Pollan’s Predecessors

June 10, 2008

After Michael Pollan wrote The Omnivore’s Dilemma a few years ago a lot of people complained that they were left in the lurch. They knew what and how not to eat but they didn’t know what to do about it, or how. One of the major criticisms was that being a locavore (eating within a specific radius from their home–a lifestyle that Pollan seems to advocate) was too elitist: it required too much work, it required too much time, and it required too much money. Where cooking used to be a hobby, Pollan seemed to be transforming eating into a hobby–that only a select few could enjoy.

In response to these challenges and/or because he can’t keep his pen off his notebook, Pollan came out with In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto.

I heard Pollan speak at Butler a few months back where he explained from whence come our bad eating habits (Yeah, I said “whence.”) and how to correct them. I was experimenting taking notes on a handwriting-to-MS Word handheld and–um–let’s just say that I don’t have a lot recorded for the evening. The most important thing I took away was: Stay away from the center of the grocery store–shop along the edges.

Or, more succinctly, “Don’t eat anything your grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.”

VQR brings up In Defense of Food in the context of one of Pollan’s predecessors, Rorty and Norman’s Tomorrow’s Food which has joined the list of books I am now hunting for in used bookstores near you.



  1. I also saw Pollan at Butler and really enjoyed his talk. There are actually quite a few ways to eat only locally in Indianapolis, including farmer markets and services that deliver local food to your door year round. Pollan’s suggestions are not quite as hard as they might seem at first.

    p.s. Nice use of “whence.”

  2. I mention critiques of locavorian elitism here only because it was such a major talking point when the book was first published. I think most of the major criticism has been answered by now. Farmers markets and sustainable living co-ops are both becoming more and more popular. Farm fresh delivery is a new-ish thing that is making strong in roads as well. The only problem left is the price point. Healthy food is still, by and large, way more expensive than its processed cousins. In that regard, the elitism charge is still relevant, but since Pollan didn’t cause that problem I don’t think it stands as a critique of his work or his recommendations. Obviously he can only suggest that those who can, should. The rest just have wait until the dietary sea change increases demand high enough that prices start dropping or the government recognizes processed food as a major social ill that they can address through legislation.

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