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Archive for January, 2010

I did it. As much as I hated the thought, I actually watched a segment of Oprah that aired on Wednesday, January 28 on the subject of food. I’d seen a TV ad for the show earlier and strongly suspected modern agriculture was about to get bashed again. I wasn’t disappointed.

One of her guests was Michael Pollan, best-selling food author. This was the first time I’d actually seen him on TV. Compared to serpentine HSUS president Wayne Pacelle, with whom Winfrey did a total ambush/hatchet job on an Illinois hog farmer and California egg producers prior to the latter state’s Proposition 2 referendum in 2008, Pollan was more credible. He appeared more thoughtful, genuine, and well-meaning, although in my opinion, misguided and misinformed. Even so, he actually did have some good points about people mindlessly gorging themselves with fast food.

During the show, Winfrey showed clips of the documentary Food Inc., and repeatedly urged her audience to “Watch Food Inc. and then decide for yourselves about what you’re putting into your bodies.” Struck me a whole lot like telling someone, “Watch a Toyota commercial, and then decide for yourself which is the best car.”

Pollan was persuasive in his assertions—if one doesn’t know much about modern agriculture and the farmer-producers who actually grow our food. While I don’t have Mr. Pollan’s twenty years of experience of focusing on food, I do know farmers—lots of them—who raise livestock, and a number of fallacious arguments and flaws in the program were quite obvious to me. Just a few of the highlights:

  • The total unfairness of the show: Later that night, President Obama gave his State of the Union message, followed by the Republican response. Yet Winfrey repeatedly urged her audience to “decide for yourselves”—after listening only to what she and her one-sided guests told them—with no dissenting opinion whatsoever.
  • Extremely biased in portrayal of modern agriculture: A clip, (I presume from Food Inc.) showed what appeared to be an illiterate, redneck chicken farmer talking about essentially doing whatever it took to make money, with no concern for the consequences for the chickens or other people. I know scores of livestock producers, and have never met one remotely like this, don’t know where they dug this sorry individual up.
  • Facts wrong: Talked about the “exorbitant” amount of antibiotics pushed on modern livestock, and how it was producing disease-resistant strains of illness in humans. Apparently Mr. Pollan chose to ignore the facts that the use of antibiotics in livestock is highly regulated by the FDA and includes withdrawal times for any antibiotic that could affect humans.
  • Implied cause and effect: Pollan cited figures that in 1960, Americans spent 18 percent of their income on food, and 5 percent on health care, while today it flip-flopped to 9 percent on food and 17 percent on healthcare. He told the audience that today’s food was the lone culprit. Seems to me that during that time, a few other things have also taken place—like not only farmers getting much more efficient, but also revolutionary new surgical techniques and procedures, better diagnosis, new medical technologies, new medicines, explosion of medical malpractice lawsuits, people living longer, an older and more medically-needy population, higher doctor salaries, just to name a few.
  • Today’s food identified as the whole problem: During one part of the show, Pollan stated that “When you make one type of food (e.g. fats or carbs) as the villain, you automatically give all the other types a free pass.” In calling today’s food the villain, hasn’t he done the same thing? Like maybe people could get off their fat, lazy butts, turn off the TV or the computer games, and get a little exercise? Or making food the responsible party, rather than the people who make choices?
  • Faulty view of animal care: Pollan talked about using pork only from pigs that had been raised outdoors.  A recent University of Missouri study gave clear evidence that animals are much better off—comfort and health— inside.
  • And finally, an actress acting like a nutritional expert: Show also spotlighted actress Alicia Silverstone, who had starred in the film Clueless, as the latest in a long line of thespians to venture into areas where they really don’t know much, but act like they do. Said she’d become a vegan because “I looked at my little dog, and decided I couldn’t imagine eating another animal.”

I’ll be honest, I don’t like Winfrey. Heck, I’ll be real honest—I can’t stand her—largely because of these duplicitous kinds of stunts. But one thing toward the end of the show struck me as truly amazing. Oprah and Silverstone got into this rather extended, bizarre dialog in which they practically squealed with delight about the enhanced quality of their poop (really, I’m not kidding) since becoming a healthier eater/vegan, respectively. I personally found their descriptions of what they deposit in their toilets to be off-the-chart disgusting—almost, but not quite as much as the misinformation that this show presented.  

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