One Writer’s Trip: From the Garden to the Plate and the Beyond
In this autobiographical talk, Michael Pollan tells the story of the path his thinking and writing have taken since he first planted a vegetable garden under the unfortunate influence of Thoreau and Emerson. Beginning with that horticultural disaster, his work has evolved into an exploration of human engagement with the natural world. But rather than go to “the wild” in search of nature, as Americans typically do, Pollan has focused on nature as we find it closer to home: the garden, the farm, the table, and most recently, the altered states of consciousness that certain plants and fungi allow us to achieve. What does it mean that a mushroom can occasion a mystical experience? What value do such experiences have for the individual, the culture, and the plants and fungi involved? The talk will include brief readings from several of Pollan’s previous books and a work in progress.
Pollan’s books about food, diet, and industrial agriculture — he is perhaps best known for 2006’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals — have made him an influential voice in America’s food fight over obesity, nutrition, and diabetes, and have made him revered by those who believe that something is fundamentally wrong with how we mass produce and prepare our meals.
Pollan’s last book, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, focuses on another aspect of American life we haven’t thought enough about: the kitchen. In his hands, cooking is no longer a workaday chore: it’s alchemy, it’s revolutionary, and it’s what makes us human. Though we’ve tried to shrink kitchen time with microwaves and minute rice, Pollan writes that cooking is “the single most important thing an ordinary person can do to reform the American food system”—and if history is any guide, we’ll soon share his enthusiasm.