"In corn, I think I've found the key to the American food chain. If you look at a fast-food meal, a McDonald's meal, virtually all the carbon in it - and what we eat is mostly carbon - comes from corn." -- Michael Pollan
Michael Pollan (born February 6, 1955) is an American author, journalist, activist, and professor of journalism at the University of California, Berkeley.
"A growing and increasingly influential movement of philosophers, ethicists, law professors and activists are convinced that the great moral struggle of our time will be for the rights of animals.""A lawn is nature under totalitarian rule.""Anyway, in my writing I've always been interested in finding places to stand, and I've found it very useful to have a direct experience of what I'm writing about.""At home I serve the kind of food I know the story behind.""Corn is a greedy crop, as farmers will tell you.""Corn is an efficient way to get energy calories off the land and soybeans are an efficient way of getting protein off the land, so we've designed a food system that produces a lot of cheap corn and soybeans resulting in a lot of cheap fast food.""Every major food company now has an organic division. There's more capital going into organic agriculture than ever before.""Fairness forces you - even when you're writing a piece highly critical of, say, genetically modified food, as I have done - to make sure you represent the other side as extensively and as accurately as you possibly can.""For at the same time many people seem eager to extend the circle of our moral consideration to animals, in our factory farms and laboratories we are inflicting more suffering on more animals than at any time in history.""High-quality food is better for your health.""I have had the good fortune to see how my articles have directly benefited some farmers and helped build markets for their products in a way that preserves land from development. That makes me a hopeless optimist.""I mean, we're really making a quantum change in our relationship to the plant world with genetic modification.""I think perfect objectivity is an unrealistic goal; fairness, however, is not.""In addition to contributing to erosion, pollution, food poisoning, and the dead zone, corn requires huge amounts of fossil fuel - it takes a half gallon of fossil fuel to produce a bushel of corn.""In general, science journalism concerns itself with what has been published in a handful of peer-reviewed journals - Nature, Cell, The New England Journal of Medicine - which set the agenda.""My work has also motivated me to put a lot of time into seeking out good food and to spend more money on it.""My writing is remarkably non-confessional; you actually learn very little about me.""Now that I know how supermarket meat is made, I regard eating it as a somewhat risky proposition. I know how those animals live and what's on their hides when they go to slaughter, so I don't buy industrial meat.""People in Slow Food understand that food is an environmental issue.""Perhaps more than any other, the food industry is very sensitive to consumer demand.""Plus, I love comic writing. Nothing satisfies me more than finding a funny way to phrase something.""The big journals and Nobel laureates are the equivalent of Congressional leaders in science journalism.""The Congressional leaders set the agenda for journalism; it's not the other way around.""The correlation between poverty and obesity can be traced to agricultural policies and subsidies.""The garden suggests there might be a place where we can meet nature halfway.""The larger meaning here is that mainstream journalists simply cannot talk about things that the two parties agree on; this is the black hole of American politics.""The things journalists should pay attention to are the issues the political leadership agrees on, rather than to their supposed antagonisms.""The Times has much less power than you think. I believe we attribute power to the media generally that it simply doesn't have. It's very convenient to blame the media, the same way we blame television for everything that's going wrong in society.""There's been progress toward seeing that nature and culture are not opposing terms, and that wilderness is not the only kind of landscape for environmentalists to concern themselves with.""This is part of human nature, the desire to change consciousness.""When you go to the grocery store, you find that the cheapest calories are the ones that are going to make you the fattest - the added sugars and fats in processed foods.""Without the potato, the balance of European power might never have tilted north.""Yes, I very much like to have a personal stake in what I'm writing about.""You cannot eat apples planted from seeds. They must be grafted, cloned."
Pollan was born in Long Island, New York to author and financial consultant Stephen Pollan and columnist Corky Pollan. Pollan received a B.A. from Bennington College in 1977 and an M.A. in English from Columbia University in 1981.
In The Omnivore's Dilemma, Pollan describes four basic ways that human societies have obtained food: the current industrial system, the big organic operation, the local self-sufficient farm, and the hunter-gatherer. Pollan follows each of these processes from a group of plants photosynthesizing calories through a series of intermediate stages and ultimately to a meal. Along the way, he suggests that there is a fundamental tension between the logic of nature and the logic of human industry, that the way we eat represents our most profound engagement with the natural world, and that industrial eating obscures crucially important ecological relationships and connections. On December 10, 2006, The New York Times named The Omnivore's Dilemma one of the five best nonfiction books of the year. On May 8, 2007, the James Beard Foundation named The Omnivore's Dilemma its 2007 winner for the best food writing. It was the book of focus for the University of Pennsylvania's Reading Project 2007, and the book of choice for Washington State University's Common Reading Program in 2009-10. An excerpt of the book was published in Mother Jones.
Pollan's discussion of the industrial food chain is in large part a critique of modern agribusiness. According to the book, agribusiness has lost touch with the natural cycles of farming, wherein livestock and crops intertwine in mutually beneficial circles. Pollan's critique of modern agribusiness focuses on what he describes as the overuse of corn for purposes ranging from fattening cattle to massive production of corn oil, high-fructose corn syrup, and other corn derivatives. He describes what he sees as the inefficiencies and other drawbacks of factory farming and gives his assessment of organic food production and what it's like to hunt and gather food. He blames those who set the rules (i.e., politicians in Washington, D.C., bureaucrats at the United States Department of Agriculture, Wall Street capitalists, and agricultural conglomerate like Archer Daniels Midland) or what he calls a destructive and precarious agricultural system that has wrought havoc upon the diet, nutrition, and well-being of Americans. Pollan finds hope in Joel Salatin's Polyface Farm in Virginia, which he sees as a model of sustainability in commercial farming. Pollan appears in the documentary film King Corn (2007).
In The Botany of Desire, Pollan explores the concept of co-evolution, specifically of humankind's evolutionary relationship with four plants ... apples, tulips, marijuana, and potatoes ... from the dual perspectives of humans and the plants. He uses case examples that fit the archetype of four basic human desires, demonstrating how each of these botanical species are selectively grown, bred, and genetically engineered. The apple reflects the desire for sweetness, the tulip beauty, marijuana intoxication, and the potato control. Pollan then unravels the narrative of his own experience with each of the plants, which he then intertwines with a well-researched exploration into their social history. Each section presents a unique element of human domestication, or the "human bumblebee" as Pollan calls it. These range from the true story of Johnny Appleseed to Pollan's first-hand research with sophisticated marijuana hybrids in Amsterdam, to the alarming and paradigm-shifting possibilities of genetically engineered potatoes.Pollan's book, An Eater's Manifesto, released on January 1, 2008, explores the relationship with what he terms nutritionism and the Western diet, with a focus on late 20th century food advice given by the science community. Pollan holds that consumption of fat and dietary cholesterol do not lead to a higher rate of coronary disease, and that the reductive analysis of food into nutrient components is a flawed paradigm. He questions the view that the point of eating is to promote health, pointing out that this attitude is not universal and that cultures that perceive food as having purposes of pleasure, identity, and sociality may end up with better health. He explains this seeming paradox by vetting then validating the notion that nutritionism and, therefore, the whole Western framework through which we intellectualize the value of food is more a religious and faddish devotion to the mythology of simple solutions than a convincing and reliable conclusion of incontrovertible scientific research. Pollan spends the rest of his book explicating his first three phrases: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." He contends that most of what Americans now buy in supermarkets, fast food stores, and restaurants is not in fact food, and that a practical tip is to eat only those things that people of his grandmother's generation would have recognized as food.
In 2009, his most recent book, "Food Rules" was published. This short work is a condensed version of his previous efforts, intended to provide a simple framework for healthy and sustainable diet. It is divided into three sections, further explicating the principles of "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." It includes rules such as "let others sample your food" and "the whiter the bread, the sooner you'll be dead."
Pollan has contributed to Greater Good, a social psychology magazine published by the Greater Good Science Center at University of California, Berkeley. His article "Edible Ethics" discusses the intersection of ethical eating and social psychology.
In his 1998 book The Education of an Amateur Builder, Pollan methodically traced the design and construction of the out-building where he writes. The 2008 re-release of this book was re-titled A Place of My Own: The Architecture of Daydreams.
Pollan is a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine, a former executive editor for Harper's Magazine, and author of five books: An Eater's Manifesto (2008) A Natural History of Four Meals (2006), A Plant's-Eye View of the World (2001), A Place of My Own (1997), and Second Nature A Gardener's Education (1991).
His recent work has dealt with the practices of the meat industry, and he has written a number of articles on trends in American agriculture. He has received the Reuters World Conservation Union Global Awards in environmental journalism, the James Beard Foundation Awards for best magazine series in 2003, and the Genesis Award from the American Humane Association. His articles have been anthologized in Best American Science Writing (2004), Best American Essays (1990 and 2003), The Animals: Practicing Complexity (2006) and the Norton Book of Nature Writing (1990).
Pollan co-starred in the documentary, Food, Inc. (2008), for which he was also a consultant.
He is married to landscape painter Judith Belzer; the couple met while both attended Bennington College. They have a son, Isaac. Pollan's sister is actress Tracy Pollan, the wife of Michael J. Fox.
Writing in the American Enterprise Institute's magazine, Blake Hurst argues that Pollan offers a shallow assessment of factory farming that does not take cost into account. Daniel Engber criticized Pollan in Slate for arguing that food is too complex a subject to study scientifically and blaming reductionism for today's health ills, while at the same time using nutritional research to justify his own diet advice. He compares Pollan's "straight-forward" anti-scientific method based on only rhetoric to that used by health gurus of history who have peddled diet scams.