Articles Published in The New York Review of Books
It might sound odd to say this about something people deal with at least three times a day, but food in America has been more or less invisible, politically speaking, until very recently. At least until the early 1970s, when a bout of food price inflation and the appearance of books critical of industrial agriculture (by Wendell Berry, Francis Moore Lappé, and Barry Commoner, among others) threatened to propel the subject to the top of the national agenda, Americans have not had to think very hard about where their food comes from, or what it is doing to the planet, their bodies, and their society.
The subject of Michael Pollan's fine new book, "In Defense of Food," is the technological abyss toward which humankind with its tacit consent is being driven by the industrialized American diet. Pollan's critique of the American food industry and the plague of obesity, diabetes, coronary disease, cancer, and untimely death for which it is largely responsible is comparable to the work of Rachel Carson as a contribution to the history of human self-destruction, for the food fabricators could not have done their work without our complicity any more than the environmental polluters could have done theirs. One might go so far as to say that these calamities are themselves the outcome of a species failure, an evolutionary maladjustment of the human brain implicit in the triumph of ingenuity over wisdom.
Reading Pollan's book, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that the food industry has confined many Americans to their own urban feedlots, in which they have grown obese, ill, and uncurious about the source or nutritional quality of their food.