Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Somewhere in Iowa, a pig is being raised in a confined pen, packed in so tightly with other swine that their curly tails have been chopped off so they won't bite one another. To prevent him from getting sick in such close quarters, he is dosed with antibiotics. The waste produced by the pig and his thousands of pen mates on the factory farm where they live goes into manure lagoons that blanket neighboring communities with air pollution and a stomach-churning stench. He's fed on American corn that was grown with the help of government subsidies and millions of tons of chemical fertilizer. When the pig is slaughtered, at about 5 months of age, he'll become sausage or bacon that will sell cheap, feeding an American addiction to meat that has contributed to an obesity epidemic currently afflicting more than two-thirds of the population. And when the rains come, the excess fertilizer that coaxed so much corn from the ground will be washed into the Mississippi River and down into the Gulf of Mexico, where it will help kill fish for miles and miles around. That's the state of your bacon — circa 2009.
Wisconsin agriculture groups say they're concerned about a new UW-Madison program that encourages students to read a book critical of mainstream agriculture and the U.S. food system.
The program, known as "Go Big Read," invites students, faculty, staff, alumni and the community to read a selected book and participate in campus discussions and community events. New chancellor Carolyn "Biddy" Martin initiated the program.
The university is providing the book free to students and faculty members. A UW-Madison Web site says professors in 48 different courses will be incorporating discussion about the book in their curriculum. The program is targeted at freshmen, but other students also will participate.
The book is Michael Pollan's "In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto." In the book, Pollan examines the modern American food landscape, where he says the deceptively simple question of what to eat has been muddled by the numerous and often conflicting claims of food producers, marketers and nutrition experts.