by Marion Nestle

Search results: 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.

May 23 2010

Michael Pollan writes about the food revolution

Michael Pollan has a long essay in the New York Review of Books based on a review of five books: “The Food Movement, Rising.”

Here’s my favorite quotation from it, for obvious reasons:

Beginning in 2001 with the publication of Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation, a surprise best-seller, and, the following year, Marion Nestle’s Food Politics, the food journalism of the last decade has succeeded in making clear and telling connections between the methods of industrial food production, agricultural policy, food-borne illness, childhood obesity, the decline of the family meal as an institution, and, notably, the decline of family income beginning in the 1970s.

At the risk of reading too much into this, I think the fact that the New York Review of Books thinks the food revolution is worth writing about is an indication of how far this movement has come.

In an essay in the latest issue of Food, Culture, and Society, “Writing the Food Studies Movement,” I talk about the first class I ever taught about food and nutrition.  This was at Brandeis University in the fall semester, 1975.  In this class, I assigned two articles from the New York Review of Books:

  • Barraclough, Geoffrey.  I. The Great World CrisisNew York Review of Books, January 23, 1975.
  • Barraclough, Geoffrey.  II. Wealth and Power: The Politics of Food and Oil. New York Review of Books, August 7, 1975.

These astonishingly prescient essays – still well worth reading – addressed the ways money, energy, and food are inextricably linked to each other and to global power politics.

Then, nothing.  Thirty-five years later, the New York Review finally figured out that food politics is worth space in its pages.  Pollan’s article is a sign of how far the food movement has come.


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.

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.

Dec 10 2008

Michael Pollan talks to Bill Moyers

Here is Bill Moyer’s recent interview with Michael Pollan, talking about what the new president can and cannot do for American agriculture.  Worth a look.

http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/11282008/profile.html

12/11 update: Take a look at today’s New York Times where Nicholas Kristof enthusiastically supports the idea that Obama should appoint a “Secretary of Food.”

Jan 3 2008

Michael Pollan’s new book

On Eating Liberally’s “Let’s Ask Marion” this week, I discuss Michael Pollan’s new book, In Defense of Food, his gift to the new year.  Enjoy!

Dec 16 2007

Michael Pollan’s latest

Here’s another great piece to read on a cold, snowy day. Michael Pollan’s latest is a beautifully constructed synthesis of the meaning of two bad things that happened this year: Bee Colony Collapse Disorder and community-acquired Multiple Resistance Staphylococcus aureus. Both, he shows, are the result of industrialized agriculture. Bees are migratory workers? No wonder they are stressed. The question, Pollan says, is “not whether systems this brittle will break down, but when and how.” Read it and get busy.

Nov 4 2007

Michael Pollan on the Farm Bill

Today’s New York Times has a nifty op-ed from Michael Pollan on the Farm (Food!) Bill. The Bill might be voted on this week. I suppose there is still time to scream and shout about how it needs to be brought in line with health considerations, although it’s hard to retain much optimism at this point. The Farm Bill is a terrific illustration of the ways in which agriculture is linked to food, nutrition, and health, but it also is a terrific example of why our corrupt electoral system needs fixing. If we want our representatives to put public health above corporate health, we need to find a much better way to fund election campaigns. Let’s start working on all of this right now!