Top Leaderboard, Site wide
Truthdig: Drilling Beneath the Headlines
April 28, 2017 Disclaimer: Please read.

Statements and opinions expressed in articles are those of the authors, not Truthdig. Truthdig takes no responsibility for such statements or opinions.

Truthdig Bazaar more items

Email this item Print this item

Michael Pollan: The Truthdig Interview

Posted on Apr 11, 2006
Michael Pollan
Courtesy of Michael Pollan

Michael Pollan, best-selling author and Knight Professor of Science and Environmental Journalism at UC Berkeley

By Blair Golson

(Page 2)

Like facing up to the realities of shopping at Whole Foods?

Yeah, I use the term “supermarket pastoral” for the experience of shopping in a place like that. Whole Foods, they’re brilliant storytellers. You walk into that store, and it just looks like a beautiful garden, and there are pictures of organic farmers up on the walls, and little labels that describe how the cow lived that became your milk or your beef, and the cage-free vegetarian hens who got to free range.

They’re creating in your minds an image of a farm very much like the ones in the books you read as children—with a diversity of happy animals wandering around the farmyard.

It’s very cleverly designed, but unfortunately like a lot of pastoral forms of art, it’s based on illusions. Not entirely, but if you go to the farm depicted on those labels, you find that in fact, things look a little bit different.


Square, Site wide
Organic milk might be coming from a dry organic feedlot where 500 cows are milling around and never get to eat a blade of grass. I have a feeling that’s not what the consumer thinks they’re getting.

Does the same thing go for free-range chickens and eggs?

It’s very interesting. Free-range chickens—I did go visit a large organic chicken producer here in California, and if you look at their label, there’s a farmstead with a little silo and a farm house and a farmyard and chickens running around, but if you go to the farm, the chickens are grown in these huge barracks as long as a football field. They’re indoors, there are 20,000 of them in a house, and running along this barrack is what looks like a little front lawn—mowed, maybe 15 or 20 feet deep.

There’s a little door at either side of the barrack where, theoretically, chickens could step outside and take the air. But they don’t. One reason is that the doors are closed until the chickens are about five weeks old.

The farmers—if you can use that word, the managers—are concerned that the chickens might catch their death of cold or pick up a germ, so they don’t open the doors until the chickens are five weeks old. They smother them at seven weeks; so it’s not exactly a lifestyle. It’s more like a two-week vacation option. And the chickens don’t avail themselves of this option because they’ve never been outside before. They’re terrified of going outside. First of all, it’s not big enough for the whole flock. Second of all, the food and water is inside; they’re not used to it; they weren’t brought up this way. They’re like the cat in the Manhattan apartment; when you open the door they just stand there in terror wondering about the other dimension of reality outside that door.

Free range is a conceit. It’s to make us feel better about these chickens. It’s not doing anything for the chickens, as far as I can tell.

Yes, that organic chicken is still a better product, I think. It’s getting better feed, it’s got a few more inches of legroom than a conventional chicken, but it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.

And hence your efforts to find places that were all they were cracked up to be…

I went looking for a better model of farming—a truly biological or ecological farm. They are out there. There are people doing amazing, visionary work. And the one I chose to focus on is a farm called Polyface. And it’s run by a man named Joel Salatin and his son, Daniel. They grow six different animals on 100 acres of open land and another 400 of forest. And they do it in this very intricate rotation, so that on one day, the cows are on a pasture.

Then they wait a couple of days and the chickens come in. They eat all of the grubs out of the manure, which takes care of the farm’s problem with flies and disease, and they spread that manure in the process of doing that, and they fertilize it with their own manure to keep the pastures very healthy. Then the chickens move out and another animal moves in. This rotation going through the farm several times every season, and the result is a great deal of high-quality food, but also, most astoundingly of all, an improvement in the environment of this farm. There is more top soil, more grass, more fertility than there would be if nothing were being done here.

That is a very significant achievement, because it belies this basic American idea that our relationship with nature is a zero sum game—by which we all assume that for us to get what we want from nature, nature is diminished. This farm is saying, “No, that is not necessarily true. There is a way to get your food from the earth in such a way that it leaves the earth improved.”

To me, that’s an incredibly heartening message; it says we’re not this pest species in nature, that we really have a contribution to make.

Is there any evidence to suggest that that model is spreading?

It’s not about to take over American agriculture, but there’s a very strong movement to put animals back on grass, get them off of feed lots, and sell grass-finished meat. Grass-fed beef is growing very quickly, and I find it a very hopeful development.

But didn’t you write that places like Polyface can’t ever hope to make money supplying the biggies like Wal-Mart or Whole Foods because those places only buy from mega farms?

You have to get out of the supermarket, basically. The supermarket is not going to support this world in the long run, I don’t think. But the supermarket is not the only place to buy your food. There are very many good alternatives—the farmers’ market being the most obvious. But also CSAs—which stands for community-supported agriculture—where you essentially join a farm and every week you get a box of produce. People are buying really good grass-fed meat over the Internet.

If you’re someone living in a major metropolitan city, and you wanted to eat in the healthiest way, patronizing the most ecologically friendly food purveyors—setting aside cost for the moment—how would you shop?

I am that person. I’ve joined a CSA, so I get a box of produce every week. I also go to the farmers’ market. I have found some producers of things like beef that I buy in quantity and keep in my freezer. But I also find grass-finished beef—I’m kind of lucky here in Northern California—I can find it in local markets. So I do a little bit of many different things. And it’s a little easier to do here in California than in others places. Our farmers’ markets are open 12 months a year, and that isn’t true everywhere.

But I also get on the Internet and find interesting food. There are terrific websites. There’s the Eat Well Guide, where you put in your ZIP code and it tells you about local farms doing interesting things. The other thing to do is to visit local farms and establish a personal connection, if you have the time and the inclination. I find that incredibly interesting. I like knowing farmers who are growing my food.

But all of us are going to take this to different degrees. I don’t think it’s all or nothing. I still go to the Safeway. I still stop at Whole Foods every now and then. And many people don’t have the time or inclination to put any more work into it, and so maybe Whole Foods is fine, and maybe they’ve got a lot of money, because Whole Foods is really expensive. And that helps. The kind of farming that Whole Foods supports is better than conventional farming.

All I’m suggesting is that you can take it to the next step if you want. And the next step is incredibly rewarding, because the quality of the food is so high, and the kind of stewardship going on is very impressive.

But like I said, it’s not all or nothing. We have three food votes every day—that’s more votes than we have in most other aspects of our lives. And if you used one of them in a way that supported a change—an alternative food chain, that’s a big accomplishment. That’s enough to create these alternatives and make them more accessible and probably cheaper as well, as more people use them.

You can go whole hog or just dip your toes in, but either way, I think it’s a very important food vote you have.

Next Page: “If we had a stable food culture that had a consistent set of answers about, ‘This is what you eat, and this is how you eat it,’ I think we’d be much less vulnerable to a news article saying, ‘Fat is good, carb is bad.’”

Lockerdome Below Article
Get a book from one of our contributors in the Truthdig Bazaar.

Related Entries

Get truth delivered to
your inbox every day.

New and Improved Comments

If you have trouble leaving a comment, review this help page. Still having problems? Let us know. If you find yourself moderated, take a moment to review our comment policy.

Join the conversation

Load Comments

By Jennifer, November 28, 2006 at 8:35 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Glad someone else brought up the water issue—-does Mr. Pollan address it? Can produce that requires water from another state still be considered truly ‘local’? I’m thinking of California’s use of Colorado River water.

Report this

By asnet, October 18, 2006 at 10:32 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Michael Pollan speaks of getting on the Internet and finding “interesting food. There are terrific websites. There’s the Eat Well Guide, where you put in your ZIP code and it tells you about local farms doing interesting things.”

So I Googled Eat Well Guide, keyed in my ZIP code, and came up with three markets within a mile of where I live. One of them is another of the bogus “health”/gourmet food chains that paved the way for Whole Foods—a titillation for the rich, and a joke for the rest of us who have actually been there.

The other two are among the most expensive, luxury and exotic food stores in the world. Two of the high-quality affordable markets that draw customers from all over New York City are not on the list.

I suppose that is to be expected from somebody training “journalists” to work for newspapers controlled by editors and writers controlled by advertisers who cater to the rich. Without them, many of our most treasured newspapers would die off. They may anyway. Meanwhile, here’s to the truthdiggers!

Report this

By el cuervo, October 16, 2006 at 12:57 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

El Tiente hits a home run when he says: ‘The phrase “sustainably-raised meat” is oxymoronic given the water, energy, and land required to “raise meat.” At best, the approach could work for a small population with abundant resources.’

There are 6 billion people in the world. That’s probably about 1000 times more people then is remotely wise. Based on what? Based on the level of destruction our species is capable of, even in arguably the most eco-friendly hunter-gatherer or subsistence lifestyle. And yet economists and religious fundalmentalists exort: ‘go forth and multiply’.
Treat the disease, not the myriad and rapidly multiplying symptoms. Encourage human rights for women in societies all over the earth, and the exponential population explosion will cease.
For the biblically-minded, you could say we are facing down Armageddon because of the way women
have been treated since time immemorial, largely because of books like the Quran and the Bible.  Is it so goddamn hard to fix? If so, why? Can we get it done to save our own asses? When you really think about it, the most evil thing is the relentless destruction in God’s name of this beautiful unique-in-the-universe biosphere. Nature is God, this planet is God, and we are killing her in cold blood to pull some grubby change out of her pockets.

Report this

By Bob Zavoda, September 11, 2006 at 11:11 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Yeah, Michael!

See and hear Michael at the Bioneers’ 17th Annual Conference, satellite-beamed, live to 16 cities throughout the US and Canada. Travel to San Rafael, CA this October 20-22 to attend the National Conference in person or check to see where a closer Satellite Conference is beamed to where you live. (

Surprising, perhaps, to many US citizens because of our current government’s propaganda, watch a documentary about a truly Sustainable and functioning country:

“The Power of Community How Cuba Survived Peak Oil - A Documentary” ( - “...a story not just of individual achievement, but of the collective mobilization of an entire society to meet an enormous challenge….Farmland that for years had been poisoned by over-reliance on oil-based pesticides and gas-based fertilizers and degraded by mechanized cultivation has been regenerated and replenished with soil-enriching organic farming techniques…”

Thank you Truthdig!

Report this

By zenana, September 5, 2006 at 3:17 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Getting back to the cost of producing sustainable foods—we just started our subscription at a local farm in South Florida, one box of produce delivered to our door once a week. Cost: $100 a month ($25 per week). Sustainable food is only costly when it’s being shipped thousands of miles, or halfway around the globe to satisfy our desire for exotica out of season. Food purchased from a local farm is not expensive or out of reach for working to middle class households.

Report this

By Gerhardt Steinke, August 26, 2006 at 12:04 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Is humane treatment of animals and fowl only a “conceit” or are there deeper ETHICAL issues at stake? In Switzerland, with highest quality of life in the world, chickens are commonly “free range” and not packed into small boxes in massive factory farms. I’m unlikely to eat chicken or eggs anyway. Eating “organic” dead animals or consuming “organic” dairy products does NOT minimize popular diseases. The CANCER cause-effect relationships are clear. Having said that, organic (“BIO” in Europe) vegies certainly is practical and cost-effective.

LAURA’s concern with COST:

What can we learn from Europe on food costs?

North of Swiss border in Freiburg, “BIO” vegies are priced on a par with “normal” at ALDI. E.g. A 750 gram pack of BIO frozen vegies costs EU 1,29.
Also visit
Google “Trader Joe’s” for ALDI connection.

I believe that habits of thinking of meat and dairy as “normal” for human beings will change. But it took decades to expose truth on tobacco.
Cancer incidence is CLEARLY correlated to milk protein consumption. Not a doubt about this.

The business interests behind above (in bed with the USDA and FDA) continue to promulgate fictions. E.g. “Milk builds strong bones” is one of worst. This mindless slogan evoking “Elsie The Cow” has it backwards. Populatons with weakest bones have highest dairy consumption. The data is clear.
See “China Study” on cancer and life style. Duh.

Calling things by their right names often helps.
US “Health Care” is anything but. SICKNESS CARE.
Data shows US lagging badly behind Europe.

Greeting from the Black Forest!

Report this

By Laura, August 25, 2006 at 12:30 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Pollen leaves out the issue of cost however. Food that comes from the systems he describes would cost 3-4 times what we pay in the supermarket for food from subsidized,industrialized agriculture. Would you be willing to pay $6 for a head of lettuce? Even if you would, how many families could do so, when they cannot even afford health insurance?

Report this

By Gerhardt J. Steinke, August 22, 2006 at 5:53 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Anyone interested in optimal diets should study “The China Study” before more pop nutrition. The evidence for veganism is OVERWHELMING in book.

I’ve ordered Michael Pollan’s latest book.
Hope his skills have improved since his NYT Magazine article entitled:

“What if It’s All Been a Big Fat Lie?”

Above has Michael Fumento thrashing above and followed by Pollard’s defensive reply. This is certainly a helpful proceedure in publishing.

March 2003 Big Fat Fake - by Michael Fumento:
The Atkins diet controversy and the
sorry state of science journalism.

Report this

By R.T.Thaddeus, August 20, 2006 at 4:42 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I grew up eating what is now called “organic” food. Our chickens really were “free-range” they wandered about on 20 acres at our home place.  Unfortunately, we lived on a highway that saw plenty of wheat truck traffic.  When wheat leaked out of the trucks, our chickens found it.  Not a few, met their demise on the highways.  But they were truly “free-range.”  My folks also butchered two hogs,and a beef every fall cured ham, bacon and sausage and on our ranch, we had three thousand sheep so we always had plenty of mutton as a fallback.  Along with two acres of potatoes and other vegetables from a huge garden, my mother canned enough vegetables and fruit to last a winter. All of this food would now be labeled, “organic” inasmuch as we used only natural fertilizers if any. Chicken maure and sheepshit are wonderful fertilizers.  Folks came from far around to haul away truckloads of sheepshit. My father, though he ate nothing but food he raised, (organic food) died at age 61 of cancer.  My mother, who lived the last 40 years of her life in a city eating food purchased at Safeway, or Albertson’s or Smith’s et al, none of which was labeled “organic”, lived to be 94.  Go figure.

Report this

By Jim Morrison, August 19, 2006 at 4:13 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Monoculture farming in mid 19th century Ireland?

The British were exporting meat and grain from Ireland by the boatload during that period.  There was no “famine”.  The land produced more than enough food to sustain the population.  The British did the math and figured it was cheaper to allow the Irish to starve.

Report this

By Kevin Burke, August 18, 2006 at 10:28 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

What troubles me is that all the corn and soy we consume in America comes from the same place, the labs of Monsanto and ADM. Our monoculture farms are more susceptable to disease and necessitate the use of greater quantities of petroleum based fertilizers and pesticides (produced by the same corporations as the seeds). I believe monoculture farming contributed to the severity of the Irish potato famine as well.

If we are looking for a better model of how to eat and live we dont have to look too far:

Report this

By Lee Chauser, August 17, 2006 at 10:34 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

This article cuts right to the meat of things. How corny? Well, that’s what he says, “It’s all Corn.”

Report this

By JohnM, August 17, 2006 at 4:53 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I’m just having fun with his argument, Anita. I’m quite happy that Pollan is out there getting people to think about the implications of their food choices. I just wish that he didn’t have to drag out the tired argument that animals should thank us for eating them, for if we didn’t eat them, they wouldn’t exist. I think this is downright silly, especially when viewed in a different context.

Report this

By Anita, August 17, 2006 at 8:54 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Re JohnM on 8/15,
What makes you think Pollan espouses cannibalism? Humans are omnivores, not cannibals, and from what I’ve read he is opposed to cows being forced to eat their own as is being done now in the CAFO’s. FYI, cows are ruminents and can only survive on grasses.

Maybe you should read the book before passing judgement…

Report this

By rachelle, August 16, 2006 at 4:19 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I have seen this same friggin’ headline at this site for days now—it’s getting a tad tedious.

It’s not very complicated: you’re fat ‘cause you eat too much for what you do, and you don’t eat the right foods. Carbs are an essential part of the human diet. So don’t bug me anyomore! I am 5’3” and weigh 105 lbs., therefore borderline underweight by the standards of whoever sets them in this country.

Skip restaurants, fast/prepared food. Move you ass and start cookin’. Avoid salt, hydrogenated and saturated fats, fatty meat, support local farmers and MOVE your ass.

Report this

By JohnM, August 15, 2006 at 3:53 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

If I raised human children for the sole purpose of eating them, would Pollan think this was noble? Otherwise, the poor kids wouldn’t exist…

Report this

By Ricardo Rabago, August 15, 2006 at 6:35 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Hello Everyone:

If interested Organically Speaking a Seattle base website has released a conversation with Michael Pollan podcast (audio conversation). Interesting tidbits on farmers markets, CSAs, and more!

Some Podcast Show Note Questions:

Q) Why the price difference between conventional food and organic and how do we go about bringing down organic food prices?

Q) How can small local organic farmers remain local in a capitalistic system?

Q) What is the “Food Web” you briefly touch on in your book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals.

All the best,

Holistic Conversations for a Sustainable World

Report this

By Pauline, May 31, 2006 at 5:54 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I live in Wales UK. If I want to buy organic produce straight from the farm I have to make a forty mile round trip. I can make a 5 mile round trip to my local supermarket and buy organic produce, most of which is grown a thousand miles away in Spain, at a lesser price. Much as I would like to support the local indigenous organic food industry, financial constraints dictate otherwise.

Report this

By miguel, May 19, 2006 at 11:10 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

listen, industrial production of domesticated meat animals is the problem.  buying beef or pork for $5 a pound is the problem.  our bodies like and want limited amounts of animal protein. proper raising techniques, conservation, and a return to time of beef once a week, pork more and lamb more and chicken and fish more.  take a strong look at the mediterranean diet for inspiration on to integrate meat into a diet properly.  granted its a more crowded world and i guess we want a mic mac, but we have domesticated and consumed pork, lamb, and beef for 8-15 thousand years.  reverence and respect for the animals and their well being can be practiced…

Report this

By ashley clark, May 5, 2006 at 6:53 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

hi i would like to no if i could interveiw you because we are doing a project in school for a career reserh project. please get back to me on this. ashley

Report this

By Tlazolteotl, April 27, 2006 at 3:36 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Yes, there are issues here to think about, and Pollan does bring up some interesting points.  However, even aside from the arguments brought up by vegans, above, and others, I certainly would not cede Mr. Pollan the final word on how and what we eat.

He states:
Domestic animals only exist to the extent that we eat them. There would be no pigs, no chickens, no cows as we know them, if people weren’t eating them. I don’t see domestication as something we’ve imposed on other species. I see it as a co-evolutionary arrangement, where the animal gets something out of it as well.

Certainly this has merit as an evolutionary argument, that hardly addresses the economic and environmental arguments, as others have pointed out.

And when he says:
You condemn people in those places to eat off of a very long food chain he just clearly has no concept of what the term “food chain” means, biologically speaking, as it is a completely, utterly incorrect use of the term, and misleading as well.

I do agree with him on corn, processed foods, and how we need to eat “slow foods.”  But he may lack the scientific background to be very convincing in some of these other areas.

Report this

By Russ, April 19, 2006 at 8:51 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I have sympathy for those who don’t eat meat at all. I don’t think it is and especially good choice to eat a huge steak or to eat meat several times a week. I think it is better to eat just a little meat like chicken or fish only once in a while. And salmon is supposed to be especially good for you.

That said, there is a theory among those who study these things, that the development of the human brain was accellerated when our species began eating meat. We got a lot more protein faster than we could just eating veggies. And that apparently helped provide the energy and protein we needed to develop our thinking machinery. It was an evolutionary thing.

Report this

By Russell, April 19, 2006 at 2:18 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I hope the terrorists don’t fly commercial airliners into our corn fields, destroying our food supply!

Report this

By Larry Ayers, April 18, 2006 at 8:19 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

If you have a chance, seek out Pollan’s earlier book Second Nature.  It’s some of the best writing about the relationship between man and plants I’ve ever read.

Report this

By ElTiante, April 18, 2006 at 10:30 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I’m not sure whether it was guilt or other grievances that drove Mr. Pollan to resort to a condescending “straw man” assessment of veganism (“the vegan utopia”). Would it be fair to deride the author’s perspective as an “omnivorous utopia” that should be disregarded or disdained because it isn’t perfect?

Even though I found the author’s characterization of veganism to be unfair and intellectually dishonest, it did alert me to other illogical statements in his article:

* Carnivorism will keep New Englanders from “eating off the Midwest”
* Only animal manure can produce organic fertilizer
* If you don’t eat cows or pigs, you “remove them from the picture.”
* There is such a thing as “sustainably-raised meat.”

It would be impossible to raise enough cattle in New England to feed even just the city of Boston. So consuming meat protein would not free New Englanders from their dependency on the Midwest. It would just make them more dependent on meat protein from other continents. (Source: Howard Lyman, “The Mad Cowboy”)

Another poster pointed out that plant matter can be composted just as readily as animal manure.

Ceasing to eat cows, pigs, and chickens is more likely to result in an adaptation of the species (such as Mexican domestic hogs becoming wild boars) than an extinction. But even if they were to become extinct, wouldn’t more species be preserved by ending the transformation of forests (such as the Amazon forests) into grazing lands?

The phrase “sustainably-raised meat” is oxymoronic given the water, energy, and land required to “raise meat.” At best, the approach could work for a small population with abundant resources. You’d have to remove the “oxy” prefix to describe any effort to feed 300 million (or 10 billion) people with “sustainable” meat.

Report this

By Lydia M., April 18, 2006 at 5:50 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Nice interview. I learned a bit, (the ‘free-range’ chicken story is funny and sad) and now have many more questions I hope the book will answer.
Some comments have mentioned we need our food supply to stay corn-based to keep the price of food down for the poorest people to keep from starving. Just looking at breakfast, a diet of pop-tarts or overly sweetened boxed cereal seems like a good cheap meal. But with many kids getting adult onset diabetes, (how well would a poor family be able to cope with that expense?)they should instead be cooking their own oatmeal with a banana for the same price.

Report this

By Scott, April 16, 2006 at 12:51 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The interview didn’t touch upon one interesting aspect of corn: how inherently well-suited it is to industrial production and consumption.

Corn and its processed constituents (Corn meal, corn starch, corn syrup, etc.) lend themselves readily to mechanized planting, fertilization, harvesting, processing, shipping and storage on a huge scale.  They have a long shelf life, are easy to ship and store in bulk, and are easily incorporated into factory production systems.

Compare these phyiscal characteristics to, say, pears. It’s no contest, and no surprise that heavily processed derivatives of corn (and similar crops like wheat) dominate our diets.

But without this giant industrial system in place, would we be able to feed our population of 300 million at all?  I would love to hear Mr. Pollan’s views on that.

Report this

By chris, April 15, 2006 at 4:27 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

...but I lack the self-discipline. I suspect Pollan had to find a rationalization, too. I agree that arguing that animals are necessary to make manure is silly—per pound, it may be richer fertilizer than plant-based ones, but the process is wasteful overall. Ditto the water usage.

As for the reliance on soy and corn, I’d like to read the book for his alternatives. We now have 6 billion folks on the planet—can they all feed off local organic truck farms? Maybe. I know my own experience with urbarn farming is that it is VERY difficult to significantly serve the food needs of a family on a small rooftop or streetside garden strip.

Whole FOods is awful. The other day I was shocked to find my organic bunch of asparagus cost $11!!!! I’ll never go back.

Report this

By Ole Ersson, MD, April 15, 2006 at 8:54 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

A very interesting interview. I especially enjoyed Pollen’s thoughts about how we eat (in the car, on the run, and, in general, alone) and its relation to obesity. And his expose of the deception of so-called “free range” chickens with the doors to the outside of their barracks that they are afraid to use.
But Pollen’s comments about the necessity of farm animals to enhance farm productivity through their manure seem rather naive. Where does he imagine the manure comes from in the first place? Manures are simply plant matter that has been processed by the digestive system of animals. In vegan agriculture (which he appears to deride as an impractical utopia) “waste” plant matter is composted to produce high quality fertilizer. Animals do not add any magic ingredient to this process. In fact, we have domestic animals to thank for many threats to public health, like avian and other influenzas, that develop due to humankind’s close proximity to domestic animals.
Pollen’s statement that one “can make a very strong ecological argument for eating meat” seems particularly naive. The presence of a few farms like Polyface does not change the reality that large scale meat consumption is only possible through industrial agriculture with its enormously destructive ecological impact on the planet. And the grass monocultures used to grow grass-fed beef are often little different from the corn monocultures Pollen criticises elsewhere in his writings.

Report this

By Joan Shore, April 15, 2006 at 8:30 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

An excellent interview, touching on so many facets of the problem.
As an American living in Europe most of my adult life, and raising my children there, I am grateful to have been spared the vicissitudes of the American diet. 
Clearly, “nourishment” involves far more than consuming calories or titillating our taste buds!

Report this

By rich ailes, April 15, 2006 at 4:50 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I appreciated reading this and I will share it with my family. The three of us sit down to dinner together practically every night and I think it has served us well. I have read research that shows less delinquency amongst kids that grow up in this kind of household.

I do want to point out a paradox that arises whenever I encounter the pure food versus processed food debates. Seems to me that processed food manufacturers provide extended shelf life and large amounts of calories to consumers at a very low price. This allows people at the low end of our economic food chain the ability to live without starving. If we had to rely upon the small/local farm model to provide food for our whole society, I’m afraid the economics and logistics of such a distribution system would push basic food prices galaxies away those at the bottom.

That said, it’s right for folks like Pollan to make us aware of our current system’s nutritional and moral deficiencies.

Report this

By suzanne j zoubeck, April 14, 2006 at 11:47 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Michael Pollan hits yet another home run! Food for thought for sure.

CSAs are great. Check out the Robyn Van En (a founding mother of CSA) Center website for a CSA near you…

Glad I found this website & article. Will include the link in the next email to my fellow CSA members. Asparagus and greenhouse grown salad greens is what I’m waiting for here on Long Island, NY!

I have vegan friends & I understand their love of animals and the environmental impact of irresponsible and excessive animal farming. Isn’t it odd though that the way to keep genetic diversity in animal populations, like turkeys for example, is to be raising them to be eaten. The poor mutant turkeys most people eat are so sad! They are grown to be so large breasted (people love that white meat…less fat than dark meat, OH BOY!!!) they can’t mate on their own and if they live long enough, will be crippled by the weight of their big breasts. Since people have been learning more about what they eat and where it comes from, there has been a resurgence of various “heritage” breeds of turkeys like the Bourbon Red and several others which might have gone extinct if people weren’t buying them to be eaten.

The meat eater’s can save the “heritage” animals by eating them & the vegans can raise them as pets! Genetic diversity will keep these animals healthy and the less creatures that go extinct on this planet means that I’ll be further on down the line towards extinction! Unless I get blown up by a nuclear bomb, dirty or otherwise,  but hey…I’ll be eating healthy & tasty until I do!!!

Report this

By Marilyn Borchardt, April 13, 2006 at 5:50 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

How amazing that Americans have gotten so out of touch with what food is and where it comes from in the space of just one or two generations. Thanks to Michael Pollan for opening a new window to broaden that understanding.  I encourage all who can to grow vegetables and fruits as a way to deepen their understanding of the natural world and what it takes to grow real (not manufactured) food.

Report this

By Matt Mills, April 13, 2006 at 7:20 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Great interview! Thank you.

For great resources and more info about sustainable agriculture see:

This group also produced a flash film about industrial food production called “The Meatrix”.

Report this

By KathyF, April 13, 2006 at 1:05 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

An animal benefits from having its throat slit and its blood slowly drained from its body? How, exactly? And as for animals being killed in the production of row crops, true. Yet many, many times more of those crops are needed to feed beef and dairy cows and chickens. So this argument isn’t exactly a convincing one.

And how about water use, a subject not touched on here. Can we really afford the water that is used to grow the corn that feeds the cows that feed the omnivore?

Report this

By michele mooney, April 12, 2006 at 11:04 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Pollan has NOT convinced me to eat animal flesh . I do not believe in the symbiosis of man/ domesticated animals . Pollan needed an excuse to gnaw on animal carcasses and the idea of a well-manured pasture served his cause . I say eliminate the middle-man , allow the swine, the cattle, the poultry to slowly either disappear or return to the wildness of long ago .
Pollan does not address animal suffering & the horrors of the slaughter; he should have, it is, after all, what convinces many humans to become vegans .

Report this

By Gladwyn, April 12, 2006 at 3:45 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

There is a People’s Grocery coop in Oakland that provides an outlet for fresh organic food in the city. This avoids the middle men who have been bankrupting our family farms and avoids having to transport exotic stuff over large distances.

And the Europeans link security to food.

“Policies on food supply and a range of related topics such as sustainable agriculture and rural development, transport and food retailing and planning are all linked to the problems of nutrition, food safety and food quality.  Better diets, food safety and food security will not only reduce or prevent suffering to individuals and societies but also help cut costs to health care systems and bring social and economic
benefits to countries.”

Report this

By Jonathan King, April 12, 2006 at 2:33 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Pollan is definitely on a roll these days. For another thorough interview, touching on some of the same subjects as are raised here and throughout his new book, check out this UC Berkeley news site [scroll w-a-y down if necessary]:

Disclaimers, if relevant: Pollan’s on the journalism faculty here at Berkeley, and I work on the faculty newspaper, a couple of cubes away from the writer of the piece linked to above.

Report this

By Jonathan King, April 12, 2006 at 2:20 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Pollan is definitely on a roll these days; for another thorough interview, touching on some of the same subjects as are raised here and throughout the new book, check out this UC Berkeley news site [scroll w-a-y down if necessary]:

Disclaimers, if relev

Report this

By ME Marr, April 12, 2006 at 7:09 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

DITTO narda z, above.

Ever since I read about that missing n million pounds of excess corn ending up on the waists and buttocks of fatso American junk food junkies (from Botany of Desire, I think), I’ve been a fan of Quiet Wise Ones on American eating disorders.

Pollen is top of the charts (Quiet Wise Ones), along with louder bretheren such as Eric Schlosser of “Fast Food Nation: Dark Side of the All-American Meal” and the work of groups such as Bioneers in Santa Fe, NM.

There IS some sort of mass zeitgeist or reality-based quantum leap going on, re: what we stuff in our gullets. Huzzah, Michael P!!

Report this

By narda zacchino, April 11, 2006 at 10:54 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

What an interesting interview!  I felt like I was evesdropping on a conversation between two very intelligent writers about a subject that is very important to me, and which should be read by everyone.  Michael Pollan’s work is always compelling, and this new book is no exception, getting excellent reviews.  Blair Golson asked smart questions.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading this interview.

Report this
Right Top, Site wide - Care2
Right Skyscraper, Site Wide
Right Internal Skyscraper, Site wide