Video: Michael Pollan, “Food Chain”

By WorldLink Staff | June 14, 2011 | 1 Comment

Understanding the story of our food means tracing its path from seed to table. Author Michael Pollan explains the biology and ecology of modern food chains. How do you connect with your food chain?

What Is a Food Chain?

Food chain is a term from ecology that describes who eats who or what. These relationships form an ecological community known as a food web, which connects all types of life: plants, herbivores, carnivores, omnivores, decomposers. A familiar food chain flows from grass (plant), which gets its energy from the sun, to cow (herbivore) to human (omnivore).

With humans at the top of the food chain, how we produce and consume food has broad implications for the animals and plants within the greater food web. Our modern food system has evolved to include many complex processes, from growing, harvesting, and processing food, to marketing, distributing, and consuming it. The use of machines, pesticides, antibiotics, hormones, and genetic engineering in agriculture, as well the advent of processed foods, such as high-fructose corn syrup, can betray the biology underlying this system.

The intricacy of the modern food chain has distanced many people from the source of our food, while creating lasting impact on our environment, animal welfare, food security, and health. The recent E. coli outbreak in Europe, in which the use of agricultural antibiotics in livestock has been implicated in breeding antibiotic-resistant pathogens that contaminated vegetable irrigation water, point to dangers and disconnects in our industrial food chain.

Reconnecting the Food Chain

As Michael Pollan says, “No matter how industrial and machine-like [a food chain] is in the middle, at either end is a biological system. You’ve got the soil and plants on one end and the human eater on the other.” As an eater, you can reforge links within your food chain in a number of ways:

  • Support sustainable food chains. Seek out food producers that use organic and sustainable farming methods, which work in concert with nature’s biological processes to protect animals and the environment.
  • Shorten the food chain. Go local. Get your food close to the source, directly from local farms at the farmers market or other trusted purveyors.
  • Eat lower on the food chain. It takes more resources–water, land, fossil fuels–to raise animals for meat than it does to grow plants. Decreasing your meat intake can reduce your impact on the environment and your health. Start by joining Meatless Monday, a national campaign.
  • Create your own food chain. Connect with your food chain from the ground up by growing your own food, at home or with others in a community garden.
  • Protect the food chain. Pay attention to food policy legislation and issues, such as GMOs and food labeling, and advocate for a safe food system for all.
  • Create healthy food chains. Join or form a local food policy council to increase community food security and create partnerships between local growers, business owners, schools, and institutions.

Compare and contrast local and industrial food systems with these visuals from the Nourish Curriculum Guide. Discover more suggestions in Be the Difference.


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  1. Michelle06.17.11

    Excellent advice to follow and spread to others. I see more and more people beginning to take a look at where and how their food comes to them. This is certainly a good thing, however, there is so much more to be done. In my community we have a local farmers market, and a CSA program, but lack adequate access to organic produce in the grocery stores. Many individuals in my community are unemployed which makes buying good quality local foods less of a priority.

    Thanks. ;)

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