Author Michael Pollan on portion control, the future of food and fast food
This is part two of my interview with Michael Pollan, author of Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation; Food Rules: An Eater's Manual; The Omnivore's Dilemma; In Defense of Food; Second Nature; The Botany of Desire and A Place of My Own. Part one of Pollan's musings ran yesterday. Pollan will appear in Sturm Hall at the University of Denver at 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 8, in conjunction with the Tattered Cover. Tickets to his lecture are $35, and while the event is sold out, you can add your name to the wait list by calling 303-871-2291.
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Food has always been important, but within the last few years, we've been geeking out on it like never before. What's changed to make us so fervent? People are discovering, or rediscovering, all that food offers us: a rich, all-five sense experience; a medium of communion with people, a respite from screens and digital life, and a way to re-engage with the natural world. I look forward to a day when we don't have to "geek out" on it and these wonders will become normal.
Is the industrial food system sustainable, or do you see it eventually collapsing under the insurmountable challenges? When people say the food system is unsustainable, they mean something specific: It's in danger of breakdown. And I think it is, though I don't know which of its vulnerabilities are most critical: its dependence on fossil fuel? Its dependence on antibiotics? The fact that it's making the population sick and fat? The fact that it's mining the soil, and when the soil is shot, civilizations historically collapse? I don't know where or when the breakdown will come, but there are a lot of possibilities.
What's your advice for people who eat at restaurants more often than they eat at home? How do they avoid getting fat, or, more to the point, fatter? Don't let the restaurant control your food portions -- you do that. Don't eat meat in restaurants unless they specify how it's been produced and the values rhyme with your own. Avoid places that serve asparagus in the fall or tomatoes in winter, and take home a doggy bag.
Are we still a fast-food nation? Without a doubt. Alternatives to fast food still represent a sliver of the food economy.
How can we change the school lunch program so that we better focus on nutritional elements for our kids? As a society, we need to commit to paying what it costs to put real food on our kids' tables at school. It's a terrific investment, in both their health and their education, but we need to step up and make it.
Who's the one person advocating the use of "local, organic and sustainable" that we should be listening to the most -- the one who walks the walk and talks the talk? I guess I would say Joel Salatin, a farmer I profiled in Virginia. He refuses to ship his food, and has grown by means of an interesting franchise system that spawns new farmers and supports the local economy without diluting the power of his farming system.