Michael Pollan in Madison

The Big Event that everyone has been waiting for is here: Michael Pollan is going to be in Madison, Wisconsin, speaking about food and diet and word has it he will be bringing his rose-colored glasses!

There are several events where Pollan will be the big cheese:

Thursday at 7 pm at the Kohl Center, he will be giving a talk to what will likely be a packed auditorium. His talk is called The Omnivore’s Solution. I’ve been dying to find out what Omnivores can be dissolved in.

His talk is part of a campus-wide project called Go Big Read. I know, the name is lame. But they put thousands of copies of Pollan’s book, In Defense of Food, in the hands of students in many disciplines. From sociology to nutrition and political science, the idea is to get students in many different fields talking about the same thing from different angles.

There is a blog on the Go Big Read site, and they were taking question submissions for Pollan, a handful of which will be selected. I submitted a question, along with Ariela. Here is my question:

My name is Karl Haro von Mogel, I am a plant genetics graduate student, and I am interested in what you have said about plant genetic engineering through the years. In 2001, you called Golden Rice “the world’s first purely rhetorical technology.” In a 2004 interview with the Sierra Club, you said “I don’t think in ten years we’ll be talking about GMOs. I can easily see the industry withering away.” But this year, I understand that you are now promoting “Open Source” genetic engineering. Is this a sign that your opinion of the usefulness and future of this technology is now changing?

In my humble opinion, I think it may very well be such a sign, but I would like to prompt it to see what the response will be. While Pollan has written quite a lot about genetic engineering in the late 90s and early 00s, most of it critical, his harshest criticisms have dried up in his writings. What can explain this phenomenon? An opinion change, or a change of perception about public opinion?

Here’s Ariela’s question:

My name is Ariela and I am studying to become a Registered Dietician. In you book, you argue that people should eat a more diverse diet, which I agree with. But I believe you contradict yourself when you also say that people should eat a “traditional diet.” The traditional Mexican and Inuit diets you laud, for example, are very limited. My question is, which do you think is more important – that people eat diets that are “traditional” or that they eat diets that are Diverse?

I wonder if these and the other challenging questions will make it to the list? With 53 other questions, some of them also good, chances are slim.

Friday at 3:30 he will be participating in an open question forum at the Wisconsin Union Theater, so if my question isn’t chosen, I might get in line and ask it there. Or if it is chosen, I will likely have a followup ready. There are about fifty questions that I would have for Pollan, a dozen of which I would consider pretty important. Half of these have to do with plant genetics.

Be sure to check out the Go Big Read blog – there are several articles by UW Madison professors and others about his book, including some thoughts on his treatment of food science, reductionism, and correlations that I think are spot-on and deserve wider discussion.

If two Pollanesqe events aren’t enough, he will be speaking at the Food for Thought Festival, at 10:00 am on Saturday, next to the Capital Square. There’s little  information about his plans the rest of the time he is here, (mmm… expensive charity dinner) although I hear he will be plenty busy. I know because I tried to secure an interview.

Also, the Plant Sciences Graduate Student Countil (PSGSC) will be hosting their (our?) own little discussion of Pollan’s book at the Memorial Union Terrace at 8:30 pm or thereabouts, after the Thursday evening talk. I’m dying to see what my fellow plant science grad students think about one particular line in the book…

I’ll be sure to post more about Pollan’s visit here, and probably at Biofortified. Call it a hunch, but I have a feeling he might reconsider the interview request in about a month.

Published by

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.