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Food systems and climate solutions with Michael Pollen

This great interview gets food writer Michael Pollan talking frankly about how we often can over complicate the issues around sustainable food systems, land use, farming, diet, nutrition and food culture - and how we can also talk simply about the solutions.

I think it's a great reminder about how (while the complexity and detail is definitely there), the road forwards in how we tackle these things need not be overly complex. In fact the answers are - generally speaking - pretty straight forwards, and largely common sense.

It's actually by tying ourselves up in knots about a lot of things that we get tangled and unable to clearly talk about or see the way forwards.

I also agree with Michael about our food system and diets - if your grandmother wouldn't recognise it as food, you probably shouldn't be eating it. That is a pretty solid rule of thumb in my book, certainly as the more we learn about the role of a healthy and diverse microbiome being crucial to our own health, the clearer it becomes that eating as diverse and unprocessed a diet as we can makes a lot of sense. I think a lot of us understand this intuitively, but the science is now catching up and able to explain the why and how of it a lot better.

So what can we take away from all this?

Personally, I think it boils down to:
  • 1. We must grow food in ways that build soil, sequester carbon, improve biodiversity, preserve hydrological cycles and produce nutrient dense food in - mostly perennial - diverse (polycultural) ecosystems
  • 2. Produce what food you can yourself, and for the rest - support farmers who practice the above, as close to where you live as practical
  • 3. Support your microbes by eating a diverse, unprocessed "close to nature" diet
It might sound like a big ask, but it's not really. We know how to do all this, and the more we do it the better at it we'll get. Already we've seen that by managing our land and producing food in ways that build soil and restore ecological function it brings all kinds of positives to farm economies, water use, land and animal health and so on. But maybe best of all, while doing this (improving our land, improving our health and stabilising our rural economies in the process) we're actually fixing the climate change problem. So not only does addressing one problem (diet, agriculture, climate change etc) bring benefits to itself but it has the potential to have positive effects on all the other related problems as well. Sounds like a win win to me.

Michael Pollan is a food author & Professor at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.

He is the author of various books and articles that focus on the places where nature and culture intersect: on our plates, farms and gardens.

He is the author of Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation (2013). He has published four New York Times bestsellers, Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual (2010); In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto (2008); The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (2006); and The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World (2001).

In 2010, Pollan was named an influential Thinker in the TIME 100, the magazine’s annual list of the world’s 100 most influential people. A year before, in 2009, he was named one of the top 10 “New Thought Leaders” by Newsweek.