Michael Pollan: Growing in the Grassroots

Last week Michael Pollan visited Madison (see my posts The Soul of a Carrot – Michael Pollan at UW Madison, Corn: How Do You Like Yours? ,  and In Defense of Food (and Books) Michael Pollan leads “Go Big Read” ), and for many of us it was kind of like Santa Clause coming to town.  Pollan encloses his meticulously researched descriptions of how our national food chain works in elegant word wrapping paper and then ties it with sly curling ribbon bows of humor.

Who can resist?

“It didn’t surprise me that a typical food item on an American’s plate travels some 1,500 miles to get there and is frequently better traveled and more worldly than its eater.”

“People put more effort into choosing their mechanic or house contractor than they will into choosing the person who grows their food.”

“Beach Plum Jelly: August on toast.”

......This is the best way to get your corn.

......This is the best way to get your corn.

This Wednesday I had the honor of being on a panel discussing Pollan’s work at Monona Public Library’s wonderful Green Tuesday Lecture and Film Series.  (Yes, I know it was Wednesday no Tuesday, but I can live with a certain amount of enigma in my life.  The library describes it in its website (check it out here ) as a special “Green Wednesday”   I like to see as many green days in the week as possible.  This wonderful library even has special resource section devoted to sustainability!

Green Tuesdays are sponsored by The Natural Step Monona.  Check out their website here.   Natural Step is a sustainable program that works with communities and corporations to speed them on their way to greener ways of doing things that make economic as well as environmental sense.

....That's me on the left (well, really we are all three on the left).

....That's me on the left (well, really we are all three on the left).

Here is the roll of the panelists:  (a restaurateur who serves local food had to cancel.  Too bad.)

Kate Heiber-Cobb founded the Madison Area Permaculture Guild in the summer of 2008. Through her business, Sustainability on Stilts, LLC, she educates about and consults on Permaculture. A leader in the growing movement to establish Permaculture principles as a foundation for urban plantings, Kate is also a board member of The Natural Step Monona, and has training in Transition Towns and Radical Urban Sustainability.  Click here for a quick intro to Permaculture.

Steve Pincus and his wife, Beth Kazmar, grow 45 acres of certified organic vegetables at Tipi Produce located 35 minutes south of Madison. With over 32 years of farming experience, they have a diverse crop selection, which provides produce to natural food stores and co-ops in Madison, Janesville, and Milwaukee.  They also maintain a CSA from May through November. Their goal is to provide an appealing variety of high quality produce so attractive and tasty that families will eat more vegetables than they ever imagined!  For a 4-minute You Tube watching Steve get his hands in the dirt and show how his farm works, click here.

Denise Thornton (That’s me) is a newspaper journalist (South Bend Tribune and Chicago Tribune-Lake County Bureau) turned freelancer focusing on environmental writing.  Recent articles include The Godmother of Goat Cheese for On Wisconsin and Climate Change: What Experts Expect for the Upper Midwest, which appeared in The Organic Broadcaster.  Denise’s environmental blog, , chronicles what she and her husband are doing and learning on their 44 acres west of Madison.

Every bite of food we take is one of the most political acts we can make.

Every day we are voting with our grocery dollars.

...Number 2 commodity corn product

...Number 2 commodity corn product

That was the consensus of the panel and the audience agreed. The common room of Monona Library held about 30 people last night, and almost everyone jumped in.

This seems like what libraries are for at their best.  Not just offering books, but providing a forum to explore them.  Everyone had read Pollan.  Everyone had ideas about it.

This is the way ideas are supposed to grow, and Pollan’s ideas on food seem to be falling on fertile ground around here.  Yeah.

....This is the good stuff!

....This is the good stuff!

4 replies

  1. But you know what? Professionals like diabetes educators and registered dieticians are unaware of Pollan and his ideas. I’ve talked with several of them in the last few months, and when I say “Michael Pollan” they say “Who?” I wonder just how far his thoughts are penetrating. I wonder if this is significant of something. Are his ideas just being entertained by the choir and otherwise ignored by the vast mass of people and professionals?

  2. Thanks for commenting. I think the chance to converse is the best part of blogging. However, I’m not sure we can assume that “the vast mass of people of professionals” are ignoring Michael Pollan or the message he is espousing if we have only talked with several of them.
    If you have read Omnivore’s Dilemma or In Defense of Food, you have to consider Pollan’s points in the light of your own experience. If they makes sense to you, then I would suggest you work with diabetes educators and dieticians who are so informed.

    • “If I have read…”??? Oh, most assuredly, and several times. I have not talked with most or even many professionals. But every one that I have talked with has been unfamiliar with Pollan’s works. I have not talked with any who were. So then I wonder if his words are penetrating the professional worlds of diabetes educators and registered dietiticians. They don’t seem to be in Central Wisconsin. This is why I don’t think I can automatically assume that the vast mass of professionals are listening to him.

  3. It takes a long time for change so systemic to take place. And even though I feel fortunate to live in “hip” Madison, where there are more people who have read Pollan — that certainly doesn’t include everyone.
    You know that the entire UW-Madison campus was invited to plug into the Go Big Read and read Pollan’s book. So you would think that campus would be a pretty sure bet that people now know about him. My daughter was going over schedules for the week with her roommate — a pre law student who has always been very politically active. My daughter said she was going to hear Michael Pollan on Thursday night, and her roommate said, “Who is Pollan?”
    My daughter said she had to explain Pollan’s premise while my daughter was making veggie saute from farmer’s market ingredients for her dinner, andher roommate was about to microwave her usual dinner of ramen noodles.
    I’m sure the irony of this scene isn’t lost on you either.
    But to get back to the point,
    those of us who care about this topic probably need a very simple, non-threatening way of introducing the concept that agribusiness is not sustainable for the earth and not the best path to health for its consumers. Just to open the door to this idea.
    I realize no one is going to change their attitudes from one impassioned diatribe or even a rational explanation. But word of mouth is one the most trusted sources of info (according to research I reviewed when I was getting my journalism MA last year) and so I just try to keep on talking and listening.

    Also the way professionals are educated in this country. Professionals who teach in these programs are teaching what they learned when they were taught. They may or may not have stayed up to date.
    And Michael Pollan is not a professional in this field. I wouldn’t expect a dietician to have read him.
    I’m curious to hear how professionals you spoke with responded to your remarks on Pollan.

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