Ministry of Controversy

Michael Pollan Would Like to Talk About Something Else, Too.

This just in from the San Francisco Chronicle:

This might come as a shock to devotees of the Church of Michael Pollan, but his next article will be about orchid sex, not food. And his next book may not be about food, either.

"My wife says it’s time for me to move on," the UC Berkeley
journalism professor and reluctant leader of the real food movement
told The Chronicle. "If you had to listen to our dinner table
conversation for the last five years, as she and my son do, you might
be up for a new topic."

In the article, Pollan goes on to talk in an interesting and insightful way about what it’s been like for him, as a writer, to find himself at the forefront of this food movement.  He found that politicians were calling him to ask him how he thought the farm bill should be structured.  He says:

"I don’t know. I’m a journalist. I hope I can shine a light on it." [Rachel Carson, whose book, "The Silent Spring,"
launched the modern environmental movement] "didn’t write the Clean Air
Act. She started a conversation and then politicians take over. And
that’s how it’s supposed to work."

At a talk he gave recently, Pollan told the audience that he might be moving on and writing about something other than food.

"Afterward, this farmer came up to me and he’s poking his finger in
my chest (and saying), ‘You have an obligation. You’ve started
something. You’re representing us,’ " Pollan relates. "That threw me
for a loop. I mean, do I have an obligation?"

He answers his own question. "My first obligation is to my own
interests, and curiosity, and to my readers. Becoming part of a
movement – that’s not why I got into writing."

It is clear that this food movement has really stirred people to action and people have very strong feelings on the subject.  And Pollan hasn’t stopped caring about food issues, as he makes clear in the article.  But I can relate to what he is saying about moving on.  Most writers become writers because they want to create literature.  They want to make art.  Or, in the case of journalists, they want to be a lens through which people can better understand the world they live in.  Or a little of both.

And Pollan, whose writing is a blend of literature and journalism, surely has wide-ranging curiosities he’d like to explore.  Publishers may want to put him in a box–food, say, or plants, or nature–but what if he wants to write a murder mystery?  Or a travelogue?  I’d be up for it. 

Still, I’m glad to see him returning to plants–orchid sex for National Geographic–and as for the topic of his next book, I wish him and his family well with their new dinner table conversation.

Posted by on January 10, 2008 at 1:15 pm, in the category Ministry of Controversy.
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8 responses to “Michael Pollan Would Like to Talk About Something Else, Too.”

  1. bill says:

    My favorite book of his is the one about building a backyard office – A Place of My Own.

  2. susan harris says:

    Second Nature is a classic. Oh, and Botany of Desire! More like those!

  3. Claire Splan says:

    I can understand that Pollan may want to move on to other topics as a writer. But I hope other writers will step in to fill the gap he leaves. Because if you and most of the gardeners that frequent a blog like this totally get the issues of food, sustainability, carbon emissions, and the like, you can bet that that means those issues are just starting to appear on the radar of the public at large. We’re nowhere near the saturation point in terms of getting the message out on these important ideas.

  4. Victoria E says:

    I’m excited to read some of his writing on other subjects – he has been such a driving force in the local food movement that he might end up having the same effect on other subjects.

  5. eliz says:

    Yes. That’s what journalism is supposed to be about. You go where the story and your interests are, and then you go to where another story and your new interests are. There are very few true reporters left who do this and do it well. I think Jake Halpern, author of Fame Junkies, is another such.

  6. Yes, I’m ready to read Michael Pollan on other subjects, too.

  7. Consider yourself vindicated, Amy. 😉

  8. Teresa says:

    I’m getting tired of reading about how our whole food chain is corrupted, eat locally, all that. There’s not a minute in my day that goes by I’m not thinking about it- I’ve learned a lot, and will continue to change old habits, and implement new ones. Although I do want to (and will) read Pollan’s newest book about food, I will look forward to ‘orchid sex’. Now that’s refreshing-a winner in my book!

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