Defending Industrial Farming

| August 23, 2009

If you have been following us for a little while, you probably realize that I support small, local, family farms. I also try to stay aware of how corporate greed has infected our food (Taking Control) and support protecting our family farms (End of Farmer’s Markets?)


Like many of you who support eating and living healthier while supporting community, shopping farmer’s markets or looking for that “local” stamp in supermarkets on a bushel of cherries or tomatoes have become necessary habits. For me, one of the people who played a role in instilling this habit was Michael Pollan. Pollan’s famous The Omnivore’s Dilemma changed my life and the way I eat and the way I shop; the way I engage with food.


While I have since read his other books, this one still remains a turning point for me. Now many of you may have read it, and may have or have not had a similar reaction to it as I did. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend it. His observations and stories about farming underscores the reliance we have on oil…and on corn…corn in everything, and not always good for your health. When he talks about how distant we have gotten from our food, I’m ready to get up, and rally and protest against all big, industrial farms.

But are they all really awful examples of corporate greed?

This interesting article by Blake Hurst, a farmer in Missouri, was recently published in The American (supported by the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute). His article, The Omnivore’s Delusion: Against the Agri-intellectuals, gives a stern admonition to people like me (I suppose) who spew about the big bad farms but don’t farm for a living. As a farmer, he discusses the realities he has had to face, from economic factors to animal nature (i.e. the stupidity of turkeys). He argues that many parts of industrial farming are owned by family farmers. He also argues that:

“Pollan thinks farmers use commercial fertilizer because it’s easier, and because it’s cheap. Pollan is right. But those are perfectly defensible reasons.”

omnivores dilemma

Source: The American

While I am not wholly convinced, I do think Hurst raises some critical questions (i.e. how do you feed the world non-industrially?) and about the need to listen to all sides and perspectives, lest we all run around like stupid turkeys (I happen to love turkeys).

In the meantime, I’ll continue to ponder these questions as I shop at the farmer’s market, support my local farmers, and look out for unnecessary pesticides in my food.

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Category: Featured Articles: Food Politics, Featured Articles: Health & Nutrition, Food Politics, Health & Nutrition

About the Author (Author Profile)

With a flair for spontaneity, pizzazz, creative excellence and her own unique sense of aesthetic grace and perspective, we have our very dear friend, Belinda (or B, to some of us). Although an incredibly accomplished professional and career woman, B’s down-to-earth approach and demeanor transcends all scenarios, communities and people. She manifests, in her day-to-day, the essence of the word “Zomppa” as demonstrated by her extraordinary commitment to creating sustainable and positive change for us and future generations to come. She’s asked for a dog every year since she was five. Check out Belinda’s work on global education research and coaching: or more about her portfolio

Comments (6)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    My Foodbuzz friend who has a wonderful blog on Italian home cooking (check it out! ) had a really thought-provoking comment about this so I posting here to share and keep the discussion going! Thanks!

    I’ll venture a few thoughts this morning, admittedly even without having read the article in The American or-embarassingly-the Omnivore’s Dilemma. And I am not expert-being neither an agronomist or an economist-but I did spend several years working for a UN agency that deals in agricultural and rural development, so I am familiar with some of the general issues here, as they affect developing countries.
    To begin with, as a foodie, the reason I try to buy local and/or organic whenever possible (I”m not dogmatic about it) is simply because local/organic produce tastes so much better. An ‘industrial’ tomato is just not worth eating.Neither is most fruit that is picked too green so it can be shipped across country or even continents. And without quality raw ingredients, good eating is simply not possible. The fact that I may also be helping my own health and the environment is, of course, an added plus, but not-for me at least-the only or even the most important reason for buying local.
    Secondly, on the economic/political issues involved, yes, there are economic stresses on farmers, both in the US and all over the world. Governments have different ways of trying to help farmers cope with these stresses, usually through various forms of subsidiies and tariffs—which is one reason why agriculture is one of the areas where there is the strongest resistence to free trade. But the proposition that industrial farming is the only way to ‘feed the world’ is proposterous. First of all, Europe and Asia are able to feed themselves perfectly well without resort to US-style industrial farming. (The main reason why the produce is of such better quality there than in the US.) The same is true for Latin America, by and large.
    In fact, there has been a dramatic reduction in hunger in the world in the past decades, although this progress has been reversed somewhat recently due to the spike in prices last year followed by the financial crisis.
    Even so, food production is not the reason for the remaining hunger is the world. It is a matter of distribution and economic resources. In those cases where efforts have been made to introduce US-style highly technology-dependent agricultural methods in developing countries, the results have been disasterous, often leading to more hunger, not less. (The reasons for this are complex, the subject of another comment.) So plainly, the US model is not going to save the world from hunger. More equitable economic development, however, might.

  2. Wow, very interesting, your opinion about the US style production model is quite similar to what Michael Pollan says in “In defense of food” (I read it recently). And indeed it seems that the application of a highly industrial agricultural model to underdeveloped countries has been a disaster so far.

  3. Nate says:

    Would be interesting to get your prospective on the Book Foie Gras Wars!

  4. Belinda says:

    I haven’t read the book yet, though I’ve read up on some articles. Admittedly, I like foie gras…love it, in fact, and yet always feel a twinge of guilt. Salon actually has a pretty good book review about the book.

  5. Nate says:

    I am about half way through it at this point and it truly hasn’t changed my feelings either way! I love foie gras.

  6. Belinda says:

    Nate – I would love to hear your thoughts or reviews of the book when you are done!