Sunday, November 26, 2006

Behind the Hype

Good look at the labeling process for our food and how it has been used against us, and our natural inclination to eat healthy.

A natural muckraker
He pressures industry to live up to its values
By Jim Downing - Bee Staff WriterPublished 12:00 am PST Sunday, November 26, 2006

Michael Pollan wrote the right book at the right time.

In April, Pollan, a journalism professor at the University of California, Berkeley, published "The Omnivore's Dilemma," an interrogation of both the industrial food system and the fast-growing organic sector that was supposed to be its alternative.

He couldn't have known what would follow.

This year, organic food finally went mainstream, manufactured by Kraft and available on the shelves at Wal-Mart -- while at the same time a wave of news reports pointed out that, image to the contrary, organic supermarket food usually isn't grown by a small local farmer…

…While selling itself as pastoral and progressive, the large-scale organic food industry, he writes, has taken on many of the traits of the conventional food industry: animals raised inhumanely and produce grown on mammoth farms and shipped around the globe.

The Whole Foods chicken Pollan ate, for instance, was raised in a cramped henhouse with 20,000 others. The birds ate organic feed and weren't given antibiotics, but otherwise lived much like conventional mass-produced chickens. Along with the chicken, he had $6-a-pound organic asparagus flown in from Argentina. It tasted, he writes, like damp cardboard.

None of that would have been so bad, or so unexpected, if not for the marketing attached to it -- a vision of small local organic farms and happy animals that Pollan dubs "Supermarket Pastoral."