Michael Pollan at Book Passage

Michael Pollan at Book Passage

This was the only non-blurry photo we got since Pollan is such an animated speaker

Yesterday afternoon I made green tea for the thermos, sheep’s milk cheese, cornichon pickle and sunflower sprout sandwiches on local roasted garlic cheese bread, and added a handful of favorite podcasts to the iPod. All in great anticipation of Michael Pollan’s talk, a 45 minute drive from our house. Seriously, I can’t believe I was that excited about an event that didn’t actually include a fabulous catered meal. I’m so thrilled that Pollan has earned a prominent national presence spreading the word about eating simple food, for the pleasure of it.

Book Passage is a wonderful home grown bookstore with a true commitment to Marin, hosting an average of 700 well known and unknown authors a year. Well, last night was quite an event. It was standing room only and the room was abuzz. I had brought my knitting bag to work on a hat for Marc while we waited for Pollan to speak, but frankly, I couldn’t concentrate on it.

One of the women who introduced the the esteemed author said that after reading “Omnivore’s Dilemma”, she changed how she ate and her doctor told her: “You are in ridiculously good health for someone overweight and your age.” Uh, thanks? It’s such a shame doctors know so little about diet and nutrition. In his talk, Pollan said that Dr. Andrew Weil (notable complementary medicine advocate) told him that only 30 minutes of instruction were devoted to nutrition when he attended Harvard medical school.

Pollan started out by telling us that after he wrote “Omnivore…”, people kept coming up to him saying they were halfway through the book, but didn’t want to finish it because they were afraid they’d starve. That was part of the impetus to write “In Defense of Food”; to help people make smart choices about what to eat. He made a few points from the book (which you’ll see when you read it), but there were some new gems, as his jocular style is very entertaining. I loved the way he put it simply, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. I did give it away on the cover, so you don’t have to buy the book”.

It’s so funny how we have to make everything so complicated. To take one of his examples, why can’t we just eat cooked oats? Why do they have to be super processed into cereal bars with a squirt of some not-of-this-world sugary milk-like ooze on top? As Pollan asks, “Can we really do as well as nature in designing food?”

One of the most visceral statements of the evening was when he said that he felt, “nutrition science is where surgery was in 1650…interesting, but do you really want to get on the table? Uh, I think I’ll wait for anesthesia, sterilization…” What a great point! We are all in this grand new experiment, and facing tough consequences for it. Diseases that are directly related to the Western diet (type 2 diabetes, obesity, certain cancers, and heart disease) often occur after the child bearing years. So, they aren’t being genetically selected out. Scary thought, huh?

One thought from the book, that didn’t really hit me until he said it last night, was about how the refining process takes all the vital nutrients and good stuff out of our food in the name of a longer shelf life. It makes the “food” uninteresting to bacteria, bugs and fungi. Pollan pointed out that with all the good stuff stripped away in processing it won’t rot, and if micro-organisms aren’t interested, you shouldn’t be either. So simple.

After the talk, he took some questions which, were honestly just as compelling, since everyone has a different lens or perspective through which they see the would. Then he graciously signed books, with his smiling teenage son, Isaac by his side. I was nervous, but I gave him my card and said I’d done a review of “In Defense of Food” and asked him to check out my blog. What a treat…to read the book, to hear his well articulated thoughts and humor, and to put myself out there by offering my card.

9 thoughts on “Michael Pollan at Book Passage”

  1. Thanks for sharing, Bri! I really appreciated a couple of the points you mentioned, about the analogy to surgery (yikes!) and the idea that “if micro-organisms aren’t interested, you shouldn’t be either.” Well put! I’m reminded of the anecdote I read once (somewhere) about someone finding a worm on a head of organic cabbage and reasoning that if it was safe for the worm to eat, it was safe for her to eat. 🙂

    And go you! Hope he visits your wonderful blog and appreciates your hard work! 🙂

  2. Jennifer – Thanks for your encouragement! Yeah, those two points were really important, and visceral I thought. So true, if the bugs/birds think it’s good, it must be. Thanks for your comment.

  3. You got to see Michael Pollan talk?! Wow I’m jealous. I am sure it was worth the drive – that’s awesome. I still need to read his second book – I’ve read great things. Thanks for positing about the talk.

  4. We’ve become great fans of Michael Pollan. So much so that I have postponed reading his latest book in favor of reading every book he’s written in chronological order: (1) Second Nature (2) A Place of My Own (3) Botany of Desire (4) Omnivore’s Dilemma and (5) In Defense of Food. I’ve been reading Second Nature aloud to my wife and our friend Mandy each night before bed. What a great writer.

    I’m very impressed with your web site, Jennifer. Keep up the good work!

  5. DUH! Bri…not Jennifer! Sorry. I scrolled up and picked the wrong name.
    I need to get off Cheetos entirely! 🙂

  6. Alan – That’s okay. I’ll let you off this time, since it was the Cheeto effect 😉
    I should look for “Second Nature” and “A Place of My Own” at my library. I’m still finishing Botany and truly enjoying it. Thanks for dropping by…and getting my name right 🙂

  7. hi bri,

    a very interesting point about the refined foods/things worms wouldn’t eat that are available. if people don’t go to local farmer’s markets or seek out local produce in the big stores, and they don’t appreciate the dirt on the veggies or get the big picture of how food is grown and made, then they are missing out on an extremely valuable experience. and thats a shame.

    hopefully, these folks will tune into well-written blogs like yours and realize that there is a tastier, healthier way to eat and harness their own power to do so.

    thanks for the post!

  8. Gigi – I thought so too (about the critters not wanting it). Thanks for your sweet compliments. I do my best. I figure I can pick up where Pollan leaves off, with recipes using good wholesome foods, that are super tasty. (every once in a while I have to indulge in marzipan truffles though) 😉 Thanks for your comment!

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