In the world of culinary writing, Michael Pollan ranks at the top of
the food chain. A contributing writer to The New York Times Magazine,
Pollan’s writing—on genetic engineering, cattle-raising, the broader
implications of our everyday choices—has turned a lot of tastes. Now
that Pollan has moved to the East Bay to teach at UC Berkeley’s
Graduate School of Journalism, we asked him how
he’s enjoying his new grazing ground.
DIABLO: Have your eating habits changed since you moved?
MICHAEL POLLAN: I’m definitely eating a lot better. There’s just so much more variety [in food choices]. I moved here from Connecticut, where I often faced the problem of simply not being able to get my hands on an ingredient. Here, you have everything. On the East Coast, I think we have better seafood. But with everything else, there’s no comparison.
D: We hear a lot about the food revolution, but we’re also told that Americans are more obese than ever, eating much more processed food. Has there really been a shake-up, or are there just new privileges for the well-to-do gourmands?
MP: It’s the beginning of a sea change—but just the beginning. Many important social movements begin with the affluent [leaders]. A lot of what it comes down to is persuading people to make food a priority. We need to spend more than we do on food. This is a society, after all, that’s been told that it’s good to spend $40–$50 a month on [cable] TV.
D: Do you ever eat junk food?
MP: Sure. I’m not an absolutist. But I won’t eat McDonald’s. I can’t. At this point, I know too much about it to enjoy it.
D: Berkeley is probably the center of food politics in the country. Is it fair to think of this interest as more left wing than right wing?
MP: I don’t know that there’s any necessary connection. People in Berkeley have brought politics to food because they bring politics to everything. You can find people all over the political spectrum who are interested in these issues.
D: Can people take food too seriously?
MP: Yes. People can be unreasonably obsessed with food issues. I’m obsessed with them. But not long after I moved here, I had a terrifying moment while I was shopping in the Berkeley Bowl. I was going about my business, when someone tapped me on the shoulder and said, "I get to watch Michael Pollan buy food." Only in Berkeley would someone recognize [a person] who writes about food, and care enough to do that.
D: What were you buying?
MP: My cart was filled with Fruity Pebbles for my kid. But I think at that moment I was reaching for some organic rice. So it was a mixed bag.