Michael Pollan visited Stanford today and Andres and I went to hear him speak. He was scheduled to begin at 7:30pm, and since the event was free and open to the public we showed up almost an hour and a half early (ironically, or perhaps appropriately, with "to go" burritos in tow).
By 7pm all the seats were gone and people were starting to fill the aisles. Michael's host, Christopher Gardner, a professor of nutrition science at Stanford, informed us that it was "not illegal" to have people in the aisles, provided no one brought any additional seating into the hall, but urged everyone to be mindful of the obvious fire hazard. I heard a few folks behind me grumbling about the reality behind this statement, but I'm guessing that in the end they would have felt it was worth the risk.
Michael gave a great talk. What a pleasure for me to discover that not only do his ideas about food and the politics that surround it resonate with me in a deep way, but he seems like a cool guy as well (check out his sneakers in the photo!) He's smart, articulate, funny, and has a compelling, though not at all strident, humanist message that comes out through his lucid and fresh prose.
He explained that the motivation for his most recent book, In Defense of Food, was that after writing the Omnivore's Dilemma (an exploration of where food comes from in America, and what it implies about our society) he kept having readers come up to him and complain that they weren't able to finish the book out of fear that once they did, there would no longer be any food that they could eat in good conscience. So he set out to deliver some broad principles for eating. He also examines (and criticizes) "nutrientism", what he sees as a western reductionist approach to eating, and offers instead a handful of heuristics to help guide our food choices.
All of the rules he offered, e.g. this post's title and, "Don't eat anything your great grandmother wouldn't recognize as food", have the result of emphasizing tried and true "whole" foods, such as fruits and vegetables, and of urging us to trust in our tastebuds. I have some more thoughts about how many of his complaints about nutrition science apply more widely to the medical sciences, but will have to save them for another day. All in all it was so exciting to see that a someone could (over)fill such a large auditorium with a book expounding the virtues of produce. Hooray for the yam!