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  • I write about food. I write about cooking.

  • I take it quite seriously,

  • but I'm here to talk about something

  • that's become very important to me in the last year or two.

  • It is about food, but it's not about cooking, per se.

  • I'm going to start with this picture of a beautiful cow.

  • I'm not a vegetarian -- this is the old Nixon line, right?

  • But I still think that this --

  • (Laughter)

  • -- may be this year's version of this.

  • Now, that is only a little bit hyperbolic.

  • And why do I say it?

  • Because only once before has the fate of individual people

  • and the fate of all of humanity

  • been so intertwined.

  • There was the bomb, and there's now.

  • And where we go from here is going to determine

  • not only the quality and the length of our individual lives,

  • but whether, if we could see the Earth a century from now,

  • we'd recognize it.

  • It's a holocaust of a different kind,

  • and hiding under our desks isn't going to help.

  • Start with the notion that global warming

  • is not only real, but dangerous.

  • Since every scientist in the world now believes this,

  • and even President Bush has seen the light, or pretends to,

  • we can take this is a given.

  • Then hear this, please.

  • After energy production, livestock is the second-highest contributor

  • to atmosphere-altering gases.

  • Nearly one-fifth of all greenhouse gas

  • is generated by livestock production --

  • more than transportation.

  • Now, you can make all the jokes you want about cow farts,

  • but methane is 20 times more poisonous than CO2,

  • and it's not just methane.

  • Livestock is also one of the biggest culprits in land degradation,

  • air and water pollution, water shortages and loss of biodiversity.

  • There's more.

  • Like half the antibiotics in this country

  • are not administered to people, but to animals.

  • But lists like this become kind of numbing, so let me just say this:

  • if you're a progressive,

  • if you're driving a Prius, or you're shopping green,

  • or you're looking for organic,

  • you should probably be a semi-vegetarian.

  • Now, I'm no more anti-cattle than I am anti-atom,

  • but it's all in the way we use these things.

  • There's another piece of the puzzle,

  • which Ann Cooper talked about beautifully yesterday,

  • and one you already know.

  • There's no question, none, that so-called lifestyle diseases --

  • diabetes, heart disease, stroke, some cancers --

  • are diseases that are far more prevalent here

  • than anywhere in the rest of the world.

  • And that's the direct result of eating a Western diet.

  • Our demand for meat, dairy and refined carbohydrates --

  • the world consumes one billion cans or bottles of Coke a day --

  • our demand for these things, not our need, our want,

  • drives us to consume way more calories than are good for us.

  • And those calories are in foods that cause, not prevent, disease.

  • Now global warming was unforeseen.

  • We didn't know that pollution did more than cause bad visibility.

  • Maybe a few lung diseases here and there,

  • but, you know, that's not such a big deal.

  • The current health crisis, however,

  • is a little more the work of the evil empire.

  • We were told, we were assured,

  • that the more meat and dairy and poultry we ate,

  • the healthier we'd be.

  • No. Overconsumption of animals, and of course, junk food,

  • is the problem, along with our paltry consumption of plants.

  • Now, there's no time to get into the benefits of eating plants here,

  • but the evidence is that plants -- and I want to make this clear --

  • it's not the ingredients in plants, it's the plants.

  • It's not the beta-carotene, it's the carrot.

  • The evidence is very clear that plants promote health.

  • This evidence is overwhelming at this point.

  • You eat more plants, you eat less other stuff, you live longer.

  • Not bad.

  • But back to animals and junk food.

  • What do they have in common?

  • One: we don't need either of them for health.

  • We don't need animal products,

  • and we certainly don't need white bread or Coke.

  • Two: both have been marketed heavily,

  • creating unnatural demand.

  • We're not born craving Whoppers or Skittles.

  • Three: their production has been supported by government agencies

  • at the expense of a more health- and Earth-friendly diet.

  • Now, let's imagine a parallel.

  • Let's pretend that our government supported an oil-based economy,

  • while discouraging more sustainable forms of energy,

  • knowing all the while that the result would be

  • pollution, war and rising costs.

  • Incredible, isn't it?

  • Yet they do that.

  • And they do this here. It's the same deal.

  • The sad thing is, when it comes to diet,

  • is that even when well-intentioned Feds

  • try to do right by us, they fail.

  • Either they're outvoted by puppets of agribusiness,

  • or they are puppets of agribusiness.

  • So, when the USDA finally acknowledged

  • that it was plants, rather than animals, that made people healthy,

  • they encouraged us, via their overly simplistic food pyramid,

  • to eat five servings of fruits and vegetables a day,

  • along with more carbs.

  • What they didn't tell us is that some carbs are better than others,

  • and that plants and whole grains

  • should be supplanting eating junk food.

  • But industry lobbyists would never let that happen.

  • And guess what?

  • Half the people who developed the food pyramid

  • have ties to agribusiness.

  • So, instead of substituting plants for animals,

  • our swollen appetites simply became larger,

  • and the most dangerous aspects of them remained unchanged.

  • So-called low-fat diets, so-called low-carb diets --

  • these are not solutions.

  • But with lots of intelligent people

  • focusing on whether food is organic or local,

  • or whether we're being nice to animals,

  • the most important issues just aren't being addressed.

  • Now, don't get me wrong.

  • I like animals,

  • and I don't think it's just fine to industrialize their production

  • and to churn them out like they were wrenches.

  • But there's no way to treat animals well,

  • when you're killing 10 billion of them a year.

  • That's our number. 10 billion.

  • If you strung all of them --

  • chickens, cows, pigs and lambs -- to the moon,

  • they'd go there and back five times, there and back.

  • Now, my math's a little shaky, but this is pretty good,

  • and it depends whether a pig is four feet long or five feet long,

  • but you get the idea.

  • That's just the United States.

  • And with our hyper-consumption of those animals

  • producing greenhouse gases and heart disease,

  • kindness might just be a bit of a red herring.

  • Let's get the numbers of the animals we're killing for eating down,

  • and then we'll worry about being nice to the ones that are left.

  • Another red herring might be exemplified by the word "locavore,"

  • which was just named word of the year by the New Oxford American Dictionary.

  • Seriously.

  • And locavore, for those of you who don't know,

  • is someone who eats only locally grown food --

  • which is fine if you live in California,

  • but for the rest of us it's a bit of a sad joke.

  • Between the official story -- the food pyramid --

  • and the hip locavore vision,

  • you have two versions of how to improve our eating.

  • (Laughter).

  • They both get it wrong, though.

  • The first at least is populist, and the second is elitist.

  • How we got to this place is the history of food in the United States.

  • And I'm going to go through that,

  • at least the last hundred years or so, very quickly right now.

  • A hundred years ago, guess what?

  • Everyone was a locavore: even New York had pig farms nearby,

  • and shipping food all over the place was a ridiculous notion.

  • Every family had a cook, usually a mom.

  • And those moms bought and prepared food.

  • It was like your romantic vision of Europe.

  • Margarine didn't exist.

  • In fact, when margarine was invented,

  • several states passed laws declaring that it had to be dyed pink,

  • so we'd all know that it was a fake.

  • There was no snack food, and until the '20s,

  • until Clarence Birdseye came along, there was no frozen food.

  • There were no restaurant chains.

  • There were neighborhood restaurants run by local people,

  • but none of them would think to open another one.

  • Eating ethnic was unheard of unless you were ethnic.

  • And fancy food was entirely French.

  • As an aside, those of you who remember

  • Dan Aykroyd in the 1970s doing Julia Child imitations

  • can see where he got the idea of stabbing himself from this fabulous slide.

  • (Laughter)

  • Back in those days, before even Julia,

  • back in those days, there was no philosophy of food.

  • You just ate.

  • You didn't claim to be anything.

  • There was no marketing. There were no national brands.

  • Vitamins had not been invented.

  • There were no health claims, at least not federally sanctioned ones.

  • Fats, carbs, proteins -- they weren't bad or good, they were food.

  • You ate food.

  • Hardly anything contained more than one ingredient,

  • because it was an ingredient.

  • The cornflake hadn't been invented.

  • (Laughter)

  • The Pop-Tart, the Pringle, Cheez Whiz, none of that stuff.

  • Goldfish swam.

  • (Laughter)

  • It's hard to imagine. People grew food, and they ate food.

  • And again, everyone ate local.

  • In New York, an orange was a common Christmas present,

  • because it came all the way from Florida.

  • From the '30s on, road systems expanded,

  • trucks took the place of railroads,

  • fresh food began to travel more.

  • Oranges became common in New York.

  • The South and West became agricultural hubs,

  • and in other parts of the country, suburbs took over farmland.

  • The effects of this are well known. They are everywhere.

  • And the death of family farms is part of this puzzle,

  • as is almost everything

  • from the demise of the real community

  • to the challenge of finding a good tomato, even in summer.

  • Eventually, California produced too much food to ship fresh,

  • so it became critical to market canned and frozen foods.

  • Thus arrived convenience.

  • It was sold to proto-feminist housewives

  • as a way to cut down on housework.

  • Now, I know everybody over the age of, like 45 --

  • their mouths are watering at this point.

  • (Laughter)

  • (Applause)

  • If we had a slide of Salisbury steak, even more so, right?

  • (Laughter)

  • But this may have cut down on housework,

  • but it cut down on the variety of food we ate as well.

  • Many of us grew up never eating a fresh vegetable

  • except the occasional raw carrot or maybe an odd lettuce salad.

  • I, for one -- and I'm not kidding --

  • didn't eat real spinach or broccoli till I was 19.

  • Who needed it though? Meat was everywhere.

  • What could be easier, more filling or healthier for your family

  • than broiling a steak?

  • But by then cattle were already raised unnaturally.

  • Rather than spending their lives eating grass,

  • for which their stomachs were designed,

  • they were forced to eat soy and corn.

  • They have trouble digesting those grains, of course,

  • but that wasn't a problem for producers.

  • New drugs kept them healthy.

  • Well, they kept them alive.

  • Healthy was another story.

  • Thanks to farm subsidies,

  • the fine collaboration between agribusiness and Congress,

  • soy, corn and cattle became king.

  • And chicken soon joined them on the throne.

  • It was during this period that the cycle of

  • dietary and planetary destruction began,

  • the thing we're only realizing just now.

  • Listen to this,

  • between 1950 and 2000, the world's population doubled.

  • Meat consumption increased five-fold.

  • Now, someone had to eat all that stuff, so we got fast food.

  • And this took care of the situation resoundingly.

  • Home cooking remained the norm, but its quality was down the tubes.

  • There were fewer meals with home-cooked breads, desserts and soups,

  • because all of them<