An Evening With Michael Pollan

by Sarah on December 13, 2010 · 16 comments

Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants.

If Julia Child is the inspiration for my approach to cooking,* than Michael Pollan is the inspiration for my approach to eating.

*”Above all else, have fun!”
Thanks to Edible Austin‘s Eat Local Week, I was able to see him speak last Friday night on UT‘s campus at Bass Concert Hall. [For those of you not from Austin, Edible Austin is a free food culture magazine featuring articles related to all sorts of food topics, from recipes and restaurants to farmers and industry. If you are in Austin, find a copy of their Winter edition as fast as you can…there is a recipe for–get this–SPOON FUDGE [slash] Chocolate Caramel Ganache that they recommend you keep in the fridge so as to “have a spoonful as the mood strikes.” And actually, if you don’t live in Austin, you can find the mag online here.] Pollan’s talk was one of the highlights of the week, the proceeds of which benefited Urban Roots, a youth development program with goals of using sustainable agriculture to change lives and bring healthy food to the entire city.For those of you who don’t know Michael Pollan, he is the author of two of my favorite books: The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food. [Food Rules is basically a ‘quick and dirty’ version of In Defense of Food, helpful if you cannot commit to reading the longer treatise. :)]I still remember my boss when I worked for the crazy family as a nanny-of-all-trades handing me The Omnivore’s Dilemma while in the waiting room of a doctor’s office with the direction to “read this.” Unlike some of the other random things I was asked* to read during my employment, once I started reading, I didn’t want to stop.


Of course, then he wrote In Defense of Food, which is the best of all. It totally changed my way of thinking about food and was one of the first books I read^ that actually inspired me to spark debates and “intellectual” conversations over dinner with friends.

^Fine. I didn’t actually read it. I listened to it. Pollan’s voice was the soundtrack of a cross country solo road trip I took to Wisconsin two years ago, as well as some time spent lifting at the gym. [Yes, I lift weights while listening to audiobooks. What’s up now?]

I was, naturally, super excited to see Mr. Pollan…so much so that I skipped our staff holiday party in order to go to his talk. This caused a bunch of confusion among my team, as the response to, “I am going to go see Michael Pollan! [Squeal. Hands grasped.]” was “Is he a…musician?”

No. But he is a rock star. A foodie rock star.
[And a cartoon character.]

Since I think you should really just invest some time in reading In Defense of Food, or at least Food Rules, I won’t harp too long on what he has to say. I was so re-inspired by Pollan that I may or may not try to incorporate some of his “rules” (and my ability/inability or desire/unwillingness to follow them) in future posts….but basically, the ideas he espouses that I find most fascinating, true, and good are these:
  • Food is culture, cuisine, and community.
  • Food is more than the sum of its nutrient parts.
  • Nutritionism has become an overblown science in which tests and studies usually end up being wrong. The battle between good and evil foods will never be won, and this idea of “satanic nutrients” wreaks unnecessary havoc on our society.
  • An excessive focus on “healthy eating” (what Pollan calls orthorexia) is neither healthy, nor really eating.
  • While the French paradox is that they eat rich, fatty foods and never get fat, the “American paradox” is that we are the culture most obsessively focused on healthy eating, and yet the most unhealthy.
  • The food (and advertising) industry is based on creating needless anxiety about what we eat and then promoting solutions to that anxiety.
  • Food that has to proclaim itself as being healthy, or that has to boast that it is actually made with the ingredient it appears to contain (i.e. “Made with real cheese!”) is probably something you should stay away from. [You won’t see an apple touting its health benefits.]
  • You can’t have a healthy population without a healthy diet, and you can’t have a healthy diet without a healthy agriculture.
  • Eat real food (not “edible foodlike substances” that your grandmother wouldn’t recognize and have thousands of unpronouncable ingredients)…and enjoy it.
  • But stop when you are almost full. [Sarah says, “Who really likes to feel full anyway?”]
  • You are more than what you eat. In fact, you are what what you eat eats, too.
Anyways, take from that what you will. Let’s see some pictures of food.

Because part of Pollan’s outlook is that healthy communities begin with healthy agriculture, he has become a spokesman for small farmers throughout America (hence his participation in Eat Local Week). To that end, Edible Austin sponsored a Farm Direct showcase prior to Pollan’s speech…

…featuring local farmers; CSAs; farmers’ markets; and small, locally owned food businesses.I was met at the top of the stairs by a mountain of hummus. [They knew I was coming.]Not just any hummus Baby Zach’s BBQ* SMOKED hummus…you eat it and you suffer a state of confusion: am I eating meat…or hummus?

*A tub of which was actually the inspiration for my own BBQ Hummus…having seen it on the shelf of a supermarket cooler and deciding I could (and should) reinvent the (wagon) wheel.

Question: What’s better than one mountain of hummus?
Answer: TWO mountains of hummus!He had both the Smoked Traditional and the Smoked Curry available for sampling. I, of course, tried them both…but still unsettled about the meat-or-hummus quandary, had to go back and try them both again. I stopped after he looked at me and said, “You know, you look kind of familiar.”

I choose to believe that was because I am either 1) super hot and he was hitting on me, or 2) super famous in Austin. Certainly it wasn’t because I was sampling too much…

You know who didn’t have a problem giving away samples? Lauren from Bona Dea Baking Company. She makes gluten-free baked goods and baking mixes…and from afar I saw her stock dwindling down to the last sample. I literally pointed at the her treats from across the room, and she snagged it up for me. It was so good, I asked if I could have the cookie crumbs.She said, “You mean the best part?* Of course!”

*Yes, yes I do.
And then she stuffed a free bag of mix in my bag. Best moment of the night. [Except for the whole “seeing Michael Pollan speak” thing of course.]OK, well, also there was that moment when I stared at the free Chiapas Farms coffee samples, perplexed about which one to take…...and they said, “Oh, you should probably just take both.”

Or perhaps the random people I befriended in the mob who, after giving me one sample of this World Wise Grains Arzu individual grain cereal serving packets (made with buckwheat, quinoa, and legumes)……proceeded to steal three additional packets, including the Southwest flavor.There was also the moment I discovered my long lost twin on a bottle of olive oil……or being offered a raw carrot by this farmer from Johnson’s Backyard Garden…[Why yes, I do think your tractor’s sexy.]
…and eating it right then and there.Maybe my favorite moment was discovering that all I want for Christmas, Mariah Carey, is actually a big basket of beautiful lettuce.Or maybe leaving at the end of the night with a free HEB bag stuffed with goodies, including a local orange and ear of corn? [Here, Everything IS Better.]Either way, it was a wonderful evening celebrating food and farms and community and culture.

Oh, and I ate some marscapone cheese with a salted caramel pear sauce. That was pretty awesome too. It was in the middle there.

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Maria @ Oh Healthy Day December 13, 2010 at 9:42 pm

I just finished Food Rules and am currently reading The Omnivore's Dilemma. I am always thinking twice about what I eat now and asking myself "hmm, is that an edible foodlike substance?" If I have to think about it, it usually is.

Thought about giving Food Rules to some family and friends as Christmas gifts, since its such a short read, very helpful and cheap!

Lindsay and James Cotter December 13, 2010 at 10:04 pm

I heart Michael!! Oh and i actually made oatmeal out of the that Arzu wise grains the other day. REALLY GOOD with cinnamon and spice! Glad you had a great time. :)

Lindsay and James Cotter December 13, 2010 at 10:04 pm

I heart Michael!! Oh and i actually made oatmeal out of the that Arzu wise grains the other day. REALLY GOOD with cinnamon and spice! Glad you had a great time. :)

Lindsay and James Cotter December 13, 2010 at 10:04 pm

I heart Michael!! Oh and i actually made oatmeal out of the that Arzu wise grains the other day. REALLY GOOD with cinnamon and spice! Glad you had a great time. :)

Lindsay and James Cotter December 13, 2010 at 10:04 pm

I heart Michael!! Oh and i actually made oatmeal out of the that Arzu wise grains the other day. REALLY GOOD with cinnamon and spice! Glad you had a great time. :)

Ravenous Rowie December 13, 2010 at 10:25 pm

I have In Defense of Food, and it's waiting to be read! It's on my "to read" list!

Michelle @ Housewife in the Raw December 13, 2010 at 10:32 pm

I'm jealous! I'll have to check out that magazine online and maybe make the trek to Austin if anything like that comes again. Omnivore's Dilemma rocked my world and the other 2 are good too. However, my grandma wouldn't recognize quinoa, nutritional yeast, hummus or chia seeds and those are all foods that I love.

Jen December 14, 2010 at 6:51 am

I'm going to get those books ASAP! Thank you :)


Brittany @ A Healthy Slice of Life December 14, 2010 at 9:08 am

ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh my gosh- I would have been squealing with you!!! I can't believe you got to see him talk in person… AMAZING.
I'm jealous.

Alex@Spoonful of Sugar Free December 14, 2010 at 10:57 am


Mary @ Bites and Bliss December 14, 2010 at 11:00 am

Books like that are really, really eye opening. Even if you think you know a lot about the "behind the scenes" of food..those books bring you in even deeper! I think everyone should read them or at least know about them. We'd all be eating much healthier and helping our well as the environment.

jennaseverythingblog December 14, 2010 at 3:03 pm

What a fun and awesome event!! I loved The Omnivore's Dilemma, but I've never read In Defense of Food. I'm requesting it at my library–I love your summary of his views. I couldn't agree more!

Heather @ Get Healthy with Heather December 14, 2010 at 4:21 pm

What a totally amazing night! I would love to attend something like that. So many goodies too!

Sarah December 15, 2010 at 2:40 am

I am SO jealous!! I meant to go but it slipped my mind… at least I have a poster from campus though.. sigh lol. It looks like you had a fab time though!

Missy December 15, 2010 at 9:41 pm

I frickin LOVE Michael Pollan and yes — I SO get that you skipped the party.
I hope hearing him him tak took it to another level for you.
Guy is a genius.
I wish we could just channel the info in that book into every human.
You know?
He's not anti-anything and he's just so RIGHT ON.
Man. I am jealous.

mymarblerye December 16, 2010 at 9:58 pm

i was too late and I missed the food!!! I think I sat near you girlie!!! sorry I stalk. 😡

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