore. They were written to protect the Republic against concentrations of power. It was totally understood that if corporations got so big, they could push the government around and distort everything.”
“The word consumer doesn’t appear in the Sherman Antitrust Act. “It was about power. It was about politics.” – Michael Pollan

This creates three huge problems.

  1. Nutritional quality of the food is poor, leading to a host of health issues for us.
  2. Growing monopolization of Big Farming, Big Food Processing, and Big Retail produces a concentration of power. This concentration leads to the erosion of democracy. When Godzilla comes to dinner, you have to feed Gozilla what Godzilla wants, for fear that he will destroy your home.
  3. A oncentration of wealth leads to a growing divide between those profiting from the monopolies and everyone else. The rich get really rich and everyone else gets poorer. The money is no longer circulating in our communities, our teachers are underpaid, our schools are poorly equipped and understaffed, our farmworkers are vastly underpaid, and our economy becomes a servant of the fortunate few.
Michael Pollan looks at the camera while sitting in front of shelves with dishes.
“So the test for whether a company has gotten too big or an industry is too concentrated is, ‘Are prices going up?’ and ‘Will a combination lead to higher prices?’
“And if it didn’t, ‘Fine.’
“And this is a complete perversion of what these laws exist to defend against.”
– Michael Pollan

The outcome is that many people simply can’t afford to buy good food.

If they can’t buy good food, this means that they literally can’t afford good health. The only way to keep this system going is to keep the prices really low, or a lot of people are going to get desperate, thus undermining their support for the government.

And so the government has a policy of cheap food.

This sounds like an adolescent’s political tract to me, except that it seems to be playing out right before our eyes. Ask yourself why we even need a Real Organic Project, and you will see the failure of our democracy.

It is worth saving.

Dave & Linley

“Maybe there’s a new label, but do you give up on organic? I mean that’s such a huge step. You have so much goodwill that has been built into that term. And maybe that’s what Real Organic is about. I don’t know. Creating a label outside of that that uses organic. But are you allowed to? Don’t they own the word now?”

– Michael Pollan

 

Click to watch or listen to our interview with Michael here (transcript included).


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