December 21, 2012 — It’s hard to know what to eat, given all of the books highly critical of the way our food is produced, processed, and marketed.
Modern Meat (Vintage) by Orville Schell was one of the first books of this genre, detailing how feedlots cheated by defying a ban on DES (diethylstilbestrol) to boost weight gains of lean beef.
Michael Pollan has written several books, including The Omnivore’s Dilemma (Penguin), all highly critical of farming that includes the use of pesticides to fight weeds, insects, diseases, molds and mildews.
I have been an agricultural journalist for about 50 years and am rather alarmed by how misleading or one-sided many of these books can be.
A clearer view comes from Tomatoland by Barry Estabrook (Andrews McMeel Publishing). He tells how Florida became the unlikely place where most of North America’s fresh tomatoes are grown and marketed during the winter. The emphasis is on yield and supermarket eye appeal, which means that nutrition and taste have been sacrificed.
Also sacrificed has been the welfare of the people who toil in the tomato fields. Some have been poisoned by pesticides on farms that ignore warnings about safe use. Others are literally slaves, bought and sold by crew bosses who keep them desperately poor.
For a more reassuring read, I recommend Maurice Hladik’s recently-released Demystifying Food from Farm to Fork (iUniverse). It tells how North American farmers keep the public supplied with huge volumes of nutritious and affordable food and exposes the false reasoning behind many of the critic’s claims about modern agriculture.
As interest in how our food is produced and processed, writers have found an eager audience. Unfortunately, through a lack of knowledge or established biases, some are producing books that mislead readers.