of books by Michaeal Pollan

MICHAEL POLLAN is a journalist and writer specializing on environmental issues. He is a former editor of Harper's Magazine and contributing editor to the New York Times Magazine. Pollan has the position of Knight Professor of Journalism at the School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley. For the past twenty years, Michael Pollan has been writing books and articles about the places where the human and natural worlds intersect: food, agriculture, gardens, drugs, and architecture. His website is www.michaelpollan.com.

The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World
by Michael Pollan
Random House 2001

The Botany of Desire is a four part essay on the evolutionary interaction between mankind and plants. The idea Pollan develops is that one species is making 'use' of another one. Mostly, man has learned to subjugate plants and animals (and microbes - think antibiotics, biowarfare) to his advantage. Now, some animals and plants are domesticated, while others are not. Pollan takes up the idea that domesticated plants can be seen as using man for their own purpose - survival and propagation - the endless game of evolution. The gedanken experiment is quite interesting and useful, for it unmasks anthropocentric thinking of our view of the world. The idea of plants 'using' humans to further their own survival implies some intent, which in turn implies conscious decision making on their part. If Pollan would discuss dogs, the idea could be fathomable, but plants? Nevertheless, the heuristic value of ideas is marvelously demonstrated, and the narrative genius of Pollan makes the reading more than worthwhile.

December 28, 2002 /  © 2002, 2008 Lukas K. Buehler

In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto
by Michael Pollan
Penguin Press, 2008

In defense of food is an analysis and rejection of nutritionism. Nutritionism refers to the emphasis of select nutrients found in foods at the exclusion of all other known or unknown nutrients in the same foods. Nutritionism, according to Pollan, has made it possible to claim that nutrients confer what we see as the healthy or unhealthy quality (sic) of foods (good fats, bad fats, good carbs, bad carbs, empty calories, antioxidants etc.), which is to say that processed foods can be elevated in status to natural foods simply because they contain certain desired nutrients.

So what is food? Food does not require a health claim. Food takes more than a few minutes to prepare. Food can can be eaten raw. Food does not need enhancement by specific nutrients. Food is grown on natural soil. Food is fed on green grass not grains. Food does not trick our senses.

January 14 2008 /  © 2008 Lukas K. Buehler

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