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The Sickness in Our Food Supply

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The Sickness in Our Food Supply

The New York Review of Books,

5 min read
5 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

Michael Pollan explains how COVID-19 reveals weaknesses in the US food supply chain and the dangers in the Americans diet.

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  • Eye Opening
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Michael Pollan details the broken American food supply chain. He highlights problematic policy choices that led to industry consolidation, unfair labor practices that create toxic working conditions and a commodity-based food economy that results in bad health for consumers. Pollan explains how the COVID-19 pandemic reveals inequities and trends that sustain a brittle marketplace and an unhealthy nation.


The pandemic revealed weaknesses and liabilities that few public figures discuss in the US system of food production and distribution.

The United States’ food industry has long boasted of its efficiency and productivity. In the time of COVID-19, however, farmers are burning crops, euthanizing animals and dumping milk while grocery stores’ shelves sit empty and people queue for hours at food banks. Why are producers destroying food while Americans go hungry?

The US food production system features two completely separate production and supply chains. The first is the retail food chain, which links one set of farmers to grocery stores. The second is a separate food delivery system with a different set of farmers who produce food commodities for “institutional” customers such as restaurants, corporations and schools. This second chain experienced a collapse due to the coronavirus economic shutdown which kept people away from school, work and restaurants. Farmers serving this chain continue to produce food, but – because these supply chains are entirely distinct – they could not re-route consumables from...

About the Author

The John S. and James L. Knight Professor of Journalism at UC Berkeley Michael Pollan also teaches at Harvard University. He wrote the bestsellers The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food.

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