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Politics and produce: Pollan on the American 'food movement'

If more Americans are rediscovering their food, digging into the issues surrounding their daily nutrition, can the politicians be far behind?

After digesting a groaning table of new books on food policy, Michael Pollan wrote an essay in The New York Review of Books pondering how far the discussion has come in recent years. With First Lady Michelle Obama raising food issues from her new White House garden, does that mean some of the federal policies that led to the current American state of food be ready for overhaul?

Lest we forget, Pollan writes, it was massive federal intervention on behalf of certain corporate sectors of the food industry that brought us here:

Americans spend a smaller percentage of their income on food than any people in history—slightly less than 10 percent—and a smaller amount of their time preparing it: a mere thirty-one minutes a day on average, including clean-up. The supermarkets brim with produce summoned from every corner of the globe, a steady stream of novel food products (17,000 new ones each year) crowds the middle aisles, and in the freezer case you can find “home meal replacements” in every conceivable ethnic stripe, demanding nothing more of the eater than opening the package and waiting for the microwave to chirp. Considered in the long sweep of human history, in which getting food dominated not just daily life but economic and political life as well, having to worry about food as little as we do, or did, seems almost a kind of dream.

Readers familiar with Pollan's concerns about sustainability and the petroleum-based corporate agricultural system will find him hitting some familiar themes here and there. But the essay is worth reading as a useful overview of five recent books that add to the national conversation about what we eat, where it comes from, and why we ought to care.

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Food and Drink
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