viernes, abril 21, 2006

Michael Pollan
Courtesy of Michael Pollan

Michael Pollan, best-selling author and Knight Professor of Science and Environmental Journalism at UC Berkeley

Michael Pollan: The Truthdig Interview

Blair Golson

It became obvious to journalist Michael Pollan in the summer of 2002 that America had a national eating disorder. That July, The New York Times Magazine published an article titled "What if It's All Been a Big Fat Lie?" which reported that a growing number of respected nutritional researchers were beginning to conclude that perhaps Dr. Robert Atkins had been right all along: Carbohydrates, not fats, were the cause of America's obesity problem.

Almost overnight, in Pollan's estimation, bakeries went out of business, dinner rolls in New York restaurants went the way of the pterodactyl, and pasta became regarded as a toxin.

"These foods were wonderful staples of human life for thousands of years," Pollan told Truthdig, "and suddenly we've decided that they're evil. Any culture that could change its diet on a dime like that is suffering from an eating disorder, as far as I can see."

Pollan was well placed to make such an observation. The previous year, he had published a critically acclaimed, best-selling book called The Botany of Desire, an examination of humans' relationships to plants, and how plants shape human societies as much as we shape them. His writings on the natural world and food stretch back to the late 1980s. Early in his career, he was an editor at Harper's magazine, and since 1995 he has been a contributing editor at The New York Times Magazine. Over the years he won a gaggle of writing awards and fellowships from environmental, food and journalistic organizations, in addition to publishing two other books, on gardening and architecture.

So when Atkins-mania achieved terminal velocity in the summer of 2002, Pollan started to wonder whether it wasn't time to ask some fundamental questions about a country so apparently susceptible to the whims of a fad diet. Pulling together the threads of stories he had written in the past decade on topics ranging from the ethics of vegetarianism to the dangers of over-reliance on corn, Pollan set off on a journey to answer a deceptively sophisticated question: "What should we have for dinner?"

The search for an answer found expression in Pollan's just-published book The Omnivore's Dilemma. The title refers to the quandary faced by animals like humans (and rats and cockroaches) that, in order to stay alive, must choose from the bewildering array of edible and non-edible substances. We can eat a lot, but what should we eat?

The subtitle of his book is "A Natural History of Four Meals," which is Pollan's way of describing his exploration of four types of food that eventually terminate in some kind of human meal: food that he himself grew and hunted; organic or "alternative" food (found at farmer's markets); industrial-organic foods (much of the stock at Whole Foods); and industrial, or processed, food (the snack or cereal aisles at Safeway). Through this series of "food detective stories," the author found things to cheer and things to fear about the ethical, biological and ecological ramifications of the American way of eating.

Truthdig managing editor Blair Golson recently spoke with Pollan from his home in Northern California, where he is the Knight Professor of Journalism at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism. He discussed how the omnivore's dilemma had returned in the unlikeliest of places; the truth about so-called "free range" chickens; and how in the world food manufacturers can get away with labels that read: "This product may contain one or more of the following…."

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