Michael Pollan’s Big Idea

Sometimes it’s hard to listen to important ideas. This is partly because of the difficult work involved in even conceiving something truly challenging & new, and partly because important ideas raise an anxious ruckus. Responding to the “In Defense of Farmers” group in a panel discussion on the UW-Madison campus, Pollan said,

I honestly don’t know who is attacking farmers. Criticism may often feel like an attack, but it is not. Criticism is questioning that spurs us to think about what we are doing; it motivates people like John Vrieze here to innovate for the better. My criticism is aimed not so much at farmers – who are ingenious innovators and problem-solvers, but at the food system — at the rules of the game in which we all have to play.

So what critical question has Pollan asked to cause such an uproar? I think it’s simply this:

What would happen if we were to start thinking about food as less of a thing and more of a relationship?
~In Defense of Food, page 102

Once we start thinking about relationships, a whole new set of questions opens up. What, first of all, are the relationships involved in food? Are they just, prudent, compassionate, sustainable? Where does our food come from, anyway? And why is it we don’t already know? If we don’t like the answers we find, can we do better?

With The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food, Pollan leads us on a quest to find out. We’ll start next time with the most fundamental food relationship of all: the carbon cycle.

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