Cookbooks aren’t the only food books. In books like “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” “The Botany of Desire” and “Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation,” journalist Michael Pollan has shaped the discussion of issues like local food and the rise of agribusiness.
Pollan will be in Charlotte Oct. 10 for the Queens University Learning Society. Kathleen Purvis reached him on tour with his latest book, an illustrated version of “Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual,” with 83 rules on how to eat.
Q: What was breakfast this morning?
A: Eli Zabar has a specialty food shop (in New York) and makes this 9-grain bread. I had a slice of that with ricotta and a slice of smoked salmon. Now, that’s a pretty special breakfast… Normally, this time of year, I would have a bowl of oatmeal.
Q: What do people misunderstand about your message?
A: (They think) I’m preaching at them. And that I’m their food superego. People are always confessing their food sins to me and I’m a little uncomfortable with that. My goal is to encourage people to think about where their food comes from and be more conscious. I don’t care what they eat as long as they give it a little thought – thought for its implications for their bodies, thought for their families, thought for the world.
Q: You’re famous for boiling down eating to three rules: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” Is there one more rule you wish everyone would remember?
A: The one I really like is “don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.” Now, some people argue and say, “but my great-grandmother was a terrible cook.” Well, it doesn’t have to be your grandmother. It can be a Sicilian or French grandmother. Just imagine what she would say about those fruit rollups. And the one I like for kids is, “Don’t eat any cereal that changes the color of the milk.” Kids really get that one.
Q: What do you eat that would surprise people?
A: Sometimes people are surprised I eat meat. I’m really picky about eating meat. If you’re only going to eat grass-fed beef, you are going to pay more for it and eat it less often. And I do have a weakness for Cracker Jack. If I have to buy food in a gas station, it will either be Cracker Jack or nuts.
Q: So much of what you write about are the troubles caused by the modern food system. Is there something that came from that system that you do like?
A: The modern food system has accomplished an incredible thing, which is making food inexpensive. Now, that’s a mixed blessing. But meat was once a special-occasion food for many people. Now it’s so cheap, people with little money can eat meat several times a day. That may not be a good thing. But this is a great luxury that’s been democratized.
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