Michael Pollan at Stanford

Michael Pollan gave a talk at Stanford a few nights ago, about his new book. Here are my notes:

Nutritionism premises
- the nutrient is what's important
- we need experts to help us understand them
- at any given time, there are good and bad ones (historical: oat bran, betacarotines, omega 3s, etc)
- the point of eating is health

- reducing foods to nutrients hasn't worked very well
- digestive system has as many neurons as the spinal cord
- nutrition science has a *long* way to go
- nutritionism did rise to solve a very real public health problem: western diet-related diseases
- science will eventually figure this out, but eaters don't need to know the science to reduce disease and be healthier
- we've turned diseases like diabetes into a lifestyle (ads for diabetes gear on primetime TV, etc.)

- relying on science hasn't worked thus far, nor should we rely on MP
- prior to science, we had culture to understand these things
- last 1/3 of book explores various cultural rules for eating
- examples: don't eat anything your great grandmother wouldn't recognize as food, or anything with more than 5 ingredients; shop the perimeter of the grocery store; don't eat food that won't ever rot ('cause mold and bacteria aren't even interested); don't shop the super market (go farmers market instead)
- eat until you're full, eat slowly
- "defending food and meals should not need to be done"

- supporting local food isn't just about energy and carbon footprint - it's fresher, tastier, keeps land from being developed, supports local economies
- we have to keep fighting for a transparent food system, and we can't depend on the government to make it happen (sugar/UN/WHO/Dubya example)
- we're not connecting the dots between food problems and health problems
- "1 cheer for meat eating" regarding whether or not to eat animals; in some narrow bioregional and evolutionary contexts, it's ok
- some folks do really well eating lots of meat (like the Masai, but they get lots of exercise), but there are many factors affecting it (how it's raised, cooked, etc); grass-fed beef doesn't compete with humans for nutrients
- eating 20% less meat (per person) saves as much carbon as downgrading from a sedan to a hybrid
- eggs: cage-free is the first priority, pastured is ideal (they eat grass and bugs); ask at farmers market if they cruise on grass or dirt


  1. So is the argument here that following the cultural rules about food will keep us healthier than following "the science?" My great grandparents ate mostly roasted or fried meat and potatoes and avoided "rabbit food." I don't know if that cultural rule is necessarily one to follow. :-)

    Sounds like it's probably a great book, though (especially coming from Michael Pollan and all). I look forward to reading it. Thanks for the notes!

  2. No, I think he's just saying that culture and evolutionary iteration has done pretty well at keeping our species going for umpteen bazillion years, so we shouldn't toss it out the window and rely entirely on science, which (sadly) seems to be the West's trajectory.

    I'm holding out for the audiobook on Audible. The unabridged CD is available on Amazon (from the same narrator as Botany of Desire and Omnivore's Dilemma), so I'm assuming it's a matter of time 'til it's on audible.com

    Miss ya Graham :)

  3. My Grandparents ate meat, bacon, eggs, homemade bread, veggies and fruit, whole milk (fresh from the cow.) Everything was home grown and baked or cooked at home. NO PRESERVATIVES!!!

    They both lived to be 99 & 98 years old.

  4. Thanks for the summary. I am drawn to the notion of eating items with fewer, fresher ingredients (ie homemade food) and do . . . I love science and combined with intuition makes for a rich life. I think the cultural comment can be likened to intiuition if you are not aware of your ancestors eating habits, or do not neccessarily agree with your immediate ancestors eating habits. . . intuiting that people not only survived, but lived healthy ACTIVE lives eating simple, not over-processed, over-marketed (for profit) foods. Food also can not be simplified down to science because it is so satisfying and sexy too.

  5. Thanks for this - i'm checking out that book now . . .
    This is all a part of why i love my CSA!

  6. thanks for the validation that i like it... i wish more people would read and heed michael pollan.