Part 5: Give Us Our Daily Food Web

We now arrive at the key failure of Michael Pollan’s unsupportable assertions that transport him, and apparently many of his readers, to false and ecologically destructive conclusions regarding food choices.


Doing further harm to our understanding, he does not accurately report our connections and our relationships to ecosystems through food choices. He writes, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma is about the three principal food chains that sustain us today: the industrial, the organic, and the hunter-gatherer.” Though sharing some similarities with food chains, the first two are at best methods of production with the third being methods of acquiring food. Claiming that hunter-gatherers are a food chain instead of a method of procuring food is an idea I hope readers will see as obviously misapplied.


When Pollan applies an ecological term like food chains to organic and industrial methods of food production, he is comparing plots of land under agriculture to nonagricultural food chains that occur in ecosystems. In botanical agriculture, one can plant and harvest rice by hand (nonindustrial), then use pesticides and herbicides, and thereby not be organic. Those are aspects of production. They are not food chains. A cropped field is a very narrow view of the larger biological world. Food chains describe the interconnectedness of food energy flowing through species but farms are not the same as the ecosystems they are embedded within.


If we start thinking that farms are the beginning and end of our food chain, we drift from more traditional references of complex food chains that occur in ecosystems. Though intensely altered, an agricultural field is still embedded in an ecosystem. If we believe Pollan’s proposal that agricultural fields or agriculture itself are representative of stand-alone food chains (his industrial and organic idea), I believe the inevitable result will be a disconnect between what Pollan thinks our food chain should be in agricultural systems instead of what ecosystems need from our food chain choices. Even if he is speaking metaphorically, this is dangerous. All of our food choices must provide the best possible outcomes for ecosystems. In fact, Omnivore’s Dilemma refers to Polyface Farm as being a complete ecosystem that ends at the fence line. No farm ends at the fence line. They are part of and extend into the rest of the biosphere. He forgets to write that the fences themselves are damaging to ecosystems.


It is at this biocentric ecological level, and within the context of ecosystems, where we must make our dietary decisions. Ignore that, and we will get a Pollan set of omnivore answers that are insufficiently adaptive to ecosystems and unsustainable. In a biocentric choice, individuals of all species have intrinsic value. Telling of his human-centered perspective, intrinsic value is sorely lacking throughout Omnivore’s Dilemma.


For instance, Pollan advocates nonindustrial meat, dairy, and egg consumption at some lowered level that easily satisfies his industrial, organic, and hunter-gatherer faux food chain. But when measured biocentrically instead of anthropocentrically, we see the omnivores’ destructive effects on native species and ecosystems. It is here that we have created the unnatural, invasive species relationships between livestock and the ecosystems where we exploit them both.

NEXT POST: Dancing at Polyface Farm
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