Small Streams

The Engineered Food Product Criticism Theory
November 22, 2006, 10:15 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Finished Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma. It seemed like the book raced to the finish. After having seen the wild boar killed and the mushroom picked, everything else seemed inevitable. He didn’t describe the burps after the meal, but I found the book covered nearly everything involved in the act of eating.

Not everybody has been satisfied by the book. Here’s Tyler Cowen in Slate (thanks to Chris for the tip):

In other words, the garden ideal is possible in some spheres only because it is rejected in so many others. It is the cultures of the scientists and engineers that have allowed gardens—and also a regular food supply—to flourish in the modern world.

So, let us not judge food markets by whichever costs we observe on a fact-finding trip. Society uses markets, prices, and formal accounting precisely because a narrative is as likely to mislead us about social costs as not. Markets may require tinkering, but to make that judgment, let us put down that hoe and pick up a price-theory textbook.

Cowen’s criticisms beg the question, Pollan is uneconomical because his narrative doesn’t fit any economic models. The review blithely disregards a major point that Pollan makes: that if each of us considered the choices we make, we wouldn’t be in such a muddle.

Scientists and technologist have done much to make growing and eating food easier. But we still have the devastating problem of obtaining all the petroleum we need to grow all the corn we’re eating (Pollan does a great job in describing how most of what we eat somehow or other comes from corn. And how much of our petroleum is devoted to agriculture. And how getting that petroleum presents some hairy geopolitical dilemmas.).

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