Like it or not, Michael Pollan’s influence on consumers and their food-shopping habits continues to mount — especially since “The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals” came out in paperback.
Pollan, best-selling author, journalism professor and former New York Times reporter, continues to have a significant impact on the consuming public via his books and his talks on how food gets from farm to plate.
Pollan told SN that response to “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and also to his most recent book, “In Defense of Food,” has “been beyond my wildest expectations.”
He believes people are perplexed about food, uncertain about what’s good for them and what’s not. “People clearly are worried — about their own health, food safety, animal welfare. Both books, I think, have touched a chord in America,” Pollan said.
“They’re very optimistic books, too, and I think that appeals to people. I’m very critical of the industrial agricultural establishment. But on the other hand, I celebrate all the good alternatives we have today. We have local farming, organic farming, farmers’ markets, [Community Supported Agriculture], — good options.”
But Pollan by no means trashes the supermarket itself.
“There’s advice in the book on how to navigate the supermarket. There’s a lot of good food in the American supermarket, but most of it is around the edge, the fresh produce, the fresh meat, fish, dairy. Where you really get in trouble is in the middle of the store where you find the non-perishables.”
In his latest book, Pollan makes the comment that anything with a health claim on it should be avoided. “That sounds counterintuitive, but in order to carry a health claim, a product has to be in a package, usually from a big manufacturer. The healthiest foods in the supermarket are the very quiet fruits and vegetables, which don’t carry health claims.”
Indeed, Pollan’s motto, and subtitle for his latest book, is “Eat Food, Not Too Much, Mostly Plants.”
Those words are bound to attract flak, but praise also.
“I think his book is great. So is he. I’ve heard him speak,” said Sue Moores, registered dietitian, who has helped Kowalski’s Markets, St. Paul, Minn., create its own nutrition education program.
“Kowalski’s actually embodies much of what Michael Pollan talks about,” Moores said. “Kowalski’s prides itself on developing local sources [for fresh food]. I believe they’re very much on the same beat with him.”
Another industry source, Neil Stern, senior partner, McMillan Doolittle, Chicago, said “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” is an important book.
“It is an excellent primer for many of the big trends we are now seeing, like the movement to local and the contradictory growth of organics,” Stern said.
“Pollan documents the incredible complexity that is inherent in the modern food chain. [His book] speaks to two issues — what we are eating and how is the food we’re eating produced. Both are sobering in documenting how complex food production is today and how far we’ve strayed from the simplicity of hunting and foraging for our own foods.”
— ROSEANNE HARPER