Saturday, September 4, 2010

"What! You're Not My Mom!?"

Kids say the darndest things on a two hour plane. I sat just one row in front and across the aisle from what I can only image to be the type of child that I will be given one day. A little girl with long blonde hair who sang about EVERYTHING the entire plane ride from Austin to Phoenix. It was amazing! She sang her book that she was reading, she sang 'mom', 'mom', 'mom', and what we learned was the 'I love you' song, 'I love you', 'I love you', 'I love you', with her mother never lifting her head or acknowledging, even during terrible turbulence.

It was obvious this mom was completely and utterly exhausted! At one point, when mom woke for just a couple minutes to make some playdough snowmen, the little girl in the most inquisitive and innocent voice said, 'what! you're not my mom!?' I have no idea what 'mom' had said to her, but 'mom' wasn't shocked by the comment. In fact by her response, 'you know better than to behave like this', it became evident the little girl's shocking comment was nothing more than a little manipulation to gather other passengers attention. I'm totally going to have a child like that one day.

I'm currently reading Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. I've been threatening myself with this book for about a year. I finally found it on a bookshelf in my living room. It's pretty fucking good. Living in the bubble of North Oakland with two UC Berekely grad school alum and having watched an array of food industry documentaries, I'm pretty aware of much of what he is describing. This prior knowledge doesn't make the information any less jolting.

Here is an excerpt:

"One reason that obesity and diabetes become more prevalent the further down the socioeconmic scale you look is that the industrial food chain has made energy-dense food the cheapest foods in the market, when measured in terms of cost per calorie. A recent study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition compared the 'energy cost' of different foods in the supermarket. The researchers found that a dollar could buy 1,200 calories of potato chips and cookies; spent on a whole food like carrots, the same dollar buys only 250 calories. On the beverage aisle, you can buy 875 calories of soda for a dollar, or 170 calories of fruit juice from concentrate. It makes economic sense that people with limited money to spend on food would spend it on the cheapest calories they can find, especially when the cheapest calories - fats and sugars - are precisley the ones offering the biggest neurobiological rewards.

Corn is not the only source of cheap energy in the supermarket - much of the fat added to processed foods comes from soybeans - but it is by far the most important. As George Naylor said, growing corn is the most efficient way to get energy - calories - from an acre of Iowa farmland. That corn-made calorie can find its way into our bodies in the form of an animal fat, a sugar, or a starch, such is the protean nature of the carbon in that big kernel. But as productive and protean as the corn plant is, finally it is a set of human choices that have made these molecules quite as cheap as they have become: a quarter century of farm policies designed to encourage the overproduction of this crop and hardly any other. Very simply, we subsidize high-fructose corn syrup in this country, but not carrots. While the surgeon general is raising alarms over the epidemic of obesity, the president is signing farm bills designed to keep the river of cheap corn flowing, guaranteeing that the cheapest calories int he supermarket will continue to be the unhealthiest."

The chapters on corn is incredible. If you don't want to read a whole book on our food industry, then just read the first 100 pages of this. It's like a novella. The size of a Capote story. I've heard issues around farm policies and of course the plight of the small American farmer but I didn't really understand it until I read these pages. It's an easy read and fairly beautiful prose as well.

I'm now reading the section on the organic industry. I love my weekly CSA box and my handful of veggies in my backyard. I do not love organic tofu from Trader Joe's.

I'm also reading Natural Capitalism. Just as shocking and interesting, but much more dense. It's not a train reading book. It's a sit down, grab a pen, and be prepared to learn kind of book. Little mind bombs of 'ohhhh that's what those people in suits have been talking about!" Totally worth the read. If you are interested in learning some new theories on how to restructure our private sector to prevent the wasteful use of natural resources, but not sure you want to dedicate the end of your summer to 347 pages, take a read of an article by the authors in the Harvard Business Review.

The basic premise is:

"Critics on the left may argue that business people pursue only shortterm self-interest unless guided by legislation in the public interest. However, we believe that the world stands on the threshold of basic changes in the conditions of business. Companies that ignore the message of natural capitalism do so at their peril. Thus our strategy here is not to approach business as a supplicant, asking corporations to change and make a better world by respecting the limits of the environment. Actually, there are growing numbers of business owners and managers who are changing their enterprises to become more environmentally responsible because of deeply rooted beliefs and values. But what we are saying is more pressing than a request. The book teems with examples and references, included to show that the move toward radical resource productivity and natural capitalism is beginning to feel inevitable rather than merely possible.

It is similar to a train that is at the station about to go. The train doesn't know if your company, country, or city is safely on board, nor whether your ticket is punched or not. There is now sufficient evidence of change to suggest that if your corporation or institution is not paying attention to this revolution, it will lose competitive advantage. In this changed business climate, those who incur that loss will be seen as remiss if not irresponsible. The opportunity for constructive, meaningful change is growing and exciting."

Really good stuff.

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