The May 15 New York Review of Books has an exchange between Wendell Berry and Jason Epstein over the latter’s review of In Defense of Food, by Michael Pollan. Berry states:

Jason Epstein refers, apparently with approval, to “a sustainable farm near Charlottesville, Virginia,” that is described at length in Mr. Pollan’s previous book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. And immediately Mr. Epstein undoes his approval with the following remarkable statement: “But sustainable farming is not sustainable on a national scale any more than Alice Waters can cook for the entire United States. . .”

. . . Earl Butz, who is deplored by Mr. Epstein, would have agreed enthusiastically. . .

Epstein replies:

Can Wendell Berry have read what I wrote? He accuses me of attempting to “dissociate” myself from what “is at the heart of both of Mr. Pollan’s recent books: that industrial agriculture is not only unsustainable, but . . . ruinous of the health of everything involved.” . . . Though I am in favor of sustainable, small-scale agriculture and an enthusiastic admirer and friend of Alice Waters, I do not see how small-scale farming and Alice’s brave campaigns can replace the present system for the millions of Americans too poor and too distracted to take advantage of them . . .

There is a way to settle this dispute that is as obvious as it is unlikely (in the short term)–end the subsidies for industrial agriculture and internalize the externalities; particularly carbon dioxide and other pollutants. Industrial agriculture is on a collision course with reality in the form of soil erosion, rising energy costs, climate change and the damage it is doing to bodies of water like the Gulf of Mexico. I don’t know it the resulting changes in agriculture will look like Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm (also featured in Rod Dreher‘s book, but it’s worth finding out.