Pollan: Undeniably awesome

This week I wanted to write about something undeniably awesome.

Although I debated writing an 800–word–squeal about the upcoming “Sharktopus” series on the Discovery Channel, which sounds like possibly the best idea for a TV show ever, something a bit more local eventually came to mind (okay, it was suggested by a friend.)

What I am blathering about, of course, is Michael Pollan’s visit to our lovely little snow globe of a campus.

The turnout for Michael Pollan’s “The Sun Food Agenda” was (as expected) high, although not quite the “standing room only, get there an hour early” that was originally proposed.  Everyone was exuberantly excited, notably the attentive young man snoring gently at my side.

Mr. Pollan brought up a number of crucial and unexpected topics: instead of trying to guilt his audience into lessening their carbon footprint, he told tales of small–scale success achieved by real people.

I loved that he was encouraging rather than preaching; he was realistic, urging his audience not to, for example, immediately become vegetarians, but to instead take a closer look at what they ate: don’t eat foods with more than five ingredients.

He acknowledged the hardships involved with his proposed lifestyle, such as the positive feedback loop presented when those who are in need of medical assistance due to poor nutrition cannot afford better food.

He gave direct examples of what was wrong with our current system; it’s hard to argue when our government is putting apparently $500 billion towards solving chronic problems due to food even as they subsidize products like high fructose corn syrup.

Perhaps the most powerful part of his talk was the actual substance of the sun food agenda: while others adeptly spit out horrifying statistics, Michael Pollan has actively researched and presented realistic solutions.

The discussions about permaculture systems were especially interesting as he chose a large farm and a small greenhouse located near a city to talk about.

Permaculture is essentially the practice of developing a symbiotic relationship between different organisms on a farm so that there is minimum waste and maximized result. For example, Pollan spoke of farmer Will Allen, who works just two acres of land (one and a half in a giant greenhouse) and who makes a cool million a year.

Allen’s secret is simply playing off the natural way of things; compost heats his greenhouses, worms do their wormy sort of thing (and are then fed to fish), fish do their swimming about bit in water that is kept clean by cycling through the roots of watercress plants, which absorbs nutrient in the process, fish waste is used as fertilizer, etc.

Pollan also explained what we could do to change our current destructive food consumption processes; for what it’s worth, my favorite idea was the idea of food sheds.

Food sheds basically equal water sheds with food.  The idea of local food processing and local distribution networks is one that is secretly complicated but, should it be achieved, will improve food quality and reduce the waste in transporting food across continents and oceans when it can be acquired easily next door.

At the end of the presentation, one student pointed out that here at Allegheny College, we could do a lot more to minimize our own food waste.

I won’t pretend to understand the details, but his ideas were focused on getting more food for the dining halls from the farmers of Meadville and abolishing the meal plan requirements. Also, he is in the process of planning a community garden for the school.

When the sleeping beauty next to me arose from his slumber, he made a quick quip about the necessity of diversifying his crops on Farmville.

I laughed politely, I think, but it’s safe to say that there were some audience members who took a bit more from the charismatic and rational Michael Pollan, even if it was only to eat food.  Not too much.  And mostly vegetables.

Kiley Fisher  is a member of the class of 2013. She can be reached at [email protected]