Journalist Michael Pollan has spent almost 20 years researching the American food system, a passion that has resulted in books like The Omnivore’s Dilemma (Penguin, 2007) and In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto (The Penguin Press, 2008). This is a man who likes to know where his food comes from and how it was raised. That’s why he shops locally, grows his own fruits and vegetables, and eats meat and dairy from pasture-raised animals. Although making healthier food choices requires a little extra effort, Pollan claims it makes eating more enjoyable. He spoke to us from his home in Berkeley, Calif., about his observations on Americans and food.
What sparked your fascination with the way we eat?
My interest in food stems from my love of gardening, which I’ve been doing since I was 8. Growing some of my own food has helped me remember that nature feeds us—not industry—and I want to get people back in touch with that idea.
Why should we know where our food comes from?
Our health is dependent on the health of our farming system. Keeping that in mind will help us make choices that are good for both our land and our bodies, like eating locally raised foods or meat and eggs that come from pastured animals.
How can we reinforce the idea that food comes from nature, not a store?
By visiting a nearby farm. You’ll learn things you’d never know from shopping, like what the animals are fed or how they’re treated. Growing or foraging some of your own food is also rewarding. You’ll have no doubt which foods are freshest and whether they were raised responsibly, and you’ll be excited to sample what you’ve grown.
In addition to growing your own food, have you ever foraged for it?
When I was a kid, my parents took me clamming at the beach, which I loved. Now my wife and son and I pick wild fennel and miner’s lettuce, which grow all around here. It’s exhilarating to realize you still have the instincts to find food in the wild.
What does food mean to you?
Vitamins and nutrients are important, but thinking of food as medicine obscures the other reasons to love eating. Not only is food a way to experience culture, it’s also one of the most profound ways we interact with nature and each other.
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