To go with this week’s Food and Drink Issue, the New York Times Magazine is running an “Ask Michael Pollan” feature. I’d explain more, but it’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like. Here’s the question I submitted:
In “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” you marvel at the brilliance of Joel Salatin’s animal polyculture farm, which seems to neatly solve so many of the problems of industrial agriculture. For example, you write, “The chief reason Polyface Farm is completely self-sufficient in nitrogen is that a chicken, defecating copiously, pays a visit to virtually every square foot of it at several points during the season.” This obscures a very important point: chickens don’t fix nitrogen. The nitrogen in the chicken manure is imported in the form of corn, soy, and oats fed to the chickens; Polyface Farm isn’t self-sufficient in nitrogen at all. Earlier this year, Joel Salatin even told an audience at UC Berkeley that he doesn’t describe his farm as sustainable precisely because of the chicken feed. Is it fair to ask how much of today’s alternative food, particularly meat, can reasonably be called “sustainable”? Should the food movement be doing less to glorify meat from small farms and more to help people find satisfying plant-based meals?
Bizarrely, the last few words of the question were edited to read “a satisfying Plan B?” My guess is that a spellchecker was involved. I submitted a similar question with a note of explanation, so I’m hoping this will be fixed.
If you want Pollan to answer my question, you can vote for it by following the link and clicking on the upward-pointing thumb next to my question (login required). Unfortunately, I can’t link directly to the question, so use Control+F (Command+F on a Mac) to find it within the page.
(Updated 10/2/2011 at 9:33PM to clarify the last paragraph, as per Joseph Dowd’s suggestion in the comments.)