Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Michael Pollan in Bethesda

Last Friday Michael Pollan came to town and spoke at the Bethesda Roundhouse Theater to a packed and reverent audience. The Professor in him came out; he was engaging, optimistic and current—summarizing his book, his analysis of the rampant nutritionism in American culture, and the industry reaction to the growing movement of conscientious eating, which he humbly claimed not to be spearheading. He even mentioned this hilarious/disheartening video from the Daily Show of the night before. So hip!
I had the sudden urge to go see him at Office Hours and ask him some carefully-crafted questions that would reveal a fierce passion and intellect, causing him to take me under his wing as his new protégé and successor.
But I digress.

As the paperback tour for a book that has been out for a year now, Pollan has surely given the same speech dozens of times, but he spoke eloquently and happily on the need for local/seasonal eating, chemical-free foods, whole foods, and slow food consumption (as if I wasn't already regretting inhaling that Chipotle burrito before the lecture…). The premise of this particular book, In Defense of Food, was a careful consideration the nutrient-centric perspective that pervades our health culture, and an offering of some simple tips like "Don't eat anything your grandmother wouldn't recognize as food" and "Don't eat anything that doesn't eventually rot."

After the lecture my companions and I noted with interest that his introducer had attributed two English degrees to Pollan, and professorship of journalism, not agriculture or food studies or environmental studies. He was, at heart, a writer. A good writer, with a passion for food politics. He fulfilled a particular niche in between science and story-telling: comprehensive data and analysis in an anecdotal form digestible to the average eater. His views were not radical, but logical in view of his research and experiences.

The louder and stronger the ethical, healthy flank of the new food movement becomes, the farther the spectrum will move, the more mainstream the movement will become. Michelle Obama is surely helping a little, but what are we doing to help her? Shopping at farmers’ markets, re-embracing our kitchens, volunteering at local kitchens that serve healthy meals, and, of course, experimenting in our own windowsills and backyards.

I like to think that our little garden is a step in that direction.

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