Saturday, November 07, 2009

In Defense of Me

Note: This reflection refers to Michael Pollan's book, "In Defense of Food," his lecture at UW-Madison as part of a campus wide program to called "Go Big Read."

I have to admit that I was a little afraid of reading Michael Pollan's book. First of all, I hate reading about food, because it makes me hungry or ill, depending on what state my stomach is in. As a college student, it makes me guilty, because I allow Rheta's to choose what is in my food, providing me only with an ingredient list and calorie count, as opposed to any kind of real notion as to where the food comes from. This is not different from the way I ate at home: I blindly ate what my mom made me because she was a doctor and she knew what was best for me. And apart from this whole inner food battle I've been fighting, I'm also cautious of journalists who marshal facts to say what they need them to say, and apply their own analysis that could be considerably unsound. Needless to say, I was feeling a little defensive about reading In Defense of Food.

I continued to be defensive; I read the book (grudgingly) because I got the book for free—how cool is that?—and because I wanted to have knowledge about the book before the lecture. In spite of the multiple grains of salt that I took while reading the book, I actually found myself enjoying the book and more or less agreeing with Pollan's ideas in his lecture. It startled me that the government could respond to lobbying from companies and fundamentally change the way our food is labeled and thus consumed. It alarmed me that the 100 calorie packs that I thought were a godsend, probably prompted me to eat more instead of less.

During the lecture, I found myself warming up to Pollan's way of addressing the matter. Bill Cronon was right; Michael Pollan was actually funny. I'm not sure what I was expecting; I'm actually really bad at foreseeing what long-coming events are like. I picture them in a different room, with different-looking people, and not in terms of ideas and reality.

Some moments were funny: Michael Pollan addressed the bitter irony of how low-fat food made America fat. Some moments were bursting with relativity: haven't we all scape-goated one food and eaten too much of everything else? Some moments were tender: Pollan felt the need to address our hearts, not just our bodies and our mouths, when he said that we should keep food in the community.

I liked that he spoke to us as Wisconsinites, and not as people of the world or of a broad American background. People surrounded me, filling half the Kohl Center. Maybe it's just me, but watching lectures, and seeing other people watch lectures touches my heart. I feel that for the moment that we are together watching someone else speak, we are one and united. I know that everyone in the room was engaged by what he had to say, and in this way, we all agreed.

As to the choice of book, I feel that this book was chosen because of the universality of the topic. Food is important to everyone; not only the young, not only the old, not just people with certain political affiliations, people who are Chinese, people of any religion and any class. Pollan's feelings about how food should be eaten dictate common sense reasoning about foods, nothing more or nothing less, mixed in with some commentary. In that way, I feel that it's a good idea to follow his food advice. However, whether or not you agree with Pollan's ideals, it is much more difficult to implement such a change, without taking careful steps. This is no reason to stop trying.

Me? Maybe I need to take more personal responsibility for my food intake: I am choosing to make a greater effort toward making my own food, and knowing where the food I eat comes from. This might be a little bit because I'm running out of money in my food account. But it is important to note that I am not making this change because of Michael Pollan, but because I feel I need to make it. (I'm pretty sure dorm food gives you acne and makes you eat more.) Nevertheless, Michael Pollan may have offended me into actually doing something about these worries.