Biofuels, Food, and Sustainability Examined: Michael Pollan Interviewed by Yale Univ.

Corn Harvested

photo by Slinger via flickr

By way of intellectual disclaimer let me say that I’m a big fan of Michael Pollan's work. He shows an uncommon insight and clarity of thought, as well as an ability to synthesize the many strands of what I consider to be the essence of environmentalism that is often lacking in the prevaling compartmentalized issue and solution mindset. He’s big picture and little picture equally. So with that gushing behind us...

Yale Environment 360 is running an interview with Michael Pollan that I wholly encourage everyone concerned about biofuels, rising food prices and agriculture to read. He might be preaching to the choir in this audience (something he says in the interview he doesn’t like to do), but there’s some really choice bits in this one.

On rising corn and grain prices:

Most of this grain we’re talking about is being fed to animals. So meat-eating is a tremendous part of this problem too, and specifically the meat eating increase that we see in places like China and India. They want to eat meat the way we do. Well, here in America, we’re eating over 200 pounds of meat per person per year. When you factor in people not eating meat, that’s an obscene amount of meat. That’s meat at three meals a day, just about. So one way to take pressure off these grain stocks is to start eating the grain and not feeding it to animals and not feeding it to cars. We have to remember that the arable land in this world is a precious and finite resource, and we should be using it to grow food for people, not for cars and animals.

On alternative energy:
The writer Wendell Berry was right a long time ago when he said the environmental crisis is a crisis of character. It’s really about how we live. The thought that we can swap out the fuel we’re putting in our cars to ethanol, and swap out the electricity to nuclear and everything else can stay the same, I think, is really a pipe dream. We’re going to have to change [our lifestyles], and the beginning of knowing how to change is learning how to provide for yourself a little bit more.

On small personal actions preparing us for larger changes:
Bill McKibben puts it that doing things privately — changing our light bulbs, putting in gardens — this is like calisthenics. This is getting ready for the big changes we’re all going to have to make. I think that’s a healthy way to look at it.

In addition to more of the print interview I excerpted, there’s a complete 21 minute audio interview over at Yale Environment 360: Michael Pollan on What's
Wrong with Environmentalism

Michael Pollan
Michael Pollan on What Sustainability Is All About
Michael Pollan: Read It and Eat!
Michael Pollan on the Big Beef Recall

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