Just published an article in the NYT about the need to label genetically modified food, and why this is a moment of truth for the food movement. Ask me about that, or food politics in general, or my work or you name it.

Comments: 647 • Responses: 57  • Date: 

jdorf98 karma

What do you think is causing the increase in gluten intolerance? (Or is it just a fad in the US - perpetuated by the big retailers and food companies?)

MichaelPollan117 karma

There does seem to be a real increase in both gluten intolerance and celiac disease, for as yet unexplained reasons. I looked at this for my new book, and found several interesting theories: our gut microbiota has been damaged by our diet, and this may disorder the immune system, so that it attacks the wrong proteins (such as gluten). We're also exposed to a lot more gluten--it's in tons of processed foods. Also, we bake bread differently-- fast-rising instead of sourdough fermentations, which seems to break down the peptides that lead to reaction. Some people with intolerances can tolerate slow-fermented breads. And lastly, we've been breeding wheat to have more and more gluten. And lastly lastly, the power of suggestion-- gluten intolerance is "catching" thanks to the power of suggestion.

MichaelPollan69 karma

Many of you are asking for reading suggestions. All my articles are available for free downloading at michaelpollan.com. Hit the articles button and then search: animals, GM, food rules, fat, sugar, whatever.

MichaelPollan56 karma

Here's a link to the piece I wrote on GM labeling and the food movement: nyti.ms/T5jQsz

hframz54 karma

In the food movement, people of color are too often "on the table" rather than "at the table." Furthermore, when gentrification, legacies of racism, and sustainable food are unfortunately intertwined, what's the next steps the food movement must take--the biggest opportunities--to leverage food as a tool to dismantle racism?

MichaelPollan53 karma

Agreed, that the food movement has been vulnerable to charges of elitism. However, activists seems highly sensitive to this charge and are working hard to democratize the benefits of good food-- see what's happening in urban agriculture, farmer's market vouchers for SNAP recipients, etc. But this is the frontier now, no question.

hframz11 karma

lol. re-reading my question, I realize I phrased it too broadly. I'm very aware of urban agriculture and farmer's market SNAP/WIC acceptance programs. I realize this isn't your forte, but I'm wondering about your positionality as a white male who's kind of one of the faces of the food movement with a huge following of concerned white people--what's your role in this discourse? Because dismantling racism goes way beyond accepting food stamps at the farmers market.

MichaelPollan51 karma

"Dismantling racism" is a big ask of the food, or any other movement. But it is on the agenda for many people in the movement. As you probably are aware, the problems of diabetes and obesity are worse in the African-American community than in the country as a whole. The reasons are complex, but it comes down to the fact that the food system we have is designed in such a way to make the healthiest calories in the market the most expensive, and the least healthy calories the cheapest. This is partly a function of government subsidies. Access is another issue that people are working hard to address.

MichaelPollan42 karma

It's time for me to sign off. Thanks for the many superb and provocative questions-- this was quite a mental workout. I hope you'll continue to track the issue-- prop 37 but also all the other issues related to food. I hope you'll follow me on Twitter (michaelpollan) or Facebook, or on my website (Michaelpollan.com) where each day I post a couple of interesting links on food issues. Cheers, Michael Pollan

thyramisu39 karma

Hello Mr. Pollan, I am a student and reporter for my campus newspaper and I am writing an article about proposition 37. I have a few questions:

If we’ve been eating genetically modified food for 18 years, why are we finally trying to label GM’s now?

Why are we, as a nation, dependent on Big Food? If the labeling of GMs pass, will this stir a war on the food industry?

Why is it important to know if our food is genetically modified?

More than 40 nations have GM labeling, but the U.S. does not – why haven’t the U.S. began labeling GMs earlier? Do you think there’s fear of a strike from the food chain?

MichaelPollan69 karma

I'll answer one of those--the other answers are in the article. Monsanto and its allies have kept us from labeling GM food, something that 80-90% of the population has consistently said it wants. Democracy is finally breaking out around this issue in California. But if it succeeds here, it will probably become the national normal, which is why prop 37 matters to everyone. It's important to know how our food is made so we can vote, with our purchases, for the kind of food we want to eat. Simple as that.

MichaelPollan57 karma

We've been trying to label GMO foods since we began eating them 18 years ago, but the industry has fought it at every stage-- FDA, Congress, White House, state legislators. This is the rare opportunity, here in California, for the public to finally get heard on the issue.

BakerofHumanPies35 karma

Hi Michael, thanks for doing this AMA! I'm a longtime fan of your writing and no nonsense take on food.

What, in your opinion, is the single worst food trend, or foodstuff, on American menus?

MichaelPollan58 karma

The trend of mashing up junk foods seems pretty bad: Tostidos and Taco Bell, that sort of thing.

pamplemouse29 karma

You've written eloquently about all the bad things that come from eating/raising meat. You had a essay contest to defend eating meat, but the finalist was lame. Why do you still eat meat?

MichaelPollan70 karma

I still eat meat --though not much of it-- because I like it and I believe there are ways to raise it that is good for the land, the farm, our health and the welfare of the animals. See my chapter in Omnivore's Dilemma, "An Animal's Place" for the complete argument.

Librarian_28 karma

I constantly tell friends that when they shop for groceries, they're voting for food policy with what they buy. What would be your suggestion to raise awareness about the revolving door between USDA/FDA policymakers and BigAg? What would be your suggestion to eliminate this blatant conflict of interest?

MichaelPollan45 karma

The revolving door is a big problem. I talk in my NYT pieces about the lawyer who cowrote the rules on GMOs for the FDA-- he was a Monsanto lawyer before, and became a Monsanto exec afterward, and he's now in charge of Food Safety at FDA. These are the folks supposedly looking out for us.

Grytpype-Thynne27 karma

You were always my favorite Python.

MichaelPollan26 karma


eskaigee25 karma

In your recent article that appeared in The New York Times Magazine's Food and Drink issue, you discuss the American public's growing awareness of and interest in agricultural reform. While the food movement currently exists on the fringe of our industrial food system, you seem hopeful that the "soft politics" that comprises a lot of the food movement may finally engage with the "hard politics" of Washington - potentially spurred by California's upcoming vote on whether or not to label foods containing GMOs.

With the control that agribusiness has in the food system and the vast number of cheap inputs, subsidies, and externalities that our current food system relies on in order to guarantee low prices to which consumers have become accustomed, I sometimes question whether it will ever be possible to make changes that get to the root of our food problems rather than just provide short term fixes or "band-aids". Do you truly believe that large scale, significant reform to our current food system will be possible even if soft politics finally is able to influence hard politics? Additionally, given the corporatization of the current food system and its view of food as a commodity rather than a public good, how can politicians put in place policies that won't be balked at by those in favor of capitalism and a market-based system?

Thank you for doing this AMA - I read "The Omnivore's Dilemma" right when it was published and it completely changed the way I think about food.

MichaelPollan25 karma

Thanks for the thoughtful post. I am hopeful about the prospects of reform, but also realize it is not going to be fast or easy. It took a generation to make progress on cigarettes in this country, and a century to launch a powerful environmental movement. But I'm optimistic, and the great think about the food issue is that we can do things NOW before the politicians get the message: we can eat with our forks, build an alternative food economy, and demonstrate to farmers and political leaders what we want and what's possible.

noparty23 karma

Should meat producers be required to list the feed, hormones, and antibiotics used in the raising of their animals? Should consumers be given access to witness living conditions of animals? How much transparency is enough transparency? Also, who would win in a fight between you and Jonathan Safran Foer? ;)

MichaelPollan38 karma

I look forward to a day when there will be a second bar code on all food products that, when scanned, brings up pictures and complete info on the way the food was produced-- images of the farm, diet of the animals, pharmaceuticals administered, slaughter date, etc etc. We can do this now technologically-- what we need are consumers pushing for this info, which would clean up animal agriculture in a flash.

DeepThrust21 karma

I've always felt that hunting and fishing--including preserving wild lands and waters--is left out of the whole "Eat good food, not too much, mostly plants" movement. Wild game and fish are certainly among the most healthy foods out there and like gardening, hunting/fishing brings one closer to his food than anything else. Have you ever considered hunting your own food?

MichaelPollan38 karma

I couldn't agree more-- read about my hunting adventure in The Omnivore's Dilemma. I believe that the most sustainable, healthiest, and most morally defensible meat comes from animals that you hunt.

MarkBrigham11 karma

I totally agree. However, I see another side to hunting & fishing that is a tragedy of modern society. That is: the multi-thousand dollar gun collection; the perceived need for a big SUV or truck to facilitate they hunter's lifestyle; the need to drive long distances from cities and suburbia to one's hunting grounds; buying a chunk of hunting land; the goretex hunting clothes; the fishing boat; etc. Though not everyone falls into these trappings, they definitely are a big part of the hunting & fishing scene today. We're not frontiersman & farmers anymore.

Me: a very occasional fisherman.

MichaelPollan18 karma

Agree: hunting and fishing are not necessary done sustainably, but the potential is there.

Salacious-18 karma

The US currently uses the "Generally recognized as safe" standard. Should that change, and if so, how?

MichaelPollan26 karma

I don't think we have proven yet that GM foods deserve to be considered GRAS (Generally recognized as safe) or "Substantially equivalent"-- these are assertions, not scientific facts. In the case of BT crops --plants engineered to exude pesticides-- there is a new protein being expressed in that plant. The FDA didn't even both deciding whether it was safe because the protein is a pesticide, not a food-- and therefore kicked the can to the EPA.

kjhvm23 karma

This statement that Michael Pollan made about substantial equivalence is incorrect. They are not assumed or merely asserted to be equivalent - they are determined to be equivalent for aspects of nutrition and composition only through testing them and comparing to the same varieties of crops without the added transgene. For more information, see this article by Dr. Anastasia Bodnar: http://www.biofortified.org/2010/10/substantial-equivalence/ There are also a lot of peer-reviewed studies that show that Bt proteins are safe for humans to eat - they are highly specific for the kinds of insects that they target. Here is a general list of studies related to the safety of genetically engineered crops, http://www.biofortified.org/genera/studies-for-genera/ Unfortunately, it is not very convenient yet as it is just a list of citations. However, we have just begun a huge project to organize and catalog them so that everyone, especially journalists, can easy learn more about what is contained in the scientific literature.

MichaelPollan29 karma

The record shows that the FDA's determination of substantial equivalence was over the objection of several of its scientists and based on a narrow interpretation-- that in terms of nutrients, this food was little different, which no one disputes. Bt was judged safe as compared to other pesticides-- and it is, which is why organic farmers use it-- but the FDA has no jurisdiction over pesticides so did not rule on the question, according to my interviews with FDA officials in 1998.

JonHotchkiss16 karma

Michael -- Can you articulate what the differences are between regular sugar and high fructose corn syrup? And, why we think that High Fructose corn syrup is worse for us?

MichaelPollan70 karma

As far as we know HFCS and sugar are functionally the same-- my objection to HFCS is not that it is more toxic than sugar, but that it is more ubiquitous, and subsidized by our government. Also it's worth avoiding because if you avoid it, you are automatically avoiding processed foods. What home cook ever uses HFCS?!?!?

sandman73015 karma

Dear Michael Pollan,

I am currently a Freshman at Columbia University and for my University Writing course, we need to write a conversation essay surrounding your article, "An Animal's Place" (an excerpt from The Omnivore's Dilemma). I was wondering if you could respond to a query I had.

I recently read a New York Times article about how McDonald’s is going to far lengths in order to provide its Hindi customers vegetarian options in India. Even though McDonald’s does not sell beef in India, there is still outrage against the chain for its association with killing cows. Brian Reynolds Myers claims in his article, “Hard to Swallow,” that killing animals is wrong in it of itself. He uses examples from Julie Powell’s “Lobster Killer,” your The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and other religious and cultural examples in order to show that the slaughter of animals is immoral. Myers’s motivation in doing so is that he sees killing animals for food as morally wrong. I plan on using a conversation between your article, “An Animal’s Place” (an excerpt from The Omnivore’s Dilemma), Myer’s article, and myself in order to try and explain why McDonald’s has been forced to make these changes in its Indian restaurants and what the implications of this are. This controversy will help us understand the implications of a large number of people believing that eating animals is immoral and shows that it is plausible to be a vegetarian.

It also helps us understand what you mean when you quote a 19th-century political philosopher, “If all the world were Jewish, there would be no pigs at all” (61). This implies that if a large enough percentage of the population did not eat certain types of foods, they would disappear. Myers disagrees with this notion when he states, “I can’t help thinking, though, that with hamburgers and milk shakes conquering deeply rooted diets from Mexico to Micronesia, America’s eating habits may well be the most stable in the world” (3). The implications of Myers’s statement are that food culture spreads throughout the world. Contrary to this, the backlash against McDonald’s restaurants in India shows a country that is not ready to put hamburgers on their dinner plates. This leads me to the question, what does it take to change someone’s diet?



TL;DR: I heard about McDonald's in India needing to take measures to please their vegetarian customers there and still numerous people are outraged at them for selling beef elsewhere. What are your thoughts on this issue? Especially, what does it take to change peoples diets?

MichaelPollan31 karma

Good to know what the BR in BR Myers stands for. At some level, this question of morality is deeply personal and cultural-- you can't argue someone out of a moral conviction. You can tell stories, and the stories I tell, as you know, are about "good farms" where animals gets to live in a way that allows them to express their creaturely character, suffer one bad day, and contribute to an ecosystem that is sustainable and based on the sun rather than fossil fuel energy. My argument is from ecology not moral philosophy-- these are difficult questions, and I applaud you for trying to come to your own understanding. Most people don't even deal with the question-- which is one reason I have ultimate respect for vegetarians and vegans: they are thinking through their food choice. We all need to do that!

Ashleyrah14 karma

I work for a company that is part of the industrial food complex, making various fertilizers and crop protection products. After reading your books I have a bit of cognitive dissonance – on one hand I feel that I agree with most of your assertions, but on the other I know the company I work for is well-meaning and our products help real farmers maximize their profits. I am in IT so I don’t deal with any real business decisions and my views won’t change anything at the company. It feels weird to leave my job at an industrial food company and go pick up a delivery of local pastured chicken. Any advice?

MichaelPollan26 karma

Before you quit your job, think about driving change from within. What about more sustainable crop protection products? Organic farmers need those too.

kjhvm14 karma

Hi Michael, I am Karl Haro von Mogel, from Biofortified.org, and I have a couple questions for you about genetically engineered crops. You have written about them for a while, it seems mostly in the 1990s. In 2004 you said that GMOs would be gone in ten years - that we won't even be talking about it. (http://michaelpollan.com/profiles/the-cheapest-calories-make-you-the-fattest-a-food-chain-journalist-looks-for-stories-in-our-meals/), and that was eight years ago. We're still talking about it, and there is a lot more going on than just Bt and roundup-ready crops. With only two years left on this statement, you again announced during your recent visit to Australia that the GM Debate will be dead within the decade. (http://thefoodsage.com.au/2012/07/11/pollan-gm-debate-will-be-dead-within-the-decade/) You said almost the same exact thing: "In ten years we won’t be talking about it [GM]. It hasn’t been that successful."

If you look at the number of crops and traits coming out, now internationally as well as here in the U.S., and the new companies developing traits along with developing countries making their own home-grown versions, how can you maintain this belief? When can we see you put the time into researching where the technology is going (and not just what Monsanto is doing) that this topic demands? I would really like to hear your in-depth thoughts on this topic but I can't shake the feeling that you aren't reading deeply about it.

My second question is, if you have the time to respond, when I had dinner with you in 2010 at Chez Panisse, you said that you believed that public opinion on genetically engineered crops will change when there are more consumer-oriented traits, like nutritionally enhanced crops. (http://www.biofortified.org/2010/01/talked-with-pollan-not-too-much-mostly-about-plants/) Is that still your opinion?

MichaelPollan23 karma

Hello Karl: My predictions probably need to be updated, but I hold to my position that the industry has not lived up to its promise. After 18 years, it's still mainly about BT and Round-Up Ready, two traits I was told by Monsanto scientists were baby steps on the way to really useful products. The industry's vulnerability flows directly from this failure to introduce crops people see a value in eating. Labeling is terrifying because when consumers can make the choice, they see no reason to choose GM when it offers them nothing but a potential risk. And now these mainstay crops are losing their effectiveness, as Round Up resistance spreads in weeds and insects develop resistance to BT. The industry' answer? Crops resistant to much more toxic herbicides-- Dicamba, and 2-4,D. It's the same old pesticide treadmill, I'm afraid-- and not the "new agricultural paradigm" we were promised. Where's the beef?

rebeccawynne13 karma

Do you expect that the labeling of GMOs will impact the use of that rather meaningless "natural" label on packaged goods?

MichaelPollan30 karma

In California, if prop 37 passes, the abuse of the word natural should stop, because if a product has GMOs in it, you can no longer use the word.

annyc13 karma

Are you currently working on any new books? If so can you tell us what you are researching right now?

MichaelPollan41 karma

Just finished a new booked called "COOKED: A Natural History of Transformation." I look at cooking, baking, fermenting, and grilling as technologies for transforming nature that have in turn transformed us, at the level of the species, community, family, and individual. I apprenticed myself to masters of fire, water, baking, and microbial transformation, and learned how to do these things I'd never done before. It was a blast.

jdorf12 karma

Have you asked either of the Obama's about getting rid of Michael Taylor at the FDA?

MichaelPollan19 karma

I don't get to ask the Obama's anything, I'm afraid.

natanben12 karma


MichaelPollan30 karma

Interesting, but harder to do than it might seem, since modern meat is a world away from paleo meat-- which was raised in factory farms, fed grain, and given pharmeceuticals. But the emphasis on reducing refined carbs is a positive. Still, it's a diet, and I don't think diets do much.

raindog11 karma

Big, big fan, Mr. Pollan. Though less big these days thanks to good nutrition advice, gleaned largely through your books.

What do you think about the current state of teaching nutrition in our schools? What more can be done to set a solid foundation in youngsters, from all demographics, for eating healthier throughout life?

MichaelPollan36 karma

We need to make lunch part of the school curriculum-- growing it, cooking it, learning about what food does to our bodies. It's as important as any other subject.

jeffkolez11 karma

I've read the Omnivore's Dilemma and loved it. What do you think of new evidence that low fat diets can be unhealthy and that fat is actually good for us? I'm thinking of Gary Taubes' work especially..

MichaelPollan35 karma

We've been obsessing about dietary fat since the 1970s but guess what? There is very little evidence --two studies out of hundreds-- that found any link between saturated fat and heart disease. It appears that refined carbs are a much more serious problem, linked to all the chronic diseases. Fat is fat-- it is high in calories-- but it is also essential to health and has gotten a bad rap.

schermo9 karma

OK but there is a big potential conflict lurking here. If it turns out that a diet based almost entirely on animal fat and protein is best for us and at the same time that such a diet is the worst for the planet, what should we do?

MichaelPollan27 karma

We can't be eating more meat-- the planet can't take it. Plant-based diets are the key, meat should be treated more as a flavor principle --as it is in traditional Asian diets-- and not the center of the plate. To exonerate saturated fat is not to say we should all eat 16 ounce steaks! plants are still better for you, and lots of red meat is correlated with higher rates of cancer.

Frajer11 karma

Hi Michael, I feel like more people are into farm to table and farmer's markets etc. recently? Do you think it's just because it's trendy? Does it matter?

MichaelPollan27 karma

It is trendy, but I think it's a trend that's going to last, because it solves so many problems and gives so many satisfactions-- better quality food, a chance to meet your farmer, a gathering place for the community, and on and on. Farmer's markets are the new public square in America.

bellyer9 karma

Sorry for the lengthy question. I am a true believer in the need to reform America's food industry. My wife and I are mostly vegetarian and only buy local and organic products. My parents are of the baby boomer generation and do not understand my wife's and my passion for helping to reform food culture in the U.S. and do everything they can to dispute any reasons we give them for trying to avoid chemicals and hormones in our foods. They believe that, if the government allows all of these additives in our food, that there must be a good reason for it. Do you find that the mindset of the Baby Boomer generation seems to be the hardest mindset to change with respect to the need to reform our food system? My feeling is that it is and it is due to the fact that the industrialization of the food system essentially grew up with them.

MichaelPollan25 karma

Baby boomers have also done a lot to fuel this movement, so I'm not sure I agree with your premise. But without a doubt that most passion being brought to these questions are from people now in their 20s, for whom food and farming are defining generational issues. This is what gives me hope.

[deleted]8 karma

Hi I’m currently a freshmen at college in Portland and I’m really impressed with the work you’ve done. I’ve read you book In Defense of Food and it really changed how I see food and has motivated me to try and do more about it. I was hoping you could help me figure out how.

As a college what can we do to help promote eating real food and following many of the suggestions you line out?

What organizations could clubs interested in Food Justice become involved with to have a greater impact on the world and Food Justice?

How can an individual get involved to help the Food Justice cause?

MichaelPollan21 karma

Students have a big role to play in reforming school food. Sart by organizing, then seeking meetings with the food service director to tell him/her your concerns and wishes. Then start exerting pressure. Consider planting a garden and providing produce to the food service. Check out the Realfood campaign for others doing this work on campuses across the country.

ottawacat8 karma

As a parent, I've observed that, in place of spanking, food bribery is the most common tool used to "keep kids in line". Kid cries in the grocery store - give him candy to be quiet. Won't eat all his vegetables? Promise him dessert after dinner. Plays soccer for 30 minutes? gets 18oz of Gatorade to "recover". As a society we've seemed to demonize treats, at the same time using them to control our children.

What impact do you think the psychology around food has contributed to the rise of obesity, rather than the nutritional contents of the food we are now eating?

(please note that I am not recommending a return to spanking)

MichaelPollan11 karma

Huge issue. Parents use sugar as a parenting tool-- I'm guilty of this too, but it leads to trouble, I'm convinced.

swordofkings7 karma

This is the most important question: what's your favorite 'guilty pleasure' food?

MichaelPollan19 karma

I love chocolate and cheese but feel no guilt about them. In moderation!

wellwhaddyaknow6 karma


MichaelPollan16 karma

I was an english major, so obviously had no plan to write about food-- I might have taken biology if I did. But I followed my curiosity, and a passion for gardening --and growing food-- turned into a series of essays on what gardens have to teach us and this eventually brought be around to looking at agriculture. You can predict these things. But English and Anthro is a great prep for just about anything.

wahimom6 karma

My son is in the NYC public school system and is lucky enough to be able to participate in an urban gardening program. There's no question that the kids are more likely to eat the food when they participate in growing it! My question is this: has anyone taken it upon themselves to try to develop a program for rooftop gardening, especially in low income areas? We live in a low income area. You can't get good produce to save your life. And our roofs are covered with directtv dishes and cell towers. How can we get landlords to see the overall benefit to this and start a movement?

MichaelPollan5 karma

This is a great idea!

Rooblies6 karma

What do you think of the increase in occurrence of food allergies (nuts, eggs, gluten, milk, etc)?

MichaelPollan27 karma

Allergies: a mystery why they are so much more common than a few decades ago. Several intriguing theories: hygeine hypothesis (we're not exposed to enough bacteria as kids in our sanitized world); unhealthy guts (the western diet has screwed up the microbiota in our intestines, which regulates our immune response; cell phone. (Just kidding on that one!)

dhgisme5 karma

What incentives, if any, do you see for the open sourcing of GMO research?

MichaelPollan5 karma

Monsanto simply should not be allowed to used its contracts to prevent scientific research. That will be a start. We also need to take a second look at the law around IP for living organisms, which is full of problems-- as the Supreme Court may be recognizing. They just agreed to hear a case challenging Monsanto on seed-saving-- a very interesting development. Stay tuned.

everylastmorsel5 karma

Have you read "The Locavore's Dilemma?" What did you think? Do you have plans to write a formal response?

MichaelPollan13 karma

no plans to reply, but I do answer questions about it. Important to look at the questions in a broad way-- buying local is a complex call, not just about saving energy. It's about saving farmland and farmers, about quality, about a great many other values that this new economy allows us to express with our buying decisions. And then there are the times where NOT buying local is the best choice-- to support sustainable agriculture in others places, such as lentils in Montana (a crop that is allowed big grain farmers to get more sustainable). Don't let anyone simplify this questions for you!

MarkBrigham5 karma

Mr. Pollan: I'm appointing you Czar of the Agriculture Department for three days. You get to do one big policy thing each day--abolish a policy; replace a bad policy with a good one; or gin up a completely new policy. What would you do each of those three days?

MichaelPollan8 karma

Check out the piece I wrote in fall 2008, Farmer in Chief-- lays out a food and farming policy for the US. You can get it on my website, michaelpollan.com

crosbycrosby5 karma

If there was one food rule that you could make every person on the planet follow, what would it be? Why?

MichaelPollan25 karma

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

or to simply further: Eat real food

RebeccaStrait5 karma

I am curious if you think processed foods and GMO's are responsible for the rise in cancer rates in the US

MichaelPollan32 karma

There's no evidence for that.

risefromtheashes5 karma

Hi Michael,

Ecology is framework you use to address food politics, not moral philosophy. How do you keep them separate?

Also, what are your thoughts on food in China? Obviously there have been several issues recently (melamine in candy, GM foods, etc) but not all of the food is problematic. I think those issues are the result of working to meet the need to feed billions of people, and wanting to be able to do so, not necessarily malicious intent.

What are your thoughts on the export of food cultures changing the landscape in other countries? An example is India with the Nestle milk tragedy, where Nestle convinced mothers that using powdered milk was better than breast milk, in a country where access to clean water meant babies died. I think this is an issue where across the globe, companies are selling us what's profitable, not what's healthy. What are your thoughts on resolving that issue?

How do you feel about Mayor Bloomberg's soda ban?

Final question: what are your feelings on the survival of small farms in the US? I am thinking of starting a farm in the next five years.

Thanks for taking the time to do this IAmA - I appreciate it.

MichaelPollan8 karma

too many questions! On Mayor Bloomberg's ban-- it's not on soda, but only big cups. And I think it's an experiment we need to try. The proof is in the pudding. But the soda companies are trying to stop him, as they are trying to stop soda tax proposals nationwide. Can we just give one of these plans a real-world test? Reducing soda consumption will do more for the public health than just about anything else we can do in the food area-- let's test to see if that's true!

soluble4 karma

A lot of lower-income families rely on unrealistically cheap, poor-quality, and often highly-processed foods because that is simply all they can afford. How would you propose to address this? (I've thought of a few ways but I'd like to know your thoughts!)

Thanks for your work, and thanks for the IAMA.

MichaelPollan12 karma

Is junk food really cheaper? not according to several studies. The key is whether people are willing and able to cook. If they are, they can eat healthy even organic food.

[deleted]3 karma

What specific policies do you think need to change, in order to reduce the negative influences of "Big Food" on our food selection and availability?

MichaelPollan2 karma

Let's start by instituting rules on marketing food to children, as we did with cigarettes joe Camel is gone. Now let's do the same for companies selling unhealthy products to our kids.

jdorf3 karma

What percent of "organic" (non-GMO) corn, soy and canola do you really think is non-GMO?

(I read the story of Albert Straus testing certified organic feeds for their cows and finding a large percentage was not. I doubt many companies actually do the tests.)

MichaelPollan3 karma

There is contamination, without a doubt, but under the organic rules there are tolerances that seems fair.

Human_Traffic_Cone3 karma

I'm a huge fan. Botany of Desire is one of my favorite books and has led to me furthering my studies in horticulture. I've always wondered, what led to your later works focusing more on the culture of human food? Would you ever consider returning to the themes of botany that BOD explored?

MichaelPollan3 karma

Yes, I remain interested in plants of all kinds, including drug plants, and hope to expand my range again at some point.

chemchef13 karma

I couldn't agree with you more regarding Prop 37. I am a PhD student in Food Science at UC Davis, and am wondering what you think about all the talk about how much Prop 37 will raise food costs etc. I do believe that it could've been written better, and I am in favor of it for two main reasons: 1. Transparency in labeling. While its not written perfectly (ie. too many strange exemptions, etc), it feels like a "step in the right direction. 2. The companies I choose to support are in favor of it, and the ones I don't (ie. Monsanto) are not. 'Nuff said. Sorry for the long post, and thank you for your time.

MichaelPollan3 karma

The increase in food costs argument strikes me as disinformation-- who paid for that one study? The cost of labeling is miniscule. Companies don't have to reformulate if they don't want to, and the cost of switching to non-GM will be small and temporary as farmer's produce more of the stuff. It just doesn't meet the smell test.

stoppard3 karma

What do you think about alternate day calorie restriction and its perceived health benefits?

MichaelPollan16 karma

I generally don't like diets. More important to gradually change your everyday habits, because diets seldom last.

j0j0ate202 karma

I love your work Michael Pollen! I have read your book Omnivore's Dilemma and have also seen Food, Inc. It is amazing how many people still do not believe or care that what we eat has a huge effect on our bodies and on our health industry. It seems like there is a group of people that DOES care, though. I am part of the generation that grew up with processed foods. It is also interesting to note that the SAD is slowly being adopted by other developed countries in the world.

My question to you is, how do we educate the people that have eaten/drank very highly processed foods their whole life and suffer from anxiety &/or depression, that their psychological problems are probably related to what they eat?

Thanks for your time!

MichaelPollan3 karma

I agree that diet probably plays a much larger role in our mental well-being than we give it credit for, and people suffering from anxiety and depression might find relief in getting off the typical high-refined-carb and fat diet. The best argument is when people try eating real food for a week or two and then see how they feel.

discreet12 karma

Hi Mr. Pollan. I really love your books and philosophy. And I also love Sally Fallon for what she says about natural fats and just generally her approach to food. Do you have any critiques of her philosophy? Where do you think your philosophies overlap and where do they differ?

MichaelPollan6 karma

There's a lot of overlap with Sally Fallon, though I am surely more measured about animal protein and a much bigger fan of plants.

tallgordon2 karma

So often eating right seems either expensive, time consuming, or not widely available. What's one change everyone could make to improve their diet without changing their food budget or driving across town to Whole Foods?

MichaelPollan13 karma

Cook. Nothing will do more to improve your diet, your family life, and your outlook.

Fawkes072 karma

I read Botany of Desire in school a couple years ago and really enjoyed it. I found the section focusing on the apple most interesting. What can I do, as a consumer, to encourage healthy apple growing practices?

MichaelPollan10 karma

Buy obscure apples, not just the big four, and buy organic when you can afford to.

leighonreddit2 karma

What do you think about the new trend of super foods like gogi, macca and cacao powder vs. eating local/what our great grandparents used to eat?

MichaelPollan7 karma

I think superfoods are mostly a marketing hype. All plant foods have important nutrients and various phytochemicals. It isn't clear we have nutritional deficits that require huge dose of any single micronutrients-- some people, maybe. That said, I love blueberries and pomegranates, and the fact that there are superfoods I take as a nice compliment, but they were popular before and will continue to be.

alsamb2 karma

Hi Mr. Pollan. Thanks for doing an AMA. I was wondering if someone is interested in working in the field of sustainable agriculture, what's the best way to go about it? Thanks again.

mpeeters5 karma

WWOOFing as also a great way to get some experience working on organic farms and is easily combined with travel which can be a plus. www.wwoof.org

MichaelPollan2 karma

couldn't agree more.

MichaelPollan4 karma

Start with an internship on a farm-- see what's it's all about at the ground floor, literally. Then see which part of the food chain plays to your strengths.

mikeblack2652 karma

I am a journalist student currently in my sophomore year, what would you suggest to help me secure a place in journalism when I graduate?

I hope this does not get too buried, thanks for doing this AMA!

MichaelPollan4 karma

Internships are the key, I found, to making your way in journalism.