Letter: In Praise of Michael Pollan
To the Editor:
Nicola Smith’s review of Michael Pollan’s most recent book (“Let Them Eat Whole Foods,” May 22), Cooked, seems more an opportunity for her to vent her ire at Alice Waters of Chez Panisse fame than an honest book review. She seems to accuse anyone, like me, who was immediately drawn to the book because Pollan wrote it, of being guilty, along with Pollan, of Alice Waters syndrome. Well, I have never eaten at either of Waters’ restaurants and am content with eating Upper Valley greens. I even chop my own onions. But I admire Waters, particularly for what Smith disparages — her work with Berkeley and Oakland schools, which has inspired other such programs.
My own commitment to becoming a “localvore” was fostered by my upbringing in a mid-sized city close to a rural area where my Italian immigrant grandparents had a farm. I suppose Smith would consider us to have been poor; the food we ate was mostly grown or raised at home. I collected eggs and canned tomatoes with my “Nonna.” Now, I have a garden of my own, support two farms and eat locally whenever possible. Nothing to do with Alice Waters.
However, no one can be committed to every cause. People I know who are passionate about women’s issues or immigration or education reform may be content to eat well by buying boxed greens at the Co-op or Whole Foods. That’s OK. Yet, several friends told me that Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma changed the way they looked at food production. They didn’t become hunter-gatherers or quit their jobs to work on an organic farm; they did make changes in the choices they made in the supermarket.
Good writers, like Pollan, write to explore the answer to some big questions they have. Pollan’s questions seem to be connected to eating in a healthy, sustainable way. I think Smith has his contribution to expository/persuasive literature dead wrong. It is true that not everyone can access his knowledge, but no writer can hope to do better than to reach some small part of the population with his or her well-researched, thoughtful ideas. Let’s give Pollan credit for trying.