The author of Omnivore’s Dilemma, who became a crusader for organic food and a foe of feedlots because of a woodchuck (more later!), drew an overflow crowd of about 1,000 to Goucher College last night.
The conversational, on-stage chat with Goucher president Sanford Ungar, whom many students informally call "Sandy," was relaxed, funny, and informative (essentially, "You are what you eat eats, too"). Here are some of Pollan’s thoughts.
But, first, I have to comment on Pollan’s appearance. He’s lanky, balding, wears glasses, and had on the tightest jeans I think I’ve ever seen on a guy, including Mick Jagger. (If that’s what his diet does, I’m in.) He looked Berkeley (CA, where he lives) hip, though, with a pink, untucked button-down shirt, a dark gray sports coat, and boots. He’d easily fit into any newsroom or coffee shop around the country.
Okay, back to snippets of what he said.
—About meat: "I do eat meat (sustainably raised). I don’t eat feedlot meat or fast-food hamburgers or chickens." He likes rabbit. "It tastes just like chicken, I swear."
—Fast-food restaurants. It was thumbs down for all of them, except Chipotle. "I wish we had more of them," he said, referring to the Mexican food chain and citing the restaurant’s local sourcing of meat and cooking everything fresh. It’s probably no surprise that he dissed KFC’s new DoubleDown (two pieces of fried chicken sandwiching bacon, cheese, and a secret sauce). "You can eat three animals," he said in awe, or horror, of the combo.
—Pollan’s food weakness? "I really like cheese," especially French Morbier. After he said that, Ungar joked that there would be a run on the cheese in Towson, where Goucher is located. Pollan explained that the delectable cheese has a thin layer of ash in the middle separating cheese made from morning milk and cheese made from evening milk. (Locally, you can find it at Whole Foods for $17.99 a pound; at Wegmans, for $25.99 a pound among other places.)
—How to beat the growing problems of obesity and diabetes 2. "The key is getting off processed food."
—About the higher cost of organic food. "If you can invest time instead of money, you can eat more cheaply," he said, referring to cooking at home. But he added that we should consider the people who grow our food. "We need to pay farmers a living wage," he said, to which the audience applauded loudly.
—At restaurants. "I don’t order meat unless they can tell me where they’re getting their meats. I get fish or go vegetarian."
He also talked about the impact of politics on food production, First Lady Michelle Obama’s efforts to educate children about food origins, the growth of local farmers’ markets, movements to improve school lunches, irradiation of meat and poultry, and much more—all with his trademark approachable style.
He also took several questions from Goucher students. The two hours flew by, and then he signed books.
And back to that woodchuck, who started Pollan’s mission. The short synopsis of the story is that he had a garden, a woodchuck kept eating his plants, he tried to match wits with the critter ("It became my horticultural Vietnam"), and lost. He bought a fence.
But the incident made him realize that "there must be a better way to deal with the natural world," he said. "The garden is one (place). Your plate is another."
He’s been writing about the food world every since.