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Tag: Michael Pollan

Michael Pollan on the Oprah Winfrey Show

Michael Pollan appeared on the Oprah Show last Thursday, January 18th, 2010. He was promoting his new book, Food Rules and talk about the documentary film, Food Inc. Pollan’s brief appearance lasted about five minutes and during that time Oprah praised his book for being “eye-opening and thought provoking.” A question that Michael Pollan gets quite frequently is about what he himself eats. Pollan freely admitted to Oprah that he does eat sustainably raised animal-meat, arguing that animals that were well fed themselves (such as grass-fed cattle rather than corn-fed) in turn make more nutritious and healthy food sources for humans.

Oprah introduced a family who claimed that they could not afford to buy healthy food and asked Pollan how he would respond to this common problem. Pollan discussed what a shame it is that a family can buy fast-food for less than fresh produce. He referred to studies showing that calorie for calorie, people can get much more food for their money by shopping in the processed and packaged food sections of the grocery store instead of the produce section. Pollan argues that this is a result of government interest and subsidies in the corn and soy industries.

Both Pollan and Oprah stressed that the most important take-home point from this conversation is that the individual has power to make change. Organic and sustainable foods are expensive now, but if more people demand them the cost should come down accordingly. Pollan described how he shops for produce at his local farmer’s market whenever possible, and how he frequently buys food from the same farmer’s over and over again and has come to know them. Pollan stressed that although sustainable food products may not yet be affordable for everyone on a daily basis, starting small can make a big difference. By incorporting local and organic foods into even one meal a day can help help drive up the demand for the supply and eventually make it more accessible to everyone on a regular basis.

Oprah ended the segment that reminding the audience that everyone should have an opinion on these issues and it is up to the individual to decide what is right for them and their families.

To see a clip from the interview visit this website:

Did you see the Michael Pollan appearance on the Oprah show? What did you think of their conversation? What about his new book and the documentary they discussed–has anyone read/seen them? Comment on this post and let us know your thoughts. Let’s keep the conversation going!

Michael Pollan Lecture Event was a Huge Success!

 Michael Pollan: In Defense of Food: The Omnivore’s Solution

The Kohl Center was filled with around 8,000 people tonight, Thursday, September 24, 2009. Included in the crowd were hundreds of UW first-year students, upperclassmen, graduate students, faculty and staff, alumni, librarians, and members of the surrounding Madison community who all shared one common interest: they had all read Michael Pollan’s book, “In Defense of Food” and they were all there to hear what the author had to say.

The event commenced with a welcome from Chancellor Biddy Martin. One of the very first remarks she made was that this was the first annual Go Big Read project. Which to me, as a graduate school student who happens to be personally and professionally invested in the program, means that the pilot year has proven itself to be successful and we have the Chancellor’s support to continue the program in the years to come.

It was encouraging to hear Biddy mention right away that the reason we were all drawn together in this place at this time was because we all wanted to talk about the same book. It was refreshing to be reminded that despite all the media attention and news stories, and rumors about protesting farmers with tractors that might show up to sabotage the event, that we were all there for a reason bigger than the issues in Pollan’s book. We were all there because we believed that there can be something to be gained from pulling together as a community and talking about all sides of an issue that are important to us as a whole. One of the most valuable outcomes of a common reading project such as Go Big Read is starting a conversation and getting all kinds of people from different walks of life that would never normally interact, all in one place, talking about something that they care passionately about. As Biddy put it, what could be more elemental than food? It is essential to life and to culture and influences each and every one of us. Biddy declared that she could not imagine a more appropriate first topic for this campus than a book getting us to rethink how we look at food. I agree and think it speaks directly to the main goal of this program, which is to get everyone involved and talking to each other about ideas.

Pollan’s lecture was captivating. He is an excellent public speaker, and is often quite funny. His perfectly timed jokes interjected throughout the lecture helped to ease the tension in the room, which was also lessened by his opening remarks addressing the protesters at the event. He actually claimed that he completely agreed with the message on the In Defense of Farming group’s green t-shirts, and stated their message would even be an appropriate title for his lecture tonight: “Eat Food. Be Healthy. Thank a Farmer.” He argued that the protestors might discover as they listened to his lecture tonight that they shared more common ground with Pollan than they might have thought, and that he actually believed that American farmers held the key to solving three of the major crises facing our society today: the healthcare crises, the climatic crisis, and the energy crisis. He hoped that tonight’s lecture would expand for everyone there our working definition of the word “health.”

Pollan began his message by very animatedly pulling processed foods out a grocery bag. One by one, he pulled out items such as Twinkies, Fruit Loops, and Gogurt. This was to illustrate his description of the difficulties faced by American consumers as they make food choices in today’s modern world. His main takeaway message was that real food is in the stores, we just need to learn how to discern it from the edible food-like substances with which we are constantly bombarded.

Pollan reiterated many of the main points from his book, “In Defense of Food,” especially the fundamental problems with nutritionism and how it has affected the processed food we eat everyday. He talked a lot about fad diets and how major corporations can take any criticism and market their product to reflect emerging trends in food and nutrition. He broke down the idealism of the American or Western diet and where it came from. He compared it to other cultures’ relationship with food and eating and pointed out that all over the world, people eating the traditional diets of their cultures are much healthier than Americans and other people around the world eating the Western diet.

Pollan concluded by suggesting that we are at a fork in the road with the way we eat in America. We can either adapt to what this diet does to our bodies because over time, evolution should select the genes of the people that are most tolerant of high-sugar, high-carbohydrate diets. Faster than evolution, medicine has enabled us to become a “diabetes culture” as Pollan puts it. We are able to use our human advances in science and technology to medicalize the “catastrophe that is the American diet.” To this remark Pollan received a huge roar of applause.

Our only other alternative, the other way in the fork in the road if you will, would be to change the way that we eat. It is the more practical, economical, and beautiful solution after all. The effects of the Western diet can be reversed quite quickly with the change, and you don’t have to go back to hunting and gathering to do it. Pollan looks to culture as a guide. He believes that studying traditional cultural diets will reveal that the rules of eating that have been developed over hundreds and thousands of years carry great wisdom for us. The problem we are facing is not just about what we eat, but how, when, and why we eat. Americans need to take a deep look at their relationship with food and eating, and learn to take pleasure in the sensation of eating and the company with which we share it.

Pollan ended his lecture by arguing that the solution is for all of us as a community to shorten the food chain. By cutting out the middle men of packaging, transporting, marketing, etc, more of our food dollars will end up in the pockets of the farmers who grew it. Pollan asserted that health consists of a set of relationships between our bodies and the food, soil, animals, and people around us. The best thing we can do for ourselves, our families, and our communities is to take back control of our food and our meals.

The event was wrapped up with a question and answer session moderated by the Chancellor asking questions that were submitted to the Go Big Read program blog and pre-selected by a committee to be posed to Pollan. The entire event ended with a standing ovation for Pollan, as he encouraged everyone to come listen to him speak about other related issues at tomorrow’s events (see the Go Big Read website: for upcoming events related to Michael Pollan and the common book project in Madison).

Overall, the event was inspiring. Sitting in the audience you could really get a sense of community empowerment and the ability to make a difference in the world. It is exciting to think of all the things we could accomplish just by joining together to openly discuss important issues that affect us all. Thank you to everyone who participated in tonight’s event and helped make it a huge success!

Food For Thought: Online Book Discussion

Are you unable to attend one of the scheduled book discussions but want to get involved in the conversation?

Want to connect with people from all over the UW campus and the greater Madison community?

Join us in a virtual book discussion on the Food For Thought Posts in the Go Big Read Blog!

Each week, we will be posing a new topic for discussion on the blog, and followers are encouraged to participate by responding in the comment section below each post. Feel free to use and expand on these questions in your own book discussions. Have a great idea for discussion topic? Let us know! Contact the Go Big Read Program at

Food For Thought: Topic for Discussion Week of September 21, 2009

Has Pollan changed the way you think about food? If so, how?

Michael Pollan Column in New York Times

Michael Pollan recently wrote an opinion column for the New York Times in response to President Obama’s speech on health care.

In the article, Pollan argues that the biggest problem with health care in the U.S. is not the system itself so much as our poor diet and high rates of obesity.

Pollan states:

Even the most efficient health care system that the administration could hope to
devise would still confront a rising tide of chronic disease linked to diet.
That’s why our success in bringing health care costs under control ultimately
depends on whether Washington can summon the political will to take on and
reform a second, even more powerful industry: the food industry.

Read the entire New York Times opinion column

Biddy Martin on Go Big Read in the Wisconsin State Journal

Biddy Martin Invites you to Sift, Winnow,” begins the title of Chancellor Martin’s editorial on Go Big Read in the Wisconsin State Journal:

“Starting this year, the university is choosing a book annually for a project titled Go Big Read, and asking the community – not only the university community, but also the broader one that extends well beyond the borders of campus – to read it and engage with one another. We are excited about the initiative, which is already under way.” (read the full story here)

In addition to providing the Chancellor’s insights on the program, the piece announces some new events that are being added to Pollan’s visit. The previously announced Kohl Center lecture September 24 at 7 pm (doors at 6 pm, no tickets required) will be followed by post-lecture discussions, including a public discussion in the Great Hall of Memorial Union. There will also be a Friday panel at 3:30 pm in the Union Theater. Stay tuned to the project calendar for further details.

Sarah McDaniel
Go Big Read