After giving speeches and meeting with students at both Washington State and Western Washington Universities, Michael Pollan arrived at Bainbridge Island High School, likely a bit road weary. However, the three classes filled with students of Mr. Hoffman’s World Civilization class never would have known. Perhaps it was because the students had actually read Pollan’s award-winning The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and had great questions that seemed to energize him.
Asked by one student, “what can young people do to change the food system,” Pollan responded, “I think what gets young people in trouble is they can not connect the dots between what they put in their mouths today impacts their health when they are older.” In order to create a more sustainable food future, Pollan urged the students to ” vote with their fork” – that “eating food is a political act.”
Pollan also spoke about his new book, Food Rules. His leading rule seems to be “Eat food, mostly plants, and not too much.” Other rules – “Don’t eat food with an expiration date.”
Pollan’s schedule was tight for the rest of the day. Despite a power outage that nearly cancelled lunch at a local Bistro, Café Nola, rumor has it that he had a crab-melt sandwich with no French fries. Afterward, he shopped at the local Safeway for junk food that ultimately became props for his evening lecture at Islandwood.
Islandwood, formerly named “The Environmental Learning Center,” had anticipated Pollan’s visit for several months. Over two hundred people listened to Pollan in its “Great Hall” while another hundred of its graduate students watched and listened from its dining room. They all gathered to hear the famous writer of Food Rules, In Defense of food, The Botany of Desire, The Omnivores Dilemma, A Place of my own, and Second Nature.
Ben Klassy the director of Islandwood, first introduced him, thanking Bill and Julie Marler (my parents) for hosting this event. He also thanked the many donors, volunteers, students, and board members for all the support they have given Islandwood over the years. After many claps of excitement he walked out carrying two Safeway bags filled with ” junk food,” such as Cocoa Krispies that is supposedly a current collectors item, My Little Pony fruit snacks, Special K, and a variety of other so-called foods that are primarily made of corn and soy oils.
The point of the food props were to show how far food has become different from foods as simple as an apple. Pollan suggested that most of the processed foods that are found on our store shelves spend about 10 units of fossil fuel energy to every one calorie of energy. He argued that before the use of what was then cheap fossil fuel, farmers were able to produce many times more calories of energy for every unit of fossil fuel used. However, since WWII the use of fossil fuels have led to farm policies that encourage “mono-cultures”–farming on just one product like corn, that demands high use fertilizers and pesticides.
Pollan asserted that the use of corn and soy as the basis for many of the foods we eat have increased the amount of calories we consume leading to an increase in obesity and related health problems like diabetes, cancer and heart disease. He also warned of the damage that the use of fossil fuels in our food production is doing to the planet through global warming.
However, he left the audience with hope. He was hopeful that young people were changing the way they eat – eating more organically and locally – and that this could change the way companies produce food. He was also hopeful that the passage of the heath care legislation would encourage insurance companies to care about the long-term health of people.
Morgan Marler contributed to the research and writing of this article. Photos by Morgan Marler.