Monday, August 31, 2009

The Conservatism of Michael Pollan

I'm a big fan of Michael Pollan's books on food and nature. But there is a peculiar conservatism within the whole foods movement, particularly when it focuses on localism. While I think buying local is important, it can also easily slip into a reactionary antimodernism and myopic belief that your issue is all that matters.

Pollan deploys the worst of those tendencies here when he supports Whole Foods CEO John Mackey on a conservative website . Mackey, a libertarian tycoon, came out against health care reform. This has caused a boycott Whole Foods movement among his consumers, most of which do support health care reform. Mackey is also an anti-union fantatic and a supporter of any number of right-wing causes. But Pollan doesn't care. Pollan supports health reform but also says that Whole Foods does such great things for the world of food that it really doesn't matter.

Whole Foods is full of problems of course--from the industrialization of organic agriculture to the rollback of reforms for farm labor to weed organic produce without pesticides to the exorbitant cost of the food to the location of their stores in the most elite neighborhoods. While Pollan could be right that using a litmus test of CEO's political views might make it hard to eat anywhere, there's a big difference between what they think and one of them writing a prominent editorial about it.

Moreover, I'd like to think that Pollan and other local food proponents think other issues are at least as important than this. Personally, while I value good quality food and buying local, I'd argue that health care reform is far, far more important, as is climate change, card check legislation, foreign policy, and any number of other issues in the world. Rather than separating those issues like Pollan does, I'd like to see him follow what his consumers are doing. They realize that these issues are closely connected and refuse to support one at the cost of another.

Via Lindsay