The Michael Pollan Prescription: How to Eat Better and Avoid the Industrial Diet

Celebrated food writer Michael Pollan talked with Mother Earth News about easy ways to eat well and opt out of the broken food system.

| Nov. 4, 2008

Michael Pollan

Michael Pollan is the author of four excellent books, including his most recent, In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto (Penguin Press, 2008).

Alia Malley

He may make his living from a computer keyboard and a classroom lectern, but Michael Pollan — author of the best-selling books The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals and, most recently In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto — will tell you he’s happiest where the worlds of humanity and nature collide. In particular, he’s happiest at the intersection of dirt, the food that springs from it, and the humans who eat that food.

In The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Pollan explored how what we eat — whether produce, meat, seafood, sweetener or grain — gets to our plates. Perhaps more importantly, he examined what the consequences are to our bodies, our planet and our ethics when we consume the type of food that makes up most of what’s offered on supermarket shelves.

In In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, which he sub-subtitled “Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants,” Pollan goes a step further and deconstructs what used to be so simple just one or two generations ago … eating.

Furthermore, he points out, the concept of better living through chemistry has backfired on us at the dinner table. The butter that our grandmother served? Turns out it’s better for us than the partially hydrogenated oils used in margarine, once touted as a wondrous — and healthier — substitute.

The same argument can be made, Pollan says, for limited amounts of sugar versus corn syrup for sweetening, as well as old-fashioned mashed potatoes versus what comes out of a box.

In fact, Pollan advises, there are three general rules that most folks concerned about their eating habits can use whenever they’re in a grocery store:

Michele Bline
11/11/2008 11:34:14 PM

I have a small family(3 people) farm and grow and sell at several farmers markets. In Ohio we have a senior nutrition program which gives $50. in vouchers specifically for use at farmers markets. You would think it is great, but these seniors can't get to the markets to redeem them. In 2 years I have redeemed $25 worth. I grow heirloom, using only natural fertilizers(lots of manure from our free-range chickens), NO pesticides, herbicides or fungicides. My beds are raised, intensively planted and I use straw and leaves for mulch(no plastic here). We take a bulliten board to the markets. My catch phrase for last year was: "Our trusted FDA has approved for our use countless drugs which are known to cause heart attacks, strokes, kidney or liver failure, suicidal tendencies or death...Do we trust the USDA to be held to these same high standards regarding pesticides, herbicides or genetic engineering?" Need I say any more.

11/10/2008 10:58:44 AM

We have less than a half acre, and in our backyard I built raised beds that are irrigated with a well(we get almost all the veggies we need for a family of 4 in a 40'x25' space), boarder it with fruit trees and a chicken yard(we have 9 hens) and a goat pasture(we will soon be adding nigerian dwarf milk goats to our menagerie). All this, and we also set up an intex pool next to the garden(it's partially buried to make it sturdier) with a 25'x6' deck. What an oasis! The kids swim, I garden and then go for a dip, and we have so much extra that I sold a small portian and made more money than what I spent on creating the whole thing! There is no excuse not to at least plant one tomato plant, even if you live in an apartment. It's fun!!

11/9/2008 7:40:38 PM

I had originally bought In Defense of Food, before realizing Pollan had authored other books. Before starting it I went out and bought Omnivore's Dilema and am currently reading it. What a great book!! As someone in my 30's I have grown up on processed food and recently have begun looking at more natural alternatives. I have joined a CSA and have done some small gardening. I'm also trying to find grass-fed beef in my area. My husband and I have also started doing more of our own cooking and I don't mean opening up a can or box. Homemade is so much better tastng and better for you. We really need to start getting back to basics when it comes to the food we eat, not only for our environment, as so many people look at it now days, but for our health!!

11/7/2008 11:38:39 AM

Sometimes CSAs pass the cost of the EBT machine on to their shareholders, with a sliding scale based on income. Two examples of farms whose CSAs have overcome the EBT problem are Uprising Organics farm in Washington state ( )and Rogowski Farm ( ) in New York. Perhaps they would be helpful folks to contact. -Tabitha Alterman, Mother Earth News

11/7/2008 11:20:35 AM

Tabitha, Yes, I am very familiar with the FMNP. Unfortunately, funding for the EBT is our issue. I’m working on it! Maybe MEN could sponsor:)

Tabitha Alterman_1
11/7/2008 10:18:34 AM

Hi Katherine, You can learn more about the Farmers Market Nutrition Program (the one that helps make it possible to use food stamps for fresh local food) in this article: Government Program Makes Healthy Food a Viable Option ( ). Check out some of the links and resources in that article for contacts who could be helpful. Usually, the main hindrance is getting an EBT card-reading machine, but there are plenty of ways to raise money for them. Good luck! -Tabitha Alterman, Mother Earth News

11/7/2008 9:53:21 AM

Way to go with Pollan! I'm in the middle of Omnivore's Dilemma. In this interview, I found his comments on food policy particularly interesting. Food stamps are not accepted at my local farmers' market or for CSA subscriptions. I’m working to change this hindrance in our community food system. Any ideas?

SR Davis
11/6/2008 1:25:49 PM

Bravo!! So many Americans have come to believe that the food we purchase in boxes and cans is healthy for us. Unfortunatley, its not. Going back to types of food our grandparents ate and rural America is actually the healthiest. I have several cookbooks I have picked up at flea markets from way back and the recipes are so easy, just basic ingredients and good natural foods. When you prepare simple natural foods it really is fast and easy. You don't need a dictionary to decipher the ingredient list - a roast chicken, mashed potatoes, beets with a little salt and pepper, greens wilted in a pot - yum yum!!

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