I had been working my way through Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma when I was, as I put it, overtooken by events. Having hacked my way through those events, I am now prepared to return to the pleasant task of enjoying Pollan’s prose and personality, and the less pleasant task of pointing out his wowserism.
William Buckley once defined a liberal as one who, when you are taking a shower, will reach in and adjust the temperature for you. The liberal is an incurable fusser, an inveterate fixer, an adjuster of other people’s stuff, and, as they say on television, much, much more. And while there is a great deal in this sorry world that needs to be reformed, even outside of the House of Representatives, I like my shower water hot, thank you.
This tendency is markedly clear in Pollan’s next chapter on the consumer, subtitled “A Republic of Fat.” He starts by pointing out that in the early American republic, we had real problems with lots of corn whiskey — we were a nation of topers. Pollan predictably blames the growers of the corn, the creators of all this abundance and surplus. And he calls all this excess and surplus and abundance by an icky sounding name — biomass. And what we used to drink in the form of whiskey, we now eat in supersized ways. Contrast this with how the Scriptures talk about it.
“The pastures are clothed with flocks; the valleys also are covered over with corn; they shout for joy, they also sing” (Ps. 65:13).
“For how great is his goodness, and how great is his beauty! corn shall make the young men cheerful, and new wine the maids” (Zech. 9:17).
“Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him that soweth seed; and the mountains shall drop sweet wine, and all the hills shall melt” (Amos 9:13).
Abundance, while it presents temptations to self-sufficiency, is not the problem itself. When abundance, a good thing, occurs, sinners will want to abuse that abundance. But the solution is the gospel, not a lecture from a food reformer.
“For she did not know that I gave her corn, and wine, and oil, and multiplied her silver and gold, which they prepared for Baal” (Hos. 2:8).
When we refuse to honor the Maker and Giver of life, and we refuse to bless the name of the one who gives us these mountains of corn from Iowa, it is not surprising that we wax fat and kick. When we appeal to the processes of evolution, as Pollan regularly does, we are perpetuating the central problem. The problem is not the corn, but rather our refusal say a blessing over it.
“For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving” (1 Tim. 4:4).
One other point to make in passing. America is not suffering an “epidemic” of obesity, because obesity is not something you catch from other people, as though it were the flu. And even where obesity on the rise becomes an actual problem — you get Type II diabetes, or you have to get other people to tie your shoes for you — we should always beware of statistics in the mouths of reformers and zealots. BMI (Body Mass Index) calculations, as in the case of athletes, can be wildly and laughably inaccurate.
Reformers and zealots are those who want to use other people’s money in order to fund a program for adjusting the shower water temperature for yet another group. You see, we have to act now, because Americans are suffering from an epidemic of hot water in the mornings.
The one place, again, where Pollan and I agree is in the matter of agricultural subsidies for the giants of agribusiness. Whenever the small minds of big government undertake to take up responsibilities requiring them to possess the incommunicable attributes of God, the results are uniformly disastrous — a cascading waterfall of unintended consequences. So Pollan and I would agree that the farm subsidies to the giants of corn should cease. We would probably differ on whether subsidies for carrots and bean sprouts should begin.
In conclusion, let us add the testimony of Wodehouse.
“‘Mother’s a food-reformer,’ he vouchsafed. ‘She lectures on it. She makes pop and me live on vegetables and nuts and things.’ Archie was shocked. It was like listening to a tale from the abyss” (Indiscretions of Archie, p. 216).