Grist’s dialogue on a new food policy for America won’t garner as much attention as Michael Pollan’s letter to the next president. (A conceit that worked, by the way: Obama, at least, read it.)

Still, it should be essential reading for anyone interested in sustainable food, the environment, and energy. The conversation between chef-farmer Dan Barber and sustainable agriculture guru Fred Kirschenmann is inevitably shorter than Pollan’s opus, but the two men range over a lot of ground: the practical possibilities of bottom-up change, the similarities between the financial meltdown and a possible agricultural crisis, and the food security program that the government ought to be expanding.

It’s not entirely encouraging. As Barber, who’s more pessimistic in general than Kirschenmann, says midway through, “[W]e need political leaders who are educated about agriculture. We elect officials schooled in law, history, and business. Few if any give serious account of life’s physical realities, or about the physiology of human beings and other animals, or of plants. It’s no wonder our leaders continue to pass legislation so hopelessly out of touch with the agricultural challenges of the future.”

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