Michael Pollan Biography & Facts
Michael Kevin Pollan (; born February 6, 1955) is an American author and journalist, who is currently the Knight Professor of Science and Environmental Journalism at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.Pollan is best known for his books that explore the socio-cultural impacts of food, such as The Botany of Desire and The Omnivore's Dilemma.
Pollan was born to a Jewish family on Long Island, New York. He is the son of author and financial consultant Stephen Pollan and columnist Corky Pollan. Pollan received a B.A. in English from Bennington College in 1977 and an M.A. in English from Columbia University in 1981.
The Botany of Desire
In The Botany of Desire, Pollan explores the concept of co-evolution, specifically of humankind's evolutionary relationship with four plants—apples, tulips, marijuana, and potatoes—from the dual perspectives of humans and the plants. He uses case examples that fit the archetype of four basic human desires, demonstrating how each of these botanical species are selectively grown, bred, and genetically engineered. The apple reflects the desire for sweetness, the tulip for beauty, marijuana for intoxication, and the potato for control.
Throughout the book, Pollan explores the narrative of his own experience with each of the plants, which he then intertwines with a well-researched exploration into their social history. Each section presents a unique element of human domestication, or the "human bumblebee" as Pollan calls it. These range from the true story of Johnny Appleseed to Pollan's first-hand research with sophisticated marijuana hybrids in Amsterdam, to the alarming and paradigm-shifting possibilities of genetically engineered potatoes. Pollan is critical of industrial monoculture claiming it leads to crops less able to defend themselves against predators and requiring large amounts of pesticides and fertilizers which upsets the natural ecosystem.
The Omnivore's Dilemma
In The Omnivore's Dilemma, Pollan describes four basic ways that human societies have obtained food: the current industrial system, the big organic operation, the local self-sufficient farm, and the hunter-gatherer. Pollan follows each of these processes—from a group of plants photosynthesizing calories through a series of intermediate stages, ultimately into a meal. Along the way, he suggests that there is a fundamental tension between the logic of nature and the logic of human industry, that the way we eat represents our most profound engagement with the natural world, and that industrial eating obscures crucially important ecological relationships and connections. On December 10, 2006, The New York Times named The Omnivore's Dilemma one of the five best nonfiction books of the year. On May 8, 2007, the James Beard Foundation named The Omnivore's Dilemma its 2007 winner for the best food writing. It was the book of focus for the University of Pennsylvania's Reading Project in 2007, and the book of choice for Washington State University's Common Reading Program in 2009–10.
Pollan's discussion of the industrial food chain is in large part a critique of modern agribusiness. According to the book, agribusiness has lost touch with the natural cycles of farming, wherein livestock and crops intertwine in mutually beneficial circles. Pollan's critique of modern agribusiness focuses on what he describes as the overuse of corn for purposes ranging from fattening cattle to massive production of corn oil, high-fructose corn syrup, and other corn derivatives. He describes what he sees as the inefficiencies and other drawbacks of factory farming and gives his assessment of organic food production and what it's like to hunt and gather food. He blames those who set the rules (e.g., politicians in Washington, D.C., bureaucrats at the United States Department of Agriculture, Wall Street capitalists, and agricultural conglomerates like Archer Daniels Midland) of what he calls a destructive and precarious agricultural system that has wrought havoc upon the diet, nutrition, and well-being of Americans. Pollan finds hope in Joel Salatin's Polyface Farm in Virginia, which he sees as a model of sustainability in commercial farming. Pollan appears in the documentary film King Corn (2007).
In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto
Pollan's book In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto, released on January 1, 2008, explores the relationship with what he terms nutritionism and the Western diet, with a focus on late 20th century food advice given by the science community. Pollan holds that consumption of fat and dietary cholesterol does not lead to a higher rate of coronary disease, and that the reductive analysis of food into nutrient components is a mistake.
Throughout the book, Pollan questions the view that the point of eating is to promote health, pointing out that this attitude is not universal and that cultures that perceive food as having purposes of pleasure, identity, and sociality may end up with better health. He explains this seeming paradox by vetting, and then validating, the notion that nutritionism and, therefore, the whole Western framework through which we intellectualize the value of food is more a religious and faddish devotion to the mythology of simple solutions than a convincing and reliable conclusion of incontrovertible scientific research.
Pollan spends the rest of his book explicating his first three phrases: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." He contends that most of what Americans now buy in supermarkets, fast food stores, and restaurants is not in fact food, and that a practical tip is to eat only those things that people of his grandmother's generation would have recognized as food.
Food Rules: An Eater's Manual
In 2009, Food Rules: An Eater's Manual was published. This short work is a condensed version of his previous efforts, intended to provide a simple framework for a healthy and sustainable diet. It is divided into three sections, further explicating Pollan's principles of "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." It includes his rules (i.e., "let others sample your food" and "the whiter the bread, the sooner you'll be dead").
Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation
In Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, published in 2013, Pollan explores the methods by which cooks mediate "between nature and culture." The book is organized into four sections corresponding to the classical elements of Fire (cooking with heat), Water (braising and boiling with pots), Air (breadmaking), and Earth (fermenting). The book also features Samin Nosrat, who later became known for the bestselling cookbook Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, and as "the chef who taught Michael Pollan how to cook." A 2016 Netflix documentary series created by Alex Gibney is based on the book, starring Michael Pollan and Isaac Pollan.
How to Change Your Mind
In 2018, Pollan wrote How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About.... Discover the Michael Pollan popular books. Find the top 100 most popular Michael Pollan books.