What [else] I Learned From Michael Pollan

Just when I start to think college is dumb and an overly-stressful waste of time (see post below), something cool usually happens and I change my mind.

Yesterday, as part of the Go Big Read program on campus, which brought in the book In Defense of Food this year, author Michael Pollan came to speak. College is cool.

While I have thoroughly enjoyed the two of his books that I have read (and hope to read more), I enjoyed listening to him and asking him questions almost as much. As Bill Cronon said in his introduction, Pollan is an, “able translator of complicated ideas,” and because of this, I have come to respect and admire his ability to do good and motivate change through his writing.

DSCN0759_2In his talk last night at the Kohl Center, he outlined a few main points of his book. He reintroduced the idea of the American Paradox – that we’re so concerned about our weight (more so than in many other countries), and yet we have the highest rates of obesity, heart problems and diabetes. In fact, since 1980 Americans have become 17 pounds heavier on average… as a result of our low-fat focused culture? He proposed that in order to change this paradox, we need to alter our whole ideology on food, and start eating food instead of the processed food-like substances that we see in our convenience and grocery stores, fast food restaurants, and sadly, on our shelves.

He gave an overview of how reductionist nutritional science is so difficult to study in humans, mentioned other aspects of our faulty research systems in food, how other cultures eat (e.g. stopping when they feel 80% full), and gave examples of our flawed system of seeing nutrients as either ‘satanic’ or ‘good’ (The idea that when we eat, we feel we are doing one of two things: ruining our health, or, improving our health). This was all very interesting and I highly recommend picking up his book to learn more.

What I was most interested in though, were his views of what better eating can do for our land and communities. His idea that our physical health is as much linked to the health of the soil, environment, economy, animal, and plant as it is to our actual bodies is so refreshing. If we all considered how we eat, where we shop, and how we prepare food to matter just as much as what we actually eat, we would be able to truly understand the idea of a Food Chain and would face many benefits to our lifestyles. When time and money were brought up as a critique, he said it was interesting because with as much as we complain about not having time to cook, the ratings on Food Network cooking shows are still so high. And though we can’t afford more expensive foods, we can afford to pay for our televisions, phones, and water; all of which are commodities that are also readily available for free. So, it is a matter of prioritizing and deciding not to skimp on our health in order to save time or money, and bringing back the idea of eating for pleasure, community, and identity, instead of just for nutrition or necessity.

This morning, I had a chance to meet with Pollan in a smaller setting to ask him questions. While my peers asked clarifying questions on his food talk, I asked him about his career as a writer, his education, and his process of writing on scientific issues as someone who is educated in English, not science. I am thrilled about what he said and am more encouraged to practice and improve my writing and establish my own expertise as a result.

Anyway, I have lots to do today and need to get going, but it was such a good experience to hear from him and I’m excited for what’s to come with this space and my career as a result!

-J

The crowd giving a standing ovation after his speech.

The crowd giving a standing ovation after his speech.

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