Michael Pollan at Austin’s Paramount Theater

Michael Pollan recently spoke to a packed house here in Austin, Texas. The audience included members of “The Food Movement,” as Pollan called them, as well as his many loyal readers. His message was simple, direct, and eloquent. Eat simply, know where your food comes from and ….. beware of capitalism.

Six years ago, I attended a talk by Mr. Pollan in a small Cambridge, MA bookstore when his now award-winning book came out, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. The audience was about a tenth of the size of last night’s crowd and much less enthralled. His talk was just one in a series of authors who stopped by to promote their latest books. Pollan was impressive from the standpoint that he was as articulate in person as he was in his book and he seemed reasonable. Reasonableness is not always a quality shared by those in “The Food Movement” (in which I’ve held sporatic memberships).

Pollan follows the method championed by George Plimpton of The Paris Review: Get out in the field, literally, and experience your topic. His reasonableness arrives through his on-the-ground experience. One of his most famous was his travels with a steer who eventually became his hamburger. Pretty gutsy.

For the past six years, Pollan has convinced thousands of readers of the importance of good food and of our broken food system. But when asked by the articulate Addie Broyles, his interviewer for the evening last night, for his ideas about the future, he seemed circumspect. His early prescient call for alertness about the food we eat could turn now to some unreasonable leadership, the kind that crosses the boundaries between agribusinesses and  local farmers. How to create that edgy leadership without losing his following … is the real dilemma.

 

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