Community members and author Michael Pollan answer questions Friday at Memorial Union.[/media-credit]


Debate surrounding “In Defense of Food” — chosen for the University of Wisconsin’s Go Big Read common book program this year — continued Friday as the book’s author, Michael Pollan, was joined by a UW Health science writer, a local farmer and agricultural journalism major for a panel discussion at Memorial Union theater.

One of the main sources of discussion and conflict between the panel members was Pollan’s criticism in “In Defense of Food” of the use of technology in modern agriculture.

“We have the responsibility to raise large amounts of food and to feed the people that are hungry in third world countries,” said John Vrieze of Vrieze farms in Emerald, Wis. “Without technology and innovative thinking, we cannot help these people.”

Pollan defended his stance by pointing out the production of vast surpluses of food does not necessarily transfer into feeding the hungry. He argued sometimes technology is so productive it drives third world farmers out of business and off of their lands.

Since there were farmers in the audience and one on the panel, Pollan clarified “In Defense of Food” is not an attack on farmers but a criticism of the food system and its inherent problems.

People who are not raised around agriculture many times see only the extremes, similar to the ones present in “In Defense of Food,” rather than seeing the rich diversity agriculture presents, said Andrea Bloom, a panelist and UW senior. The stories of the farmers who are continually producing safe, good food are not being told, she added.

“The food system, not the farmers, needs to change its incentives, as well as move the focus from quantity to quality,” Pollan said. “I have a firm conviction that farmers truly are ingenious and that they will rise to meet any challenge that the food system presents.”

After the panel members expressed their opinions, the audience was able to ask any or all of the panel members questions concerning “In Defense of Food” or consumption in the United States. Many questions the audience posed inquired about how they could afford the cost of healthy food.

“It’s harder in our culture today to eat well because being time-pressed leads us toward foods that are a little sketchy,” said Susan Lampert Smith, panelist and senior media specialist for UW Hospitals and Clinics.

Pollan encouraged everyone to find the time and money for the things they truly value, such as good health and good food, because cheap calories are not worth the deterioration of one’s health. Consuming cheap food simply leads to greater problems with individual and national health care costs, he added.

A panel allows members of the community to express their opinions concerning “In Defense of Food” and the issues it brings forth. It also fosters the type of dialogue that Go Big Read desires to produce, said Sara Guyer, director of the Center for the Humanities.

“Through having a panel discussion, we bring together students, faculty, alumni and members of the community, as well as different ideologies, frameworks and approaches,” Guyer said.