Pollan, Michael 1955-
Pollan, Michael 1955-
Born 1955, on Long Island, NY; married Judith Belzer (a painter); children: Isaac. Education: Bennington College, B.A.; attended Mansfield College, Oxford; Columbia University, M.A. Hobbies and other interests: Gardening.
Home—Berkeley, CA. E-mail—[email protected]
Writer, journalist, educator, lecturer, editor, columnist, television producer, and natural historian. University of California Berkeley, Graduate School of Journalism, Knight Professor of Journalism and director of Knight Program in Science and Environmental Journalism, 2003—. Vineland Gazette, reporter, 1973; Straight Talk (a daily public affairs talk show), associate producer, 1981-83; Harper's Magazine, senior editor, 1983-85, executive editor, 1985-94; University of Pittsburgh, visiting writer in nonfiction, 1994; University of Wisconsin, writer-in-residence, 1997. Frequent lecturer on food, agriculture, gardening, and related topics.
New York Institute of the Humanities (fellow), Trust for Public Land (member of Stegner Circle of advisors), PEN American Center, Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture (member of board of advisors).
QPB New Visions Award, Quality Paperback Book Club, 1991, for Second Nature; John Burroughs Prize for Best Natural History Essay, 1997; Golden Trowel Award, Horticultural Society of America, 1999; Reuters-World Conservation Union Global Award for Excellence in Environmental Journalism, 2000, for "Playing God in the Garden"; Borders Original Voices Prices, year's best nonfiction book, 2001, for Botany of Desire; Connecticut Center of the Book Award, 2002, for best nonfiction book of the year; Genesis Award, Humane Society of the United States, 2002, for "Power Steer" and "An Animal's Place"; James Beard Award for Best Magazine Feature Article, 2002, for "Sustaining Vision," Gourmet, September, 2002; Avenali Fellowship, Townsend Center for the Humanities, University of California, Berkeley, 2002-03; Pioneer of Precaution Award, Center for Health, Environment, & Justice, the Environmental Research Foundation, and the Science and Environmental Health Network, 2005; National Humanities Center fellowship, 2006; named among the Best Gardening Books of the Twentieth Century, American Horticultural Society, for Second Nature: A Gardener's Education; finalist, National Book Critics Circle award, 2007, for The Omnivore's Dilemma.
(With Eric Etheridge) The Harper's Index Book, illustrated by Martim Avillez, introduction by Lewis H. Lapham, Holt (New York, NY), 1987.
(With Stephen M. Pollan and Mark Levine) The Field Guide to Home Buying in America: A Home Buyer's Companion from House Hunting to Moving Day, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1988.
Second Nature: A Gardener's Education, Atlantic Monthly Press (New York, NY), 1991.
A Place of My Own: The Education of an Amateur Builder, Random House (New York, NY), 1997.
The Botany of Desire: A Plant's Eye View of the World, Random House (New York, NY), 2001.
The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, Penguin (New York, NY), 2006.
Also series editor of the "Modern Library Gardening" series.
Contributor to periodicals, including Esquire, Conde Nast Traveler, Vogue, New York Times Magazine, Mother Jones, Gourmet, Vogue, Travel & Leisure, House & Garden, Gardens Illustrated, New York Times Book Review, Metropolitan Home, Los Angeles Times Book Review, Smithsonian, and Gardens Illustrated.
Contributor to books, including Fast Forward: the New Technologies and American Society, edited by Les Brown, Andrews & McMeel (Kansas City, KS), 1983; Best American Essays, edited by Justin Kaplan, Ticknor & Fields (Boston, MA), 1990; Keeping Eden: A History of Gardening in America, edited by Walter T. Punch, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1992; Being in the World: An Environmental Reader for Writers, edited by Scott H. Slovic, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1993; My Favorite Plant, edited by Jamaica Kincaid, Farrar, Strauss (New York, NY), 1997; Norton Anthology of Nature Writing, edited by Finch and Elder, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 2001; Best American Essays, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2003; Roses: A Celebration, edited by Wayne Winterrowd, North Point Press (New York, NY), 2003; A Slice of Life: Contemporary Writers on Food, edited by Bonnie Marranca, Overlook (New York, NY), 2003; Best American Science Writing, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2004; Farm Aid: A Song for America, edited by Holly-George Warren, Rodale Press (Emmaus, PA), 2005; The Royal Horticultural Society Treasury of Garden Writing, edited by Charles Elliot, Frances Lincoln (London, England), 2005; and Best Food Writing 2006, edited by Holly Hughes, Avalon Books (New York, NY), 2006.
Village Voice, assistant editor, 1974-76; Politicks & Other Human Interests, assistant editor, 1977-78; Channels Magazine, senior editor, 1981-83; Harper's, senior editor, 1983-85, executive editor, 1985-94, contributing editor, 1995-2003; New York Times Magazine, writer and contributing editor, 1995—.
House and Garden, former contributing editor and columnist.
Author's works have been translated into six foreign languages.
Michael Pollan is a freelance writer and editor who resides in Connecticut with his wife and son. Three of his books—Second Nature: A Gardener's Education, A Place of My Own: The Education of an Amateur Builder, and The Botany of Desire: A Plant's Eye View of the World—are all "set in, and concerned with, the outdoor classroom that is his five wooded acres in northwestern Connecticut," according to William L. Hamilton in the New York Times. Pollan told Hamilton that he "plant[s] certain things because I want to learn certain things," and observed that modern humans have become "divorced from the operations of nature."
Pollan, who has been compared to Henry David Thoreau, is an avid gardener who has a disliking for "conventional, neatly mowed suburban lawns," as noted by Kathleen Courrier in Sierra. Second Nature "is a brilliant analysis of the relationship between garden and nature," according to Jane Barker Wright in Horticulture. Written as Pollan meditated on the garden he was attempting to grow on the land of the Connecticut dairy farm he had purchased, Second Nature "isn't so much a how-to on gardening as a how-to on thinking about gardening," observed a Publishers Weekly critic, who praised Pollan's witty writing, stating it is "never ponderous." Pollan's "observations are so fresh and well argued that the reader feels transformed," observed Wright.
In A Place of My Own, Pollan describes his quest to build a small hut on his Connecticut property in which he could write and which would have electricity but no running water. Along with his description of the process, he describes the insights he gained along the way, and he includes bits of architectural history and theory as well as little-known information about building. In Chicago's Tribune Books, Karen E. Klages commented: "Pollan has created a glorious piece of prose that speaks to everyone of the built environment, how it shapes us and we it." Verlyn Klinkenborg, writing in the New York Times Book Review, remarked that "one of the things that makes Mr. Pollan such an attractive writer is the modest way he presents his discoveries." A Publishers Weekly reviewer called the book "a very special armchair adventure."
The Botany of Desire, which was a New York Times bestseller, presents Pollan's theory that domesticated plants have shaped humans as much as humans have shaped them. He writes: "We automatically think of domestication as something we do to other species. But it makes just as much sense to think of it as something certain plants and animals have done to us." For example, he notes, the potato has reshaped the economies of South America and Europe, and the tulip was the subject of such an intense fad in Holland in the 1630s that some people went mad trying to acquire particular types. The book is divided into four parts, each examining a particular plant cultivated by humans: apples, tulips, potatoes, and marijuana.
In the New York Times Book Review, Burkhard Bilger wrote that the subject of plant domestication in The Botany of Desire is "absorbing," and although at times Pollan's prose is overdone or redundant, in general Pollan "brings a clutch of quirky talents to the task of exploring [his subject] …. His prose both shimmers and snaps, and he has a knack for finding perfect quotes in the oddest places." Todd Seavey commented in Reason that Pollan sometimes "engages a bit too freely in metaphorical talk about plants planning and strategizing and ‘wanting’ their genes spread," even though evolution is not a conscious process, but noted that Pollan "provides more than enough enlightenment to compensate for any minor drawbacks." In School Library Journal, Barbara A. Genco wrote that the book "is a perfect choice for those long winter nights spent longing for spring," while a Publishers Weekly reviewer called the work "erudite, engaging and highly original."
Pollan explores his interest in food at a higher level in The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. In the book, Pollan carefully considers the unique aspects of American preoccupation with food, the prevalence of obesity and diet-related diseases in the United States, and the unhealthful, even dysfunctional, patterns of American eating, dieting, and food obsession. To get at the core of the matter, Pollan looks at the characteristics of four different meals and traces the components of those meals from farm field to serving plate. He analyzes a fast-food meal from McDonald's; an "organic" meal consisting of ingredients bought from high-end retailer Whole Foods; a chicken dinner originating on a self-sustaining farm in Virginia that uses no pesticides on its produce, antibiotics in its livestock, or synthetic fertilizers on its crops; and a Paleolithic-type meal consisting of a wild pig that Pollan hunted and of other ingredients that he gathered for himself. In the course of his investigation, Pollan makes some startling discoveries about American agricultural and industrialized food production. He notes that about one in four products available in the average supermarket contains corn, a cheap, abundant, government-subsidized, easily grown crop that can be used in its various whole or ground states. Corn can also be converted to a multitude of other products, including emulsifiers, thickeners, animal feed, and sweeteners. Pollan lays the blame for the American obesity epidemic on this overuse of corn, particularly the ubiquitous sweetener high-fructose corn syrup. He notes how cattle destined for slaughter are fed corn to make them get fatter much more quickly than they can on grass. However, cattle are not biologically disposed to eat corn, and adding it to their diet inevitably leads to a variety of diseases, which are in turn stemmed by the application of numerous antibiotics. Corn, he finds, is also not the cheap miracle crop that popular perception would have consumers believe. Government subsidies make up the difference between the market price and the true price of growing corn. Further, production of a bushel of corn has hidden costs in expenditure of oil and fossil fuel, ecological damage via fertilizers and pesticides, and economic hardships for farmers. Surprises for consumers lurk elsewhere in his narrative. Those who shop for the label "organic," for example, might not be helping the world as much as they think, and may in fact be doing no more than responding to a carefully crafted marketing message.
Through it all, "Pollan isn't preachy: he's too thoughtful a writer, and too dogged a researcher, to let ideology take over," noted a Publishers Weekly reviewer. "He's also funny and adventurous." Pollan's "supermeticulous reporting is the book's strength—you're not likely to get a better explanation of exactly where your food comes from," observed David Kamp in the New York Times Book Review. "Pollan is a gardener, a cook and an uncommonly graceful explainer of natural science; this is the book he was born to write," commented Dorothy Kalins in Newsweek. Library Journal reviewer Irwin Weintraub remarked: "This folksy narrative provides a wealth of information about agriculture, the natural world, and human desires." In a New York Times Book Review assessment of the ten best books of 2006, a reviewer commented that The Omnivore's Dilemma "is a book that stands out" among other books in what was an "uncommonly good year" for food writing and related journalism in America. John Carey, writing in Business Week, concluded: "Pollan is an engaging companion, whether he's diving for abalone, collecting wild yeast, or musing about American gullibility. And his message is compelling. After reading the book, you will want to change how you eat."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Audubon, July-August, 2006, Kathleen McGowan, "Appetite for Destruction," review of The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, p. 70.
Booklist, February 15, 1997, Kevin Grandfield, review of A Place of My Own: The Education of an Amateur Builder, p. 986; January 1, 2002, review of The Botany of Desire: A Plant's Eye View of the World, p. 760; April 1, 2006, Mark Knoblauch, review of The Omnivore's Dilemma, p. 9.
Business Week, May 8, 2006, John Carey, "We Are What We (Blindly) Eat," review of The Omnivore's Dilemma, p. 122.
Horticulture, October, 1995, Jane Barker Wright, review of Second Nature: A Gardener's Education, p. 71.
Library Journal, February 15, 1997, Jonathan Hershey, review of A Place of My Own, p. 160; April 15, 2006, Irwin Weintraub, review of The Omnivore's Dilemma, p. 103.
Newsweek, July 24, 2006, Dorothy Kalins, "Two Great Books to Chew On: The Best Food Writing of the Season Has No Recipes," review of The Omnivore's Dilemma, p. 55.
New York Times, June 28, 2001, William L. Hamilton, "Sex, Drugs, and Seed Catalogs," p. F1.
New York Times Book Review, March 16, 1997, Verlyn Klinkenborg, "Mr. Pollan Builds His Dream House," p. 8; June 3, 2001, Burkhard Bilger, "For the Love of Potatoes," p. 13; April 23, 2006, David Kamp, "Deconstructing Dinner," review of The Omnivore's Dilemma, p. 14; December 3, 2006, "100 Notable Books of the Year," review of The Omnivore's Dilemma, p. 14; December 10, 2006, "The Ten Best Books of 2006," review of The Omnivore's Dilemma, p. 11.
O, the Oprah Magazine, April, 2006, Cathleen Medwick, "BibliO: Truths about Passion, Food, Belief, and Happiness," review of The Omnivore's Dilemma, p. 218.
People, May 15, 2006, review of The Omnivore's Dilemma, p. 57.
Progressive, November, 2006, Elizabeth DiNovella, "Think Globally, Eat Locally," review of The Omnivore's Dilemma, p. 41.
Publishers Weekly, April 26, 1991, review of Second Nature, p. 62; January 13, 1997, review of A Place of My Own, p. 61; April 9, 2001, review of The Botany of Desire, p. 59; February 20, 2006, Pamela Kaufman, review of The Omnivore's Dilemma, p. 144.
Reason, February, 2002, Todd Seavey, "The Potato Whisperer: Surprising Wisdom from a Greenish Gardener," pp. 61-62.
School Library Journal, December, 2001, Barbara A. Genco, review of The Botany of Desire, p. 59.
Sierra, March-April, 1992, Kathleen Courrier, review of Second Nature, p. 80.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), May 25, 1997, Karen E. Klages, "Craftsmanship," pp. 6-7.
Whole Earth Review, summer, 1991, Kathleen O'Neill, review of Second Nature, p. 116.
Wilson Quarterly, summer, 2001, Christopher Hewat, review of The Botany of Desire, p. 122.
World Watch, January-February, 2002, Curtis Runyan, review of The Botany of Desire, p. 39.
Frontline Web site,http://www.pbs.org/ (February 10, 2007), "Modern Meat," interview with Michael Pollan.
Grist,http://www.grist.org/ (May 31, 2006), David Roberts, "Eat the Press," interview with Michael Pollan.
Michael Pollan Home Page,http://www.michaelpollan.com (February 10, 2007).
Powells.com,http://www.powells.com/ (February 10, 2007), Dave Weich, "Michael Pollan Comes to Dinner," interview with Michael Pollan.
Salon.com,http://www.salon.com/ (April 8, 2006), Ira Boudway, "We Are What We Eat," review of The Omnivore's Dilemma.
Truthdig,http://www.truthdig.com/ (April 11, 2006), Blair Golson, "Michael Pollan: The Truthdig Interview."
UC Berkeley NewsCenter,http://www.berkeley.edu/news/ (April 11, 2006), Bonnie Azap Powell, "Journalism Professor Michael Pollan's New Book on the U.S. Food Chain Provides Few Soundbites—But Much to Chew On," review of The Omnivore's Dilemma.