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Michael Pollan: "Don't Buy Any Food You've Ever Seen Advertised"

"The real food is not being advertised. And that's really all you need to know."

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 The sows remain in crates their whole lives, so they can be conveniently inseminated, and they have their babies right there in their crates. You know, to go to one of these places is to stop eating industrial pork, basically. If we could see into this industrial meat production, it would change the way most of us eat.

Goodman: It’s amazing, because the whole coverage, it seems, of swine flu is to be afraid of human beings coming over the border, that they are the main problem.

 Pollan: Yeah, that they’re carrying it, yeah, yeah. No, it’s not—we don’t—it is not contracted by eating the pork. That doesn’t, you know, seem to be a problem. And some countries have taken that tact, used this to keep out American pork. But that link hasn’t been made.

 Goodman: Can you talk about corporations in other ways, like Monsanto, talking about the sustainability of genetically modified foods?

 Pollan: Yeah, Monsanto is very much on the attack right now, pushing its products, particularly in Africa, and making the case that the most sustainable agriculture will be intensive production on the land base we have. The argument is that there’s only so much arable land in the world, we have ten billion people on the way, and that the only way to feed them is to get more productivity over the land we have, to further intensify agriculture, using their genetically modified seeds.

 And the word “sustainable” is never far from their lips. And they have this amazing ad campaign. Two things are notable about it. One is that the language of sustainability and the critique of industrial food is being picked up by some of the major players within industrial food, either as an effort to co-opt the rhetoric or simply confuse the consumer and the citizen.

 The other thing is that it’s very interesting that Monsanto should be arguing that it has the key to improving productivity. If indeed what we need to do is improve productivity, don’t look at genetically modified crops. They have never succeeded in raising productivity. That’s not what they do. If you look at the—the Union of Concerned Scientists just issued a report looking at the twenty-year history of these crops, and what they have found is that basically the real gains in yield for American crops, for world crops, has been through conventional breeding. Genetic modification has—with one tiny exception, Bt corn used in years of very high infestation of European corn borers—has not increased productivity at all. That’s not what they’re good at. What they’re good at is creating products that allow farmers to expand their monocultures, because it takes less management. So, if indeed we need to go where Monsanto says, there are better technologies than theirs.

Goodman: What about companies boasting that they use real sugar, like that’s a health claim.

 Pollan: Well, you know, it’s very interesting. Since this book came out, where I argue don’t buy high-fructose corn syrup and don’t buy products with more than five ingredients, suddenly the industry is—you know, they’re so clever. I have to hand it to them. But now they’re arguing that their products are simpler, and there’s new Haagen-Dazs 5, which is a five-ingredient Haagen-Dazs product. You know, it’s still ice cream. Ice cream is wonderful, but we shouldn’t treat it as health food because it now has only five ingredients. ... Frito-Lay potato chips now is arguing that they’re local. Now, you have to remember, any product is local somewhere. Right? This food doesn’t come from Mars. But to think that Frito-Lay as a local potato chip is really a stretch.

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