This is part one of my interview with Michael Pollan, author of Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation; Food Rules: An Eater's Manual; The Omnivore's Dilemma; In Defense of Food; Second Nature; The Botany of Desire and A Place of My Own. Part two of Pollan's musings will run tomorrow. Pollan will appear in Sturm Hall at the University of Denver at 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 8, in conjunction with the Tattered Cover. Tickets to his lecture are $35, and while the event is sold out, you can add your name to the wait list by calling 303-871-2291.
In the last decade of penetrating -- and probing -- what he calls the "Western diet," Michael Pollan has delved into everything from modern-day agribusiness and widespread obesity to sharing communal family meals at home and eliminating, once and for all, high-fructose corn syrup from our daily diet. His books, which number seven with last week's release of Cooked, are all New York Times bestsellers, and his doctrines, rules and personal policies have garnered immense public attention, leading to endless watercooler discussions about the pathetic American diet -- and how our country's tainted food landscape has become "needlessly complicated" amid "pseudoscientific food baggage" and the so-called "experts advice telling us how to eat."
See also: - Fuel's Bob Blair on cooking for Michael Pollan - Michael Pollan: The food industry creates patients for the health care industry - Where did Michael Pollan eat post-Denver speech? Fuel Cafe
Just a few years ago, Pollan writes in Food Rules: an Eater's Manual, he was as befuddled as the rest of us, which prodded him to ask a couple of questions: "What should I eat? And "What do we really know about the links between our diet our health?" What he learned was this: "Populations that eat a so-called Western diet - generally defined as a diet consisting of lots of processed foods and meats, lots of added fat and sugar, lots of refined grains, lots of everything except fruits, vegetables and whole grains - invariably suffer from high rates of the so-called Western diseases: obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer."
On the other hand, Pollan continues, "Populations eating a remarkably wide range of traditional diets don't suffer from chronic diseases." While he admits that's there's "no single ideal human diet," he argues that the Western diet has, in essence, developed into one that "reliably makes its people sick."
There is good news, however. According to Pollan, should we eschew the Western diet, especially highly processed foods, improvements to our overall health come relatively quickly. And Pollan's books, which eloquently traverse his own personal path of enlightenment, a journey that wades through feedlots, billions of dollars in food advertising and industrialized farms that freely use pesticides and shrug at the consequences, all echo one solid slice of advice: Dispense with "edible foodlike substances" and instead eat real food, mostly plants. To that end, encourages Pollan, shop at farmers' markets; when you must shop at a mega-market, avoid the middle, which is where the bulk of processed foods litter the shelves; don't eat anything that your grandmother wouldn't recognize as food; stay away from food products that contain more than five ingredients; when you can't pronounce the ingredients on the confusing label, run like hell to the produce department; and only consume foods that will eventually rot.