Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Two articles

The American Prospect has a cover story on "Why Local Food Doesn't Stand a Chance," by Heather Rogers.  It's an implicit rebuttal to Michael Pollan's NYT piece, which was more optimistic about the chances of extricating ourselves from corporate monoculture.  Rogers, who authored a book called Green Gone Wrong, focuses on the way Big Ag is entrenched in the USDA under Tom Vilsack, and the continuing obstacles to small and sustainable farming.  The story is framed by anecdotes about virtuous organic farmers who still can't make it and are about to leave their land: it's a classic feel-bad story, which I've come to suspect but which is hard to dismiss.  The core thesis is that Vilsack, and the whole USDA structure, still looks at commodity farming and biofuels as the twin pillars of farm policy; the "urban locavore" market is no more than a niche.  There's a whiff of self-flagellation there, despite the fact that there are plenty of battles to be fought (notably--a fact Pollan emphasized--that cheap "fast food" has subsidized the impoverishment of rural America).  The way Rogers sets up the argument, though, suggests that there's a need to think through the idea of "post-industrial agriculture," perhaps along the lines suggested by Hugh Raffles on urban beekeeping.

The other significant article is John Terbrogh's review of Rewilding the World, by Caroline Fraser, an extended explanation of why the return of "top predators" is key to restoring biodiversity.  It's essentially a justification, backed by decades of new research, of Aldo Leopold's insight in "Thinking Like a Mountain," about why wolves matter.  Terbrogh is good on the coming conflict, especially in developing countries, between conservation and meat-farming, and the need to figure out compromises and coexistence.  But as a survey of conservation science, it's fascinating and lucid.

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