Currently browsing posts about: Michael-Pollan

Apr 17 2013

Michael Pollan’s “Cooked” and Appraisals by food academics

Michael Pollan’s Cooked comes out April 23 but the New York Times jumped the gun and reviewed it yesterday.   I can’t wait for the copy I ordered to arrive so I can read it for myself.

cooked-cover

Whenever the book comes, this seems like a good time to post Geoffrey Cannon’s interviews with some of Pollan’s academic foodie fans (including me) about how we assess his work.  These appraisals are now posted in World Nutrition, the online journal of the World Public Health Nutrition Association.

cover april 2013

Geoffrey Cannon: When did you come across Michael Pollan?

I had been reading Michael Pollan’s articles in the New York Times Magazine with admiration, to say the least, so when he invited me to participate in a food conference he was running at Berkeley in the fall of 2002, soon after he arrived to teach there, I was looking forward to meeting him. The conference was splendid. It brought together a huge number of journalists, academics, filmmakers, and government and industry officials. The speakers were glittery. Alice Waters did the catering. The side trips were to a farm in Bolinas and an olive orchard in Sonoma run by the owners of the San Francisco Chronicle (they had sketches by Wayne Thibaud tacked to the bathroom walls). Sometime after that, I spoke in one of his classes. But the first meeting I remember in detail must have been in about 2004. I asked for his advice about the book I was working on at the time, which later became What to Eat.

What impressed you at that time?

We met for lunch at Chez Panisse, where he was clearly a regular (I was still having trouble getting a reservation). I wanted his advice about how to write for a general audience. He said he wasn’t the right person to ask, because he didn’t write as an expert. His starting point in developing books was from lack of expertise. As he learned, he brought readers along with him. This turned out to be hugely helpful.

I got to know him better in the spring of 2006 when I taught at Berkeley in a complicated arrangement between three schools. I was paid by public policy, had an office in public health, but journalism – meaning Michael – ran the life support. The following spring I went back to Berkeley to teach a course in science journalism in his program. We did some speaking gigs together.

Rate his work and impact

Obviously, I think he is terrific but I have to do full disclosure. He just wrote the splendid foreword to the tenth anniversary edition of Food Politics. I’ll just say this: lots of people in the US have been working on the food movement for decades, but his work reaches so large and so passionate an audience that he has to be given much of the credit for its expansion.

Quote one of his sayings that stays with you

In What to Eat, I said dietary principles were simple: eat less, move more, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, don’t eat too much junk food. Pollan says: Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much. Oh to be able to write like that.

 Give an example of where he has made a difference

Students read his work and want to act. Our NYU programs in food studies are filled with people who read Pollan and want to do something to make the food system healthier and better for the planet.

Has his work changed your thinking and if so, how?

I don’t think I ever understood the importance of meat animals in balanced ecological systems to the extent that I now do. The idea of the omnivore’s dilemma is mind-changing on its own. I like it because it is so inclusive of different ways of eating and enjoying food. And I can’t wait to read Cooked.

Does his work have relevance outside the USA?

People outside the US are going to have to answer this one but of course it does. Food systems are global. How we in America eat affects the food systems of countries everywhere else and, to some extent, vice versa.

In what ways if any do you think he is mistaken?

I’m of the belief that although health very much depends on what you eat, body weight depends on how much you eat no matter where the calories come from (one of the theses of my new book Why Calories Count). We argue about this all the time. Eventually, the science will get to the point where this gets resolved one way or the other. In the meantime, it’s fun to debate.

Reference: Gussow J, Kirschenmann F, Uauy R, Schell O, Nestle M, Popkin B, Cannon G, Monteiro C. The American genius. [Appraisals].  World Nutrition 2013;4:150-170.  My answers to Geoffrey Cannon’s questions start on page 161.

Addition, May 1.  World Nutrition has published a second set of Appraisals, with some commentary.

Oct 15 2012

Pro-Proposition 37 forces are getting busy

Michael Pollan has a terrific piece in this Sunday’s Times Magazine on why the food movement needs to get behind California’s Proposition 37, flaws and all.

California’s Proposition 37, which would require that genetically modified (G.M.) foods carry a label, has the potential to do just that — to change the politics of food not just in California but nationally too.

…sooner or later, the food movement will have to engage in the hard politics of Washington — of voting with votes, not just forks.

…Obama’s attitude toward the food movement has always been: What movement? I don’t see it. Show me. On Nov. 6, the voters of California will have the opportunity to do just that.

Helping this along are two videos from Food and Water Watch, both really well done.

And then there’s this one, from a creative pro-Prop 37 individual (was he suggesting that it’s OK to give Pepsi to that baby?  Not at all—see comment below from Ali Partavi).

Enjoy!  Whatever you think of GMOs, people want and have a right to know the source of their food.

Nov 17 2011

New books about food politics—the blurbables

I get sent a lot of manuscripts to review for possible endorsements (“blurbs”).  I read them and happily agree to blurb the ones I think worth special attention.  These were recently released:

Jennifer Clapp’s Food (Polity Press, 2012).  “The global food economy may seem remote from daily experience, but it affects every aspect of what we eat and, therefore, our health and welfare.  Jennifer Clapp explains what happens when food is no longer considered a mere source of nourishment or cultural element but is transformed into a fungible commodity.  Clapp unpacks and clarifies the mind-numbing complexities of transnational corporations, international trade, and financial markets.  Best of all, the book provides precisely the information and tools advocates need to redesign the global food economy to promote fair trade, food justice, and local sovereignity.”

Tanya Denckla Cobb’s Reclaiming Our Food: How the Grassroots Food Movement is Changing the Way We Eat (Storey, 2011).  I blurbed this one: “People constantly ask me what kinds of things they can do to get involved in the food movement and where to start.  Now I can just hand them this.  The projects it describes should inspire readers to get busy doing similar projects in their own communities.”

Didi Emmons’ Wild Flavors: One Chef’s Transformative Year Cooking from Eva’s Farm (Chelsea Green, 2011).  My blurb: If you are a city person, like me, with a secret yen to forage for wild greens Wild Flavors is an inspiration.  Read it, and you will want to harvest, share, and eat everything you find…Emmon’s recipes are lovely and easy to follow.

Joel Salatin’s Folks,This Ain’t Normal: A Farmer’s Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People and a Better World (Center Street, 2011).  I blurbed this one too.  “Joel Salatin says it’s high time we stopped taking our industrialized food system as a given and instead consider local, sustainable food production as the norm.  Good plan.  Whether or not you agree with this contention that we would be better off if the government got out of food regulation, his ideas are compellingly written, fun to read, and well worth pondering.”

I wasn’t asked to do a blurb for this one, but it’s well worth a mention:

Michael Pollan’s Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual, illustrated by Maira Kalman (Penguin, 2011).  This is an updated version of Pollan’s best seller of a couple of years ago with some new rules and delightful paintings by the creator of the famous New Yorker newyorkistan cover.  The book is a quick read and the rules are short and to the point: “Compost!”  “Eat slowly!”  “Cook!”

May 28 2011

Redesign the Nutrition Facts label? Here’s your chance!

Utne reader has just announced the most interesting contest: redesign the food label.

The contest is sponsored by Good magazine and the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism’s News21 program.  It is called the Rethink the Food Label project.

Anyone can enter.  Just think of some way that would make the label more useful.

The FDA is currently working on doing just that, and for good reason.  The label is so hard to use that the FDA devotes a lengthy website to explaining how to understand and use it.

This too is understandable.  The Nutrition Facts label is the result of regulations in response to the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990.  When the FDA started writing regulations to implement the Act, it tested consumer understanding of a bunch of potential designs.

The result?  Nobody understood any of them.  The FDA, under pressure to complete the regulations by the congressional deadline, chose the option that was least poorly understood–the best of a bad lot.

Surely someone will come up with something better than this?  The deadline for submission: July 1. One of the judges is Michael Pollan. Give it a try!

 

Oct 19 2009

Today’s scandal: industrial agriculture vs. Michael Pollan

In my previous post, I mentioned that a Cal Poly donor had written the university arguing that Michael Pollan should not be permitted to speak to students unopposed.  The donor, Mr. David Wood of Harris Ranch Beef Company, wrote Dr. Warren Baker, President of Cal Poly, threatening to withdraw his promised $500,000 contribution if the invitation to Mr. Pollan was not withdrawn.

I now have copies of the actual letters.  They are well worth reading by anyone concerned about the relationship of industrial agriculture to its impact on soil and water, climate change, rural sustainability, air quality, animal welfare, worker safety, antibiotic resistance, and human health, as well as by the influence of Big Agriculture on public policy.

Here is the letter from Mr. Wood to Dr. Baker. And here are Dr. Baker’s response to that letter and Mr. Wood’s response to Dr. Baker’s response.

My favorite quotation from Mr. Wood’s response is this:

For too long now, those intimately involved in production of agriculture have silently allowed others (academics and activists) to shape their future. Not any longer! The views of elitists’ [sic] like Michael Pollan can no longer go unchallenged. Agriculture cannot allow the Pollans of the world to shape societal expectations (and ultimately policy makers’ decisions) regarding the production practices that can or cannot be employed by those whose livelihood depends on the continued development and adoption of modern agriculture practices.

I will let this comment speak for itself.

Note: thanks to all the people, especially Matt, who offered help with downsizing the letter file.

Oct 17 2009

Pushback on alternative agriculture

After my George McGovern lecture at FAO (see the most recent previous post), the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. in Rome, Ertharin Cousin, thanked me for speaking and then told the audience that the opinions expressed in my talk were mine alone and did not represent those of the U.S. government.

The main point of my talk was that hunger, obesity, and food safety are social rather than personal problems and require social rather than personal solutions.  If such problems are individual, they can be solved with technical interventions such as functional foods, commercial weaning foods, irradiation, and genetically modified foods.  But if we view them as social problems, we need to find solutions that involve sustainability, social justice, and democracy.

For example, we know how to end hunger:

  • Breastfeeding
  • Clean water and safe food
  • Empowerment of women
  • Education
  • Community food security
  • Sustainable agriculture
  • Political stability

These are social interventions.  Technical solutions do not enter into them except in emergencies.

I praised the Obamas for leadership in promoting sustainable food production, and ended my talk with this image.  I left it up while I was answering questions but the ambassador asked to have it turned off.

ObamasUnder ordinary circumstances, I would pass her actions off as standard practice and not take them personally.  But I am hearing more and more tales of pushback against such ideas.

According to an account in the Los Angeles Times, another university – this time Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo – has reneged on a Michael Pollan invitation under pressure from agricultural interests.

The L.A. Times quotes David Wood, chairman of Harris Ranch Beef Co., who has promised $150,000 toward a new meat processing plant on campus:

While I understand the need to expose students to alternative views, I find it unacceptable that the university would provide Michael Pollan an unchallenged forum to promote his stand against conventional agricultural practices.

Apparently, this university caved under pressure just as Washington State did in a similar incident earlier this year (see my post on that incident).   And I hear rumors about invitations that never got offered.  Freedom of speech must hold at agricultural universities unless the opinions offend donors.

Expect to see more of this as the food movement gets stronger and more effective.

May 29 2009

Washington State U. vs. Michael Pollan (and Bill Marler)

For days now, my e-mail inbox has been flooded with messages about the flap at Washington State University over Michael Pollan’s Ominivore’s Dilemma. The messages come from Bill Marler, the Seattle-based “food poisoning attorney” and blogger whose firm specializes in class action lawsuits on behalf of victims of foodborne illness.

This is a good story.  The university bought copies of Omnivore’s Dilemma to distribute to the freshman class (a common community-building exercise at universities these days).  Then, it decided not to give them out.  Could corporate pressure from Washington State agribusiness have had anything to with this decision? No, said the university; they just couldn’t afford to bring Pollan to the campus.

Marler called their bluff.  If it’s really about money, he said, he’d pony up.   The result: the event is back on.

But I’m curious.  Does it really cost $40,000 to get Pollan to travel from Berkeley to WSU?  Pollan says no.  I just hope Marler gets to keep the change and use it to help sick kids.

Mar 4 2009

Food, Inc.: The Movie

I talked my way into a press screening of Food, Inc. last night.  Good thing.  This film is the riveting documentary directed by Robert Kenner due for release soon but already generating lots of buzz, and for good reason.  It’s a terrific introduction to the way our food system works and to the effects of this system on the health of anyone who eats as well as of farm workers, farm animals, and the planet.  It stars Eric Schlosser and Michael Pollan, among others, but I was especially moved by Barbara Kowalcyk, the eloquent and forceful food safety advocate who lost a young son to E. coli O17:H7 some years ago.  I can’t wait for the film to come out so everyone can see it.  I will use it in classes, not least because it’s such an inspiring call to action.  Here’s the trailer.

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