Some words of wisdom from Michael Pollan, being interviewed about his new book In Defense of Food:
It’s very hard to make money selling normal unprocessed foods. Ask any farmer who’s growing broccoli or oats; it’s a very hard way to make money.
The more you process the food, the more profitable it is. If I go to the supermarket, I can buy a pound of organic oats for 79 cents. Now that’s a lot of oats, and nobody’s making much money. But if you turn it into Cheerios, suddenly you have a brand. You’ve got your little doughnut shape, you’ve got an ad campaign, and suddenly you’re charging four bucks for a few ounces of oats.
Then you come up with a Honey Nut Cheerio Cereal Bar with a layer of artificial milk in the middle. Now you’ve got a convenience food that’s very much your own, because you’ve got this special formula to make your fake milk. And kids can eat them in the car or on the way to school. Now you’re charging $10 or $20 for a few penny’s worth of oats. That’s the gist of the food industry. That’s the economic imperative.
The authority of mothers was essentially destroyed by the food industry. The $32 billion a year in marketing muscle out there has undercut culture’s role in determining what we eat, and culture is a fancy word for your mom.
Interviewer: If the stuff that our great grandmother was putting on the table gives us what we need and tastes good, why have we fallen for this?
Pollan: A lot of reasons: marketing and convenience. We want to be liberated from the drudgery of cooking, or at least we’ve been convinced that we do.
Interviewer: And even the drudgery of eating.
Pollan: That’s right. I mean as Wendell Berry said back in the ’70s, if the food industry could profitably digest your food for you, they would. They would reach down your throat and mush it up for you. They want the meal in a pill. That’s the ultimate dream of the food industry. They have to show value added, and the value they’ve added most successfully is convenience. Liberating women from the kitchen, cooking for us, chewing for us.