Birthplace: Long Island, New York, U.S.
Michael Pollan /ˈpɒlən/ is an American author, journalist, activist, and the Lewis K. Chan Arts Lecturer and Professor of Practice of Non-Fiction at Harvard University. Pollan is also professor of journalism at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.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.
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.Michael Pollan speaks to the Marin Academy community.
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 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 beauty, the marijuana intoxication, and the potato control. Pollan then unravels the narrative of his own experience with each of the plants, which he 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 speaking at TED in 2007
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. He 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.
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").
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), and features Samin Nosrat, who later became known for the bestselling cookbook Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, as "the chef who taught Michael Pollan how to cook."
Pollan has contributed to Greater Good, a social psychology magazine published by the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley. His article "Edible Ethics" discusses the intersection of ethical eating and social psychology.
In his 1998 book A Place of My Own: The Education of an Amateur Builder, Pollan methodically traced the design and construction of the out-building where he writes. The 2008 re-release of this book was re-titled A Place of My Own: The Architecture of Daydreams.
In 2014, Pollan wrote the foreword in the healthy eating cookbook The Pollan Family Table. The book is co-authored by his mother, Corky Pollan, and sisters, Lori Pollan, Dana Pollan, and Tracy Pollan.
In 2018, Pollan wrote How to Change Your Mind, a book about the history and future of mind-altering substances. He argues that psilocybin and LSD are not drugs that make people crazy, which he calls the biggest misconception people have about psychedelics, but rather drugs that can help a person become "more sane," for example by eliminating a fear of death. While promoting his book on national TV, he explained that along with LSD and psilocybin, his research included ingesting ayahuasca and 5-MeO-DMT, and that he experienced a dissolution of ego.
Pollan is a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine, a former executive editor for Harper's Magazine, and an author of five books: In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto (2008), The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (2006), The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World (2001), A Place of My Own (1997), and Second Nature: A Gardener's Education (1991). In 2016, Netflix released a four-part documentary series, which was based on Pollan's book, Cooked (2013), and was directed by Alex Gibney. In 2015, a documentary version of Pollan's book In Defense of Food premiered on PBS. Pollan also co-starred in the documentary, Food, Inc. (2008), for which he was also a consultant. In 2010 Pollan was interviewed for the film Queen of the Sun: What are the bees telling us?, a feature-length documentary about honey bees and colony collapse disorder. He was also interviewed for Vanishing of the Bees, a documentary also about colony collapse, directed by Maryam Henein and George Langworthy.
In 2015, Pollan received the Washburn Award from the Boston Museum of Science, awarded annually to "an individual who has made an outstanding contribution toward public understanding and appreciation of science and the vital role it plays in our lives" and was named as a fellow at Harvard University's Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. He has also won the James Beard Leadership award, the Reuters World Conservation Union Global Awards in environmental journalism, the James Beard Foundation Awards for best magazine series in 2003, and the Genesis Award from the Humane Society of the United States. His articles have been anthologized in Best American Science Writing (2004), Best American Essays (1990 and 2003), The Animals: Practicing Complexity (2006), and the Norton Book of Nature Writing (1990).
In the American Enterprise Institute's magazine, Blake Hurst argues that Pollan offers a shallow assessment of factory farming that does not take cost into account. Daniel Engber criticized Pollan in Slate for arguing that food is too complex a subject to study scientifically and blaming reductionism for today's health ills, while using nutritional research to justify his own diet advice. Engber likened Pollan's "anti-scientific method" to the rhetoric used by health gurus who peddle diet scams.
Pollan's work has also been discussed and criticized by Jonathan Safran Foer in his non-fiction book Eating Animals. Foer criticizes Pollan's argument regarding table-fellowship. According to Foer, Pollan claims that a vegetarian dinner guest causes socially reprimandable inconvenience for the host. Foer responds that in the year 2010 it is easier for hosts to accommodate vegetarians than locavores as hosts will need to do extensive research to find (expensive) non factory-farmed meat.
Pollan has been accused by Jon Entine, who supports GMOs (genetically modified organisms), of using his influence to promote "anti-GMO junk science". A number of scientists and journalists have similarly characterized Pollan's work as biased against GMOs. For example, after Pollan posted a tweet that was critical of a New York Times article on GMOs, U.C. Berkeley biologist Michael Eisen posted a tweet calling Pollan's comment "a new low even in Pollan's 'anti-GMO crusade'". In response to Pollan's statement that GMOs have been one "tremendous disappointment," food writer James Cooper criticized Pollan's tendency to cite poor or selected scientific sources.
In 2014, Pollan co-hosted a discussion and informal debate on the topic of genetic modification at UC Berkeley featuring prominent plant geneticist Pamela Ronald, professor at UC Davis, whose research-based position "strongly disagrees with Pollan’s view that G.M.O. crops, broadly, are failing." A New Yorker reporter observed that Pollan's largely anti-GMO student base at the discussion itself constituted, "a kind of monoculture," yet that Pollan sought "to introduce an invasive species" by engaging Ronald. The event, while predictably contentious, reportedly produced a rare instance of courteous, productive exchange between the two main sharply-opposed viewpoints on genetically-modified crops.
- Second Nature: A Gardener's Education. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press. 1991. ISBN 978-0-87113-443-1.
- A Place of My Own: The Education of an Amateur Builder. New York: Random House. 1997. ISBN 978-0-679-41532-9.
- The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World. New York: Random House. 2001. ISBN 978-0-375-50129-6.
- The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. New York: Penguin Press. 2006. ISBN 978-1-59420-082-3.
- In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto. New York: Penguin Press. 2008. ISBN 978-1-59420-145-5.
- Food Rules: An Eater's Manual. New York: Penguin Press. 2009. ISBN 978-0-14-311638-7.
- Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation. New York: Penguin Press. 2013. ISBN 978-1-59420-421-0.
- Pollan Family Table. New York: Scribner. 2014. ISBN 978-1-476746371.
- How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence. New York: Penguin Press. 2018. ISBN 978-1594204227.
- Pollan, Michael (April 1997). "Opium Made Easy". Harper's.
- Pollan, Michael (July 19, 2002). "When a Crop Becomes King". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-09-21.
- Pollan, Michael (November 10, 2002). "An Animal's Place". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-09-21.
- Pollan, Michael (March 31, 2002). "Power Steer". The New York Times. Retrieved 2016-03-05.
- Pollan, Michael (June 4, 2006). "Mass Natural". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-09-21.
- Pollan, Michael (June 11, 2006). "Six rules for eating wisely". Time magazine. Retrieved 2008-09-21.
- Pollan, Michael (January 28, 2007). "Unhappy Meals". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-09-21.
- Pollan, Michael (April 22, 2007). "You Are What You Grow". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-09-21.
- Pollan, Michael (December 16, 2007). "Our Decrepit Food Factories". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-09-21.
- Pollan, Michael (April 20, 2008). "Why bother?". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-09-21.
- Pollan, Michael (October 9, 2008). "An Open Letter to the Farmer in Chief". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-10-12.
- Pollan, Michael (July 29, 2009). "Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-08-02.
- Pollan, Michael (September 9, 2009). "Big Food vs. Big Insurance". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-09-14.
- Pollan, Michael (December 23-30, 2013). "A Reporter at Large: The Intelligent Plant". The New Yorker. 89 (42): 92-105. Retrieved 2014-10-15.
- Pollan, Michael (February 9, 2015). "The Trip Treatment". The New Yorker: 36-47. Retrieved 2015-02-09.
- Michael Pollan (June 4, 2001). "A Plant's-Eye View Of The World". Morning Edition (Interview: audio). Interviewed by Ketzel Levine. NPR. Retrieved 2008-11-29.
- Michael Pollan (September 2004). "The Cheapest Calories Make You the Fattest". Sierra Magazine (transcript). Interviewed by Helen Wagenvoord. Retrieved 2008-11-29.
- Michael Pollan (Spring-Summer 2006). "Edible Ethics". Greater Good magazine (transcript). Interviewed by Jason Marsh. Archived from the original on June 18, 2008. Retrieved November 29, 2008.
- Michael Pollan (February 13, 2008). "In Defense of Food". Democracy Now (Interview: video/audio/transcript). Interviewed by Amy Goodman. Retrieved 2008-11-29.
- Michael Pollan (October 30, 2008). "An Evening with Michael Pollan". The Warren Report (Interview: audio). Interviewed by Warren Etheredge. Retrieved 2008-11-29.[permanent dead link]
- Michael Pollan (November 28, 2008). "Interview". Bill Moyers Journal (Interview: video/transcript). Interviewed by Bill Moyers. PBS. Retrieved 2008-11-29.
- Michael Pollan (June 25, 2009). "Food and Fossil Fuels". Powering A Nation: UNC News21 Project (Interview: video). Interviewed by Melissa Moser. Archived from the original on August 3, 2009. Retrieved August 4, 2009.
- Michael Pollan (June 25, 2009). "Checking Out Michael Pollan's Garden". Powering A Nation: UNC News21 Project (Interview: video). Interviewed by Melissa Moser. Archived from the original on August 9, 2009. Retrieved August 4, 2009.
- Michael Pollan (May 23, 2009). "What's for Dinner with Michael Pollan". The Kathleen Show (Interview: audio). Interviewed by Kathleen Slattery-Moschkau. Archived from the original on August 27, 2010. Retrieved September 23, 2010.
- Michael Pollan (June 22, 2009). "Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis interview: Michael Pollan. Sponsored by Gaiam". Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis (Interview: video). Interviewed by Waylon Lewis. Retrieved 2010-09-23.
- Michael Pollan (October 24, 2012). "California's Prop 37 Fight". Democracy Now (Interview: video). Interviewed by Amy Goodman. Retrieved 2012-10-24.