The Common Reading Experience 2012-2013

About In Defense of Food

View of book on a dinner plate
"Eat food. Not too much.
Mostly plants"

... For some, that instruction will seem simple, even obvious. (It will seem especially so to those who read Pollan's lengthy essay on the same topic in the New York Times magazine last year.) But for most people, those seven little words are a declaration of war on the all-American dinner. Goodbye, 12-ounce steak. Instead, how about three ounces of wild-caught salmon served with roasted butternut squash and a heap of sauteed kale? For many, following the rules may not be so simple after all.

Yet in this slim, remarkable volume, Pollan builds a convincing case not only against that steak dinner but against the entire Western diet. Over the last half-century, Pollan argues, real food has started to disappear, replaced by processed foods designed to include nutrients. Those component parts, he says, are understood only by scientists and exploited by food marketers who thrive on introducing new products that hawk fiber, omega-3 fatty acids or whatever else happens to be in vogue.

— From "What's for Dinner?" by Jane Black (Washington Post; January 27, 2008)

Henrietta Lacks
Rachel Carson with Binoculars
at Hawk Mountain (Pennsylvania)

Blazing a TrailMichael Pollan has been compared to marine biologist and conservationist, Rachel Carson, who is credited with launching the enviromental movement with the publication of her 1962 book, Silent Spring. This book, which documented the detrimental effects of pesticides on the environment and challenged the practices of agricultural scientists and the government, motivated a generation to take action. In 2006 it was chosen as one of the "25 Greatest Science Books of All Time" by Discover Magazine, listed 16th among such ground-breaking works as Charles Darwin's The Voyage of the Beagle (1845) and The Origin of Species, and Albert Einstein's Relativity: The Special and General Theory (1916) to name a few.

"[Michael] Pollen's work ... brings similar attention to the environmental and public health risks of industrial agriculture, which relies on the massive use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers to produce only a few staple crops (primarily corn, wheat and soy)." 1

A little more about Rachel Carson:

1 "Michael Pollan Delivers Lecture on How We Eat," Columbia University, accessed June 11, 2012, http://news.columbia.edu/oncampus/1476.

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