Pollan speaking at Yale University, 2011
6 February 1955 |
Long Island, New York, United States
|Occupation||Author, Journalist, Professor|
|Spouse(s)||Judith Belzer (m. 1987)|
Michael Pollan (born February 6, 1955) is an American author, journalist, activist, and professor of journalism at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. A 2006 New York Times book review describes him as a "liberal foodie intellectual."
Pollan was born on February 6, 1955 in Long Island, New York, into a Jewish family. He is the son of author and financial consultant Stephen Pollan and columnist Corky Pollan. Pollan received a B.A. in English 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, ultimately into 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 in 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 conglomerates like Archer Daniels Midland) of 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, the marijuana intoxication, and the potato control. Pollan then unravels the narrative of his own experience with each of the plants, which he 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 In Defense of Food: 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, and 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.
Later, he tempers that injunction: to what your great-great-grandmothers generation would have recognized as food, but that is solely to vilify sugar - this being approximately when refined sugar became generally accessible.
In 2009, Food Rules: An Eater's Manual 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 Pollan's principles of "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." It includes his rules (i.e., "let others sample your food" and "the whiter the bread, the sooner you'll be dead").
In Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, published in 2013, Pollan explores the methods by which cooks mediate "between nature and culture." The book is organized in four sections corresponding to the classical elements of Fire (cooking with heat), Water (braising and boiling with pots), Air (breadmaking), and Earth (fermenting).
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 A Place of My Own: 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: In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto (2008) The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (2006), The Botany of Desire: 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 Humane Society of the United States. 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. In 2010 Pollan was interviewed for the film Queen of the Sun: What are the bees telling us?, a feature length documentary about honey bees and colony collapse disorder.
On genetically modified organisms
In October 2012 Pollan said to NPR that he has seen no "evidence that’s persuaded me that there’s any danger to health [from GMOs]”. Pollan says that he opposes GMOs because he is for low-scale farming. Researcher-journalist Jon Entine claims that this is because Pollan wants to appear moderate, but actually he has, e.g., spread the notorious anti-GMO Séralini study even without reading it and claimed that GMOs would not benefit consumers. 
In April 2012 Pollan gave to an anti-GMO activist an interview in which he criticized an independent Stanford University study questioning the claimed benefits of organic products, even though it was well received by scientists and science press. "I will dump on the press, - - This is not a new study, it is a meta-analysis". 
Pollan also said: "The media has really been on our side for the most part. I know this from writing for the New York Times - - I could say whatever I thought and offer my own conclusions. Say you should buy grass feed beef and organic is better, and these editors in New York didn’t realize there is anyone who disagrees with that point of view." He then complained that now NYT also gives the opponents a say. 
Pollan is married to landscape painter Judith Belzer; the couple met while attending Bennington College. They have a son, Isaac, who attends Wesleyan University. 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.
Pollan's work was also discussed and criticized by Jonathan Safran Foer in his non-fiction book Eating Animals. Foer criticizes Pollan's argument regarding table-fellowship. Pollan claims that a vegetarian dinner guest causes socially reprimandable inconvenience for the host. Foer responds that in the year 2010 it is easier for hosts to accommodate vegetarians than locavores as hosts will need to do extensive research to find (expensive) non factory-farmed meat.
Pollan accused the widely-praised genetic engineering article by Amy Harmon in New York Times as presenting too many industry viewpoints. For example, University of California-Berkeley biologist Michael Eisen called this a new low even in Pollan's "anti-GMO crusade".
- Second Nature: A Gardener's Education. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press. 1991. ISBN 978-0-87113-443-1.
- A Place of My Own: The Education of an Amateur Builder. New York: Random House. 1997. ISBN 978-0-679-41532-9.
- The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World. New York: Random House. 2001. ISBN 978-0-375-50129-6.
- The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. New York: Penguin Press. 2006. ISBN 978-1-59420-082-3.
- In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto. New York: Penguin Press. 2008. ISBN 978-1-59420-145-5.
- Food Rules: An Eater's Manual. New York: Penguin Press. 2009. ISBN 978-0-14-311638-7.
- Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation. New York: Penguin Press. 2013. ISBN 978-1594204210.
- "Opium Made Easy". Harper's. April, 1997.
- "When a Crop Becomes King". The New York Times. July 19, 2002. Retrieved 2008-09-21.
- "An Animal's Place". The New York Times. November 10, 2002. Retrieved 2008-09-21.
- "Mass Natural". The New York Times. June 4, 2006. Retrieved 2008-09-21.
- "Six rules for eating wisely". Time magazine. June 11, 2006. Retrieved 2008-09-21.
- "Unhappy Meals". The New York Times. January 28, 2007. Retrieved 2008-09-21.
- "You Are What You Grow". The New York Times. 22April 2007. Retrieved 2008-09-21.
- "Our Decrepit Food Factories". The New York Times. December 16, 2007. Retrieved 2008-09-21.
- "Why bother?". The New York Times. April 20, 2008. Retrieved 2008-09-21.
- "An Open Letter to the Farmer in Chief". The New York Times. October 9, 2008. Retrieved 2008-10-12.
- "Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch". The New York Times. July 29, 2009. Retrieved 2009-08-02.
- "Big Food vs. Big Insurance". The New York Times. September 9, 2009. Retrieved 2009-09-14.
- Michael Pollan (June 4, 2001) (audio). A Plant's-Eye View Of The World. with Ketzel Levine. Morning Edition. NPR. http://www.npr.org/programs/talkingplants/radio/010604.pollan.html. Retrieved 2008-11-29.
- Michael Pollan (September 2004) (transcript). The Cheapest Calories Make You the Fattest. with Helen Wagenvoord. Sierra Magazine. http://www.sierraclub.org/sierra/200409/interview.asp. Retrieved 2008-11-29.
- Michael Pollan (Spring/Summer 2006) (transcript). Edible Ethics. Interview with Jason Marsh. Greater Good magazine. http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/greatergood/archive/2006springsummer/pollan.html. Retrieved 2008-11-29.
- Michael Pollan (February 13, 2008) (video/audio/transcript). In Defense of Food. Interview with Amy Goodman. Democracy Now. http://www.democracynow.org/2008/2/13/in_defense_of_food_author_journalist. Retrieved 2008-11-29.
- Michael Pollan (October 30, 2008) (audio). An Evening with Michael Pollan. Interview with Warren Etheredge. The Warren Report. http://media.libsyn.com/media/thewarrenreport/BookSmartMichaelPollanInDefenseofFood.mp3. Retrieved 2008-11-29.
- Michael Pollan (November 28, 2008) (video/transcript). Interview with Bill Moyers. Bill Moyers Journal. PBS. http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/11282008/profile.html. Retrieved 2008-11-29.
- Michael Pollan (June 25, 2009) (video). Food and Fossil Fuels. with Melissa Moser. Powering A Nation: UNC News21 Project. http://news21.jomc.unc.edu/index.php/stories/diet/food-and-fossil-fuels.html. Retrieved 2009-08-04.
- Michael Pollan (June 25, 2009) (video). Checking Out Michael Pollan's Garden. with Melissa Moser. Powering A Nation: UNC News21 Project. http://news21.jomc.unc.edu/index.php/powering-a-nation-blog.html. Retrieved 2009-08-04.
- Michael Pollan (May 23, 2009) (audio). What's for Dinner with Michael Pollan. with Kathleen Slattery-Moschkau. The Kathleen Show. http://www.thekathleenshow.com/2009/05/23/michael-pollan/. Retrieved 2010-09-23.
- Michael Pollan (June 22, 2009) (video). Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis interview: Michael Pollan. Sponsored by Gaiam.. with Waylon Lewis. Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis. http://www.elephantjournal.com/2009/06/elephantjournalcom-founder-waylon-lewis-interviews-michael-pollan-re-how-to-communicate-green-to-the-masses-why-he-eats-meat-gmos-cancer-diet-swine-flu-michelle-obamas-organic-garden-s/. Retrieved 2010-09-23.
- Graduate School of Journalism (2008). "Faculty: Michael Pollan". UC Berkeley. Retrieved 2008-09-21.
- David Kamp (August 23, 2006). "'The Omnivore's Dilemma,' by Michael Pollan: Deconstructing Dinner". The New York Times.
- Ari Teman (August 19, 2012). ""Top Ten Jews Helping the Goyim"". Retrieved May 26, 2013.
- STEVE LINDE, A. SPIRO, G, HOFFMAN (May 25, 2012). "50 most influential Jews: Places 31-40". Retrieved May 26, 2013.
- Helen Wagenvoord (May 2, 2004). "The High Price of Cheap Food". The San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2008-09-21.
- Russell Schoch (January 4, 2004). "Q & A: A Conversation with Michael Pollan". California Monthly. Retrieved 2011-09-12.
- Pollan, Michael (May 2006). "No Bar Code". Mother Jones. Retrieved 2007-10-10.
- Michael Pollan. Queen of the Sun.
- Michael Pollan Promotes 'Denialist' Anti-GMO Junk Science, Says He Manipulates New York Times' Editors, Jon Entine, executive director of the Genetic Literacy Project, is a senior fellow at the Center for Health & Risk Communication and STATS (Statistical Assessment Service) at George Mason University. Forbes, 10/24/2013.
- Price, Catherine (2007-05-07). "How Michael Pollan Ruined My Life". The San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2008-09-21.
- Chapman, Sasha (2008-08-30). "Slow down, you're eating too fast". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 2008-09-21.[dead link]
- Hurst, Blake. "The Omnivore’s Delusion: Against the Agri-intellectuals".
- Engber, Daniel. "Survival of the Yummiest: Should we buy Michael Pollan's nutritional Darwinism?".
- "Jonathan Safran Foer Takes on Michael Pollan". Retrieved 10 May 2012.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Michael Pollan.|
- Official site
- Works by or about Michael Pollan in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
- (video) Michael Pollan on the Politics of Food from UC Television (UCTV)
- Michael Pollan at the Internet Movie Database
- "The omnivore's next dilemma" at TED Talks
- "In Defense of Food" at The Free Library of Philadelphia, January 10, 2008
- Skewed View from the Berkeley Hills: Why Michael Pollan and Alice Waters should quit celebrating food-price hikes by Tom Philpott, Grist, April 4, 2009.
- Food and Fossil Fuels by Melissa Moser, UNC News 21 Project, , June 25, 2009
- Why are Farmers Afraid of Michael Pollan? by Jim Goodman, CounterPunch, Sept 25 2009
- Michael Pollan on "Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual" - video report by Democracy Now!