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The Dilemma of the Ominivore's Dilemma

In this essay for  The American, a farmer named Blake Hurst takes it to Michael Pollan and other slow-food activists, accusing them of wanting to...

In this essay for The American, a farmer named Blake Hurst takes it to Michael Pollan and other slow-food activists, accusing them of wanting to hold farmers down to further their views on agricultural practices and animal husbandry. For those of us, like myself, who take Pollan's food views basically as gospel, it's an interesting read and a sobering look at some of the realities of whether the kind of farming we want is actually feasible.Hurst's main argument is that slow-fooders want farmers to live in the past. While we all get to go to offices and use computers and cars, we want the farmers to continue farming the way their grandfathers did, using laborious techniques that have been rendered obsolete by modern technology. Which, when put simply by someone who actually works on a farm, makes quite a bit of sense. Why should Hurst break his back to plant and harvest corn the old fashioned way when he can plant it the modern way and make more money? It seems unfair to put the onus of a responsible food policy on him, and not on all the people willing to buy the cheapest corn that was grown in the cheapest way possible.But reading it more, I think that perhaps Hurst misunderstands where Pollan is coming from, and, worse, perhaps people like Pollan have unfairly narrowed their argument to leave people like Hurst out of the equation. Hurst seems to think that his outfit qualifies as an industrial farm, a damning accusation in the world of local farms and organic produce. But I don't think that is near to the case.Hurst's byline notes that he is about to spend the next six weeks on a combine. He speaks eloquently about how he nitrogen fixes his soil, how he doesn't want to use insecticide but sometimes has to, and the pros and cons of various "humane" and "non-humane" methods of raising pigs. This is a man who appears about as connected to his farm as you can get, and that is really the essence of what the food movement wants. There are sure to be disagreements about the best way to farm in way that is responsible both to the farmer's need to make money and to the people eating the food, but those don't make you opposed to each other; that's an opportunity to work towards the best solution.Hurst should realize that if he cares that much about his farm, his food, and his animals, he's in Pollan's camp, and the people running massive operations where maximizing profit takes precedence over any sort of agricultural responsibility are not. More importantly, everyone advocating for better food and agriculture should take the fact that farmers like Hurst aren't on their side as an object lesson that their rhetoric seems to be limiting their constituency. They can't afford to have responsible, independent farmers thinking they're on the other side.Image by Darren Wamboldt/Bergman Group via The American.

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