Tag Archives: The Politics of Food by Joel Solkoff

Review: Politics of Food from The Natural Resources Journal (NRJ) at the University of New Mexico School of Law

At one AM (apparently in search of lost praise), I found the best book review I ever received. I first signed a book contract with New Republic Books in 1975 promising to deliver in less than a year. It was to be my first published book--as it turned out it was my third. My agent Marie Rodell who had taken me on as a client back in 1969 (shortly after graduating from Columbia College) explaining that she saw promise in my talent. Finally, Marie was delighted that my wandering from hither (The Village Voice) to yon (a newsletter on migrant agricultural workers), perhaps my promise might be warranted.

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Chuck Fong took this Hublersburg, PA, October 2016 exclusively for his site. Copyright 2016; Studio 2 by Chuck Fong, All rights reserved.
Chuck Fong took this Hublersburg, PA, October 2016 exclusively for his site. Copyright 2016; Studio 2 by Chuck Fong, All rights reserved.

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More than 10 years after signing the contract with New Republic Books, Marie’s successor Frances Collin arranged for the book to be moved to Sierra Club Books where it was finally published. The Los Angeles Times reviewed  The Politics of Food on the first page of its book section.

"While hardly a cabalist, Joel Solkoff, a respected Washington-based, free-lance journalist whose work frequently appears in various national publications, spent a number of years on this analytic quest. And even if many policy mysteries still remain, Solkoff's book will edify--and disturb--almost anyone with the slightest interest in U.S. agriculture."
“While hardly a cabalist, Joel Solkoff, a respected Washington-based, free-lance journalist whose work frequently appears in various national publications, spent a number of years on this analytic quest. And even if many policy mysteries still remain, Solkoff’s book will edify–and disturb–almost anyone with the slightest interest in U.S. agriculture.”

http://articles.latimes.com/1986-01-26/books/bk-0_1_farm-bill

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Marie had represented Rachel Carson. A significant development in creating the environmental movement took place after Marie arranged for The New Yorker to publish Silent Spring. Rachel Carson biographers referred to Marie as Carson’s indispensable alter ego.

Politics_Food_Review

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“Butz’s power as secretary of agriculture seemed overwhelming,” Joel Solkoff wrote in “The Politics of Food” (Sierra Club Books, 1985). “He made one decision to sell the Russians massive quantities of grain that virtually overnight transformed the basic problem of U.S. agricultural policy from what to do with the surplus to how to make up for the shortage.”
“Butz’s power as secretary of agriculture seemed overwhelming,” Joel Solkoff wrote in “The Politics of Food” (Sierra Club Books, 1985). “He made one decision to sell the Russians massive quantities of grain that virtually overnight transformed the basic problem of U.S. agricultural policy from what to do with the surplus to how to make up for the shortage.”

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Wishful thinking

When Franklin D. Roosevelt took the oath of office (a machine gun nest poised to protect him), 25 percent of Americans lived in rural America. The dream of a secure agriculture base (shades of Thomas Jefferson) might have been realized. However, by the 1970s when U.S. farm population was less than five percent, reality took a back seat to wishful thinking.

“Under the direction of Roy Stryker, the RA/FSA photographers (Dorothea Lange, Arthur Rothstein, and Russell Lee, among others) were assigned to document small-town life and to demonstrate how the federal government was attempting to improve the lot of rural communities during the Depression. Evans, however, worked with little concern for the ideological agenda or the suggested itineraries and instead answered a personal need to distill the essence of American life from the simple and the ordinary. His photographs of roadside architecture, rural churches, small-town barbers, and cemeteries reveal a deep respect for the neglected traditions of the common man and secured his reputation as America’s preeminent documentarian. From their first appearance in magazines and books in the late 1930s, these direct, iconic images entered the public’s collective consciousness and are now deeply embedded in the nation’s shared visual history of the Depression.”

http://metmuseum.org/toah/hd/evan/hd_evan.htm 

 The images Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange vividly gave us all as a gift had turned into a Kafkaesque argument for preserving a way of life that no longer existed.
Dorthea Lange "Dorothea Lange's photographs humanized the consequences of the Great Depression and influenced the development of documentary photography." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dorothea_Lange
Dorothea Lange “Dorothea Lange’s photographs humanized the consequences of the Great Depression and influenced the development of documentary photography.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dorothea_Lange

The beneficiaries of this deceit were rich farmers who tilled their multi-thousand acres from planes dropping seed and fertilizer on their crops hiring lobbyists to emit the magic phrase “family farm” (code phrase for greed).

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DlXfbixbGG8[/youtube]

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How rice is planted in the United States

Consider…the technology involved in planting rice in southwest Louisiana. It was morning at the Jennings Municipal Airport in Jefferson Davis Parish, which is part of the seventh congressional district, the largest rice-producing district in the country.

A group of men talked about the previous night’s tornadoes and hauled hundred-pound sacks of seed rice from the rear of a flatbed truck, slit the sacks, and dumped the rice into a large hopper.

The loader truck lifted the hopper, with its 2000 pounds of rice, and in less than 10 minutes the seeds were inside the tank of a single-seat Grumman-American AG-Cat airplane, and the plane was aloft.

The seeds were kernels of rice left to soak overnight in a nearby canal. Already little shoots had sprouted from each kernel.

Two days before, the rice could have been hulled, milled, and sold for premium prices. It was the best of the previous year’s crop, carefully selected; if all went well, a high percentage of the new crop would be long, narrow kernels, white and unbroken when the husks were removed and the bran milled off. Milling tends to break inferior grades’ kernels, which stick together and appear mushy.

Mushy rice is not where the money is.

The farmers here said they were producing rice for the “American housewife,” verbal shorthand for consumers who buy the white rice that lacks most of the minerals, protein, and niacin for which rice is famous and who insist on each cooked kernel being separate and visually attractive. To meet specifications for millable rice, research services of federal and state agriculture departments have developed special varieties, which are also adapted to the climate, soil, and pest conditions of the region.

The seed rice in the tank of the Grumman airplane was the product of this research.

It was May Day, and more than 90 percent of the crop had already been planted. The airplane, owned by farmer Ed Krielow, flew low over fields already green and high from an early March planting. The rush was on to get the final seed in the ground.

The pilot swooped low over a rectangle flooded with water, a rice paddy or “field” with tractor-made levees poking up from the water’s surface. Two men stood on opposite sides of the field holding white flags in their hands to tell the pilot where to plant the seeds.

The plane flew so close to the water that there were only inches to spare. Little ripples appeared. “Do you see the seeds?” Ed Krielow asked, but in the excitement the observer didn’t know what to look at.

There were ripples, but the plane looked as if it was about to crash into the telephone poles and electric wires as it turned around and went back into the rice field.

Ed Krielow said, dismissing the danger, “You should see that boy flying when we spray Stam [weed killer]. His wheels graze right on the levees.”

This was not especially reassuring, but this time the observer knew where to look.

Plane.

A white shower of seeds.

Ripples.

“See?” he said. “That was the seed we saw loaded a little while ago.”

That was how it was possible to plant rice with only three people— a pilot and two fellows holding white flags.

–Joel Solkoff

Copyright ©by Joel Solkoff, 2013. All rights reserved.

The Politics of Food is available at: http://www.joelsolkoff.com/book-store/books/the-politics-of-food/