Michael Pollan: “What’s in the beef?”

November 12, 2009


Photo by Kris Krüg

Where does your burger come from? Journalist and food writer Michael Pollan has traced back the source of much of what we eat, and says that the ultimate answer is oil. Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, argues that it takes massive amounts of petroleum-derived fertilizers and pesticides to run industrial farms and feed lots, with dire consequences for human health and the Earth’s climate.

Check out Pollan’s multimedia presentation below, from the Poptech conference in Camden, Maine last month.

[Editor's note: After some Reuters fact-checking, Pollan withdrew his Poptech assertion that "A vegan in a Hummer has a smaller carbon footprint than a meat-eater in a Prius," and his statement has been edited out of the video. The erroneous meme has nevertheless continued to spread on Twitter]

Click here for Reuters Poptech coverage

Click here for more Poptech videos

FOOD/More on the Future of Food:

Is Monsanto the answer or the problem?

The fight over the future of food

Is Africa selling out its farmers?

India’s food dilemma: high prices or shortages


Okay, playing devils advocate. Fully aware of reliance on middle east for oil. But, having said that; fertilizers rely very little for sulfites via oil byproduct. So to say that fertilizers are oil based is a misnomer. Most fertilizers are comprised 3 key ingredients, sulfites(mined/oil derivative occasionally), nitrogren (fowl feathers/urea) and potassium (mined). One could argue that we use oil to mine….okay; but still not “oil based.” Just a point.Pesticides…..yeah oil based in most cases since they are usally made of complex compounds.Now he is completely valid in his point that we have to consider the true cost of our purchases and should be choosing certified organic products from end to end.I wish I could see that happening…..but families generally choose to shop where they get the most for their money. Humanity is very ill equipped to deal with hardships and radical thinking changes until destruction stares us in the face. We are totally going to drag our heals and 50 years from now be asking “What is this snow you keep talking about?”

Posted by Anthony Rodriguez | Report as abusive

Why not BOTH? Industrial AND Sustainable. Surely some situations or locations call for one and some call for the other.It looks like the two groups are beginning to draw a “line in the sand”, ready to fight for which is “right”. It’s as though they believe it’s a survival struggle, “us” or “them”.What about using the strengths of both types of production? What about combining knowledge and coming up with solutions that fit individual situations in individual locations? What about working together?And how could that come about? What do I need to do?

Posted by J Shudde | Report as abusive

Good video. His book Botany of Desire is pretty good, not too long. I still need to read the Omnivore’s Dilemma.

Posted by Moose | Report as abusive

Comment by Anthony is right. Wish hype news would go away and media just report fact. Globally, we are eating more and better than we ever have as a species. Do a little research on how people bought food 100 or 200 years ago and you will understand why they died of old age, malnutrition and disease by the age of 30. It may not be perfect, but the good old days are actually now.

Posted by Yum Mee | Report as abusive

It should be obvious that the health issues alone are enough for an individual to move to a largely plant based diet. We are bombarded by adds for every drug in the world on television. Some, if not most, are to treat the illnesses caused by our conventional diet. Who in their right mind wants to be ill?If it can be done on a large scale like in Argentina why wouldn’t our food system adopted it for the good of all of society?Is is greed?If a farmer and maybe that’s the problem. Most are large food processing corporations. If a farmer gained the knowledge that this is for the betterment of mankind why would the farmer continue the conventional way of processing food.What most people also fail to understand is that food produced the organic way (without pesticides and non-organic fertilizers) and where crops are regularly rotated contain the minerals and nutrients that are missing in convention single crop production.

Posted by Chip Greene | Report as abusive

Pollan writes books for affluent Americans who don’t have real problems and need something to get worked up about.

Posted by David | Report as abusive

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