Feb. 7 Bay Area event with Michael Pollan — and me

Michael Pollan is touring extensively for "In Defense of Food," at bookstores and lecture halls all over the country. His website has a complete list of appearances.

I’ve been invited to interview him publicly about the book on February 7 as part of a fundraiser for Slow Food Solano and the Solano County Library Foundation. (The organizers asked Carol Ness of the Chronicle first, and she demurred, suggesting me instead. Thanks, Carol!)

Needless to say, I’m excited and a bit nervous. I first talked to Pollan back in 2003, before he moved to Berkeley, then again in 2006, but I’ve never done this kind of thing in front of an audience.

There’s lots I want to ask him, but I’d love to hear your suggestions for questions. After our discussion, there will be an audience Q&A session and Pollan will sign books. I’m hoping to record the whole thing and turn it into a podcast, if he’s OK with that.

The event will be held at 7 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 7, at the Vacaville Performing Arts Theater, 1010 Ulatis Drive, Vacaville (which is about an hour’s drive northeast from San Francisco). Tickets are $20 to $35 (Slow Food and SCL members get $5 off) and are available online, by phone (707) 449-6217, or at the box office. The venue seats 500.

Image credits: Pollan by Alia Malley, Powell by Bart Nagel.

11 Responsesto “Feb. 7 Bay Area event with Michael Pollan — and me”

  1. Amanda Rose says:

    I’m in. I expect to be in the area around that time and, if not, surely I can scalp my tickets. :)


  2. Gregory Emerson says:

    Oooh, sounds like a fun event. I’ve got three questions for the venerable Mr. Pollan:

    1) Mr. Pollan throws in a nice appeasement to the vegetarian community in “In Defense of Food” by regurgitating the conventional vegetarian wisdom that “every nutrient found in meat (except B12) can be obtained somewhere else.” (p. 165) This statement seems to contradict the central thesis of his book – that food cannot be measured by the sum of easily identifiable nutrients. There might be undiscovered micronutrients entirely unique to meat that are important to human health (heme-iron is an example of one that has been discovered, the absence of which can lead to anemia), not to mention issues of nutrient bioavailability and nutrient combining. Pollan’s statement also contradicts his insistence on eating traditional foods – there is no evidence of pre-agricultural vegetarian diets, and traditionally vegetarian diets are extremely rare (and have little genetic relevance to those of us who share Pollan’s European ancestry). How does Pollan reconcile this pro-veg statement with the rest of his book?

    2) Mr. Pollan continues to fixate on grass-finished beef, “grass finished or 100% grass fed is what you want.” (p 168) What does he think about beef that is raised on pasture and finished on a variety of whole grains? Grain finishing is a centuries old tradition, entirely distinct from the corn-feeding found in industrial feedlots. Cattle have evolved over the centuries to digest limited amounts of grain – after all, grain is just the seed of grass, and any pastured animal will inevitable eat some grass seeds. Take the example of Prather Ranch: the only beef producer in California that is certified humane, and one of the most sustainable beef operations in the country. Prather Ranch feeds their steer a mixture of whole grains (no soy, no corn) a few months before slaughter, although the steers are never removed from pasture. Ranches such as Prather have no problems with sick animals and no need to feed the herd antibiotics (in fact, their closed herd is pharmaceutical grade and they supplement their beef sales by selling spinal columns to pharmaceutical companies) . The end result of grain-finishing is – in my opinion, as well as that of some of the Bay Area’s finest chefs – more flavorful and texturally nuanced when compared with grass-finished beef. Grain-finished beef is also more approachable to the millions of Americans who are accustomed to corn-fed beef. This may sound like an unimportant distinction, but I have had so many experiences at farmers’ markets and “green” restaurants overhearing potential customers ask whether the (pasture raised, certified organic) beef is grass-finished, and then leave in a huff when they learn it is not.

    3) Something Pollan mentions very briefly in IDOF is the modern shift to the two-income household. I believe this trend is absolutely essential in understanding how our food habits have changed. Many households do not have the time to prepare meals according to the Slow Foods philosophy. American parents are working 50-60 hours a week on top of raising two or three children – a workload that is unprecedented in our history. Yet this workload is often necessary in order to preserve a middle class lifestyle. Can we really expect widespread change in the way people eat without a transformation of this economic reality? Is it unfair of those of us who have flexible work hours or no children – and thus the freedom to spend much of our week shopping, cooking, and cleaning up – to expect “ordinary Americans” to take on this extra burden? Families may be able to find the money to eat traditional foods, but do they have the time? (Of course, I understand that a transformation in the way we eat would decrease the cost of health-care, agricultural subsidies, and our food system’s addiction to oil, potentially negating the need for two income households -it’s getting from point A to point B that poses the real challenge).

    Just to be clear, I have an enormous amount of respect for Pollan and I love his writing (in fact, whenever I see him in Berkeley I get all star struck and giddy). I hope to make it out to the Vacaville event.

  3. Emily H. says:

    Where’s D.C. on this speaking list? Boo. Maybe I’ll just sneak up to Philadelphia for it…
    Nevertheless, how exciting, Bonnie! What an awesome opportunity. I’m envious, but really, who could be more perfect for the job?
    I just got my book in the mail today, so if I come up with any worthy questions between now and then will post back.

  4. Ed Bruske says:

    You’ll do fine

    Ask him what he thinks about $13-a-pound pork shoulder

  5. Janet says:

    Ask him whether people who don’t live in California or Florida need to resign themselves to canned fruits and vegetables for most of the year.

  6. Dr. Vino says:

    Congrats, Bonnie! Sounds like a great event.

  7. Congrats! Wish I could be there, or wish Mr. Pollan was coming to Atlanta, but didn’t see that on the list.

  8. ExPat Chef says:

    Let me read his new book and then I will have some questions for you! Congrats. Will the session be online/podcast?

  9. jen maiser says:

    oye – i think you’re going to force me to go to vacaville. :) congratulations, this is great!

  10. Bonnie P. says:

    Amanda: Cool. Gregory: Those are great! Would you like to coach me via a little earpiece during the event? Emily and Beth, I look forward to your ideas. Ed: I think he would say that that sounds expensive, but if it represents what the farmer needs to charge in order to recoup his costs and make a profit, then who are we to have an arbitrary ceiling of “I will pay this much and no more” in our heads? (Admittedly, that farmer is severely restricting his market.) Janet: I will. Everybody else — thanks for all the congratulations, I appreciate your confidence in me!

  11. cookiecrumb says:

    Pollan advises us never to eat anything our great-grandmothers wouldn’t recognize as food. My great-grandparents were Western Europeans, so I guess tofu and seaweed are out. More frighteningly, I believe they would recognize a Twinkie as “food.”
    I have just a little problem with his commandments.