Michael Pollan in Milwaukee

Last Monday, Ariela and I went to see Michael Pollan present his new book, In Defense of Food, in Milwaukee. I brought along my handy-dandy iRiver mp3 recorder, and for your enjoyment, here’s his talk. Funny and interesting, passionate and accusatory, that’s Michael Pollan.

Milwaukee Talk

I’ve only taken a look at a few snippets of In Defense of Food, Ariela’s reading it right now. I’ll read it when I’m finished reviewing Hugh Ross’s book here. There’s no rush, because it won’t be until March that I’ll be interviewing him on the Mindcast. Yep, I renewed our previous interview agreement, so you can look to a fun-filled interview right here in a couple months.

The question-answer section wasn’t too interesting, this event was about selling books and not engaging in a discussion. It’s just as well, because my mp3 recorder fell off the chair and stopped recording, so I had to restart it when I got back to my seat after my question. So I just chopped the whole thing off.

My question was ill-prepared and long-winded, and more of a few comments strung together with a question at the end. In the book, he heralded traditional diets as being healthier than modern diets that include processed food, and that nutrition was an ideology, not a science. (And science is to blame for obesity). In particular, he kept mentioning the traditional diet of the Inuit, which was high in seafood, meat, and fish oil. This diet, I pointed out to him, gives them frequent nosebleeds, and that his statement that corn and beans effectively replaces meat doesn’t sound right.

My ‘question’ involved an ingredient label from a locally-produced root beer, which included corn syrup in its ingredient list – something that Pollan says to avoid, so I asked him if he thought that it sounded good from the ingredient list. “No” was his answer. I tried to respond that by switching out the barley malt for corn syrup, that it made it possible for people with Celiac’s Disease, such as my dad (and the person who asked the previous question), to enjoy root beer again. The audience had enough and made a bunch of noise so it wasn’t until after the event was over that I could relate this wrinkle in the fabric to Pollan in person. Then his answer was “Whatever works for them.” (So there is flexibility in the new food rules Pollan suggests – that exactly what I was looking to find out.) He said I meant well, even though my questions were odd.

Anyhow, I wasn’t looking to get involved in an in-depth discussion there, because those kinds of forums are horrible places to get into issues. And audience questions are usually minimized in such situations. So I made sure that we would arrange an interview to get more in depth, and we’ve agreed on sometime in March.

Ariela managed to get a question about whether or not he supports eating the non-meat parts of animals, he responded yes (I would have asked if he eats those parts himself – my hunch is no), and she invited him to our place for Menudo anytime he’s in Madison. There were some cute kids there asking questions, and a bulky sports player asking about supplements.

Then something odd happened – Michael Pollan has come out and told people that they should not buy food supplements, unless they’re old then a multivitamin is probably OK. I was hoping that he would make this stand, in fact I was worried that he was avoiding the topic in his articles because he took supplements like flax seed oil. (One of the most horrible substances known to our species) Such a thing would contradict not only his message about enjoying your food, and keeping from treating food as medicine. Additionally, with his latest book, he criticizes nutrition science and how everyone’s crazy about Omega-3 fatty acids, that there’s something wrong with the kind of food fad-ism we have in our culture.

During the Q/A, Pollan admitted that he takes fish oil supplements. (Omega-3!) He quietly added that it’s close to being a whole food… right. What do you think about this apparent contradiction? Well hey, at least he doesn’t eat flax. But fish oil can’t be too tasty, either.

Still, Michael Pollan’s got some good stuff to say, and also some stuff that will make for an interesting, dynamic discussion. Have a listen and stay tuned for The Pollanation on the Mindcast.

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Karl Haro von Mogel

Karl Haro von Mogel serves as BFI’s Director of Science and Media and as Co-Executive Editor of the Biofortified Blog. He has a PhD in Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics from UW-Madison with a minor in Life Sciences Communication. He is currently a Postdoctoral Scholar researching citrus genetics at UC Riverside.

2 thoughts on “Michael Pollan in Milwaukee”

  1. Flax seed oil is incredibly bitter and disgusting. I’ve heard it described as tasting like fermented earwax. People who are part of the health-food culture have been convinced they should eat it to get omega-3 fatty acids. Some nutritionists (from the same segment of the population) even suggest that people eat it with every meal, sprinkle ground flax seed here and there, bake flax seed into their breads, spread the oil on their salads…
    Yet it remains bitter and disgusting and could be considered a sign of a health-food eating disorder – I’ve known several people with eating disorders who down the stuff like crazy. I’ll write a post about it someday, because I have a particular perspective on it as someone who enjoys food, and someone who’s a plant geneticist (in training) and is puzzled why people don’t just breed the horrible taste out of the flax.


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