March 24, 2009

Michael Pollan (and me) at the CDC

Rebecca Klein

Rebecca Klein

Program Officer, Food System Policy Program

Center for a Livable Future

The media aren’t the only ones paying attention to calls for a sustainable, healthy food system. Last Friday, Michael Pollan was invited to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to vision with them about how their work can support a more healthy, sustainable food system. Planning his visit encouraged cross-Center collaboration (CDC has 7 Centers) which will be necessary for future food systems work. He spoke to a packed house of CDC employees and outside guests (including me) and was firm in pushing the CDC to become a leader in supporting a healthy, sustainable food system. The CDC seemed receptive, as noted in the CDC’s introduction to Pollan: “We at the CDC care, and we want to do better,” and some concluding remarks: “[Pollan’s] visit has been the catalyst to pull people together across the Centers, and will leave a lasting legacy at CDC.”

In his address, Pollan spoke about the ‘American Paradox’ (that we are a nation who worries unreasonably about diet and health without actually eating well) and ‘Nutritionism’ (a focus on nutrients rather than food which leads to overeating in an effort to consume more of the “good” nutrients, and a demonization of certain foods because they may contain the “bad” nutrients). Both issues are described at length in his book In Defense of Food and further summary of his talk is available on WebMD.

Two points he made stood out for me:

1) The CDC should do health impact assessments, similar to environmental impact assessments (which are required by law), for all legislation.

2) In response to CDC’s role in monitoring food safety, Pollan noted that it is important to ensure that the systems put in place to do this are not ones that lock us into large-scale, industrial food production systems. Yes, we need regulations that keep our food safe, but we must support and protect small and mid-size farmers and ranchers by establishing appropriate regulations. Overall, decentralization and more redundancy (multiple smaller producers and processors) will create a safer food system.

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