Photo courtesy of BradLauster via FlickrApparently, the D.C. liberal-blog intelligentsia has stopped worrying and learned to love industrial food. A few weeks ago, Think Progress star blogger Matt Yglesias penned a paean to mediocre strip-mall chain restaurants, calling for “more Olive Gardens” and deeming the the faux-fancy steakhouse chain Capital Grille “excellent.” So impressed is Yglesias by the food system that he would apparently like to model the education system after it!
And just Monday, Washington Post luminary Ezra Klein announced that “Industrial Farms Are the Future.” The alternative food networks popping up everywhere present “no viable alternative” at all, Klein insists. We should all forget the farmers market and let Big Ag’s diesel-gulping combines lead us forward.
Klein’s defense of Big Ag can be summed up by Margaret Thatcher’s famous statement on globalized laissez-faire capitalism: “There is no alternative.” For a certain segment of U.S. liberals, Klein’s musings congeal into conventional wisdom as quickly as Kraft Mac n’ Cheese turns to glue post-microwave. Moreover, Klein has made sporadic lunges at becoming a go-to food-policy pundit, briefly even writing a regular column on the topic. So it’s important to engage him on this question.
Unfortunately, his short squib didn’t so much develop an argument as point to someone else’s: a recent op-ed by by U.K. food writer Jay Rayner in The Guardian.
It’s a weird choice. Rayner’s piece is weak, confused, and poorly reasoned — so much so that I never would have bothered to comment on it had Klein not pointed to it. The piece bristles with unbacked assertions and piles up non sequiturs like a hog factory gushes manure.
Rayner’s argument goes like this: a) because the U.K. relies increasingly on food imports, and b) U.K. supermarkets demand flawless, uniform fruits and vegetables, forcing farmers to “grade out” much high-quality produce, and c) U.K. consumers have come to expect dirt-cheap food, then the nation “will have to embrace unashamedly industrial methods of farming” to avoid looming famine.
Really? The same line of reasoning could more logically have led Rayner in the opposite direction: that Britain’s food problems stem from a globalized industrial food system consolidated into the hands of a few powerful companies.
Ludicrously, Rayner ends by finding “the solution” to the problems he identifies in a planned “super dairy,” housing 8,000 cows “bedded down indoors on sand.” Before he uses his forum in one of the world’s greatest papers to promote industrial dairy again, Reyner should consider a visit to Wisconsin, where milk factories have fouled drinking water for entire communities.
All in all, Reyner has mounted a vapid, porous defense of industrial food. Ezra Klein’s trumpeting of it does little to advance debate around the future of food — or his own credibility as a food-policy pundit.