• My big fat geek weekend

    This weekend, my wife and I ditched the kids with grandparents and geeked out in various ways, including listening to a live conversation between Michael Pollan and Dan Barber at the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture. During the discussion, Pollan noted the connection between food and health and lamented that the Obama Administration has done relatively little, though not nothing, to promote better food policy and a healthier food culture.

    During the Q&A, I asked Pollan what he thought had been or could be done on food under health reform. He pointed out the menu labeling provision. More insightfully, he noted that no significant advancement in food policy or culture will occur until there is some strong interest group that counterbalances big agriculture. Who might that be?

    When health insurers can no longer turn away or force out high-risk individuals, they could be motivated to serve that as that countervailing force. If the insurance industry, along with government, must bear everyone’s cost — as they will (or nearly) as of 2014 due to the ban on pre-existing condition exclusions — it may push for policies that would promote healthier diets. Pollan said that Kaiser Permanente already prescribes healthy meals for certain patients who might not otherwise be able to obtain them and for whom eating better could avoid significant costs (e.g., those with diabetes or high blood pressure).

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    That’s all the “work” I did this weekend, but not the only geeky fun I had. While at Stone Barns, my wife and I ate well, though not necessarily healthily (not sustainably so, anyway), by dining at Barber’s Blue Hill restaurant. The courses were excellent, small, and numerous. Advertised as eight in number, we counted ten. Between them, we received private, mini-lectures on the origins and preparation of what we were eating. (See, still geeky!)

    It was a long meal, lasting 2.5 hours, and of the highest possible quality, not to mention considerable quantity. I was more than satisfied. (This counts as the “big fat” portion of the weekend.) I also have never spent so much on a meal. In this respect, Blue Hill may not do much in the eyes of the some visitors to counter the impression that organic, sustainable, local agriculture is elitist, a label I don’t necessarily think is fair (and also one Barber himself has pushed back against). Yet, as if on cue, Martha Stewart (I kid you not) was seated at the adjacent able as we completed our meal.

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    As if the weekend was not special, or geeky, enough, we also visited the Storm King Art Center (a sculpture park), where one of my favorite artists, Andy Goldsworthy, has installed some stunning dry stone walls. They are a treat on many levels: beautiful, but also surprisingly tall and stable for their width and proximity to tree root systems. See for yourself in the following album of photos (click to enlarge). Most pictures are of Goldsworthy’s walls because I’m fond of stone walls and of him an his work. I did capture a few images of other sculpture I enjoyed. There’s much more at the park I saw but didn’t photograph. It covers 500 acres!

    UPDATE: I reworded some commentary on Blue Hill.

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    • During the Q&A, I asked Pollan what he thought had been or could be done on food under health reform. He pointed out the menu labeling provision. More insightfully, he noted that no significant advancement in food policy or culture will occur until there is some strong interest group that counterbalances big agriculture. Who might that be?

      The food policy is fully up with the science. Salt has iodine and flour is fortified. We do not know enough to go beyond these simple things.

      BTW The evidence is strong that it is simply affordability of food is the major contributor to obesity. One of the most interesting pieces of evidence in this regard is that dog obesity has risen along side human obesity (I read this recently from Garrett Jones, GMU).