Section: archive

Michael Pollan dishes out food for thought

By Staff

To most Kenyon students, Michael Pollan is the author of the acclaimed book The Omnivore’s Dilemma and other bestsellers about food.

To Hallie Bahn ’14, he is “Uncle Michael,” the man who introduced her to kale chips and coconut milk.

“Hallie is the reason I’m here,” Pollan remarked at the beginning of his talk in Rosse Hall on Wednesday night. In front of an overflow crowd, Pollan spent roughly an hour tracing his career and discussing his latest book, Cooked.

In his lecture, Pollan claimed that cooking one’s own food is “the best predictor of a healthy diet.” He proceeded to identify four fundamental ways to cook: using fire, water, air and earth.

“I kind of apprenticed myself to a master of [each] transformation,” said Pollan, whose research took him both to the barbeque pits of eastern North Carolina and to a cheese-producing Connecticut nunnery.

While Pollan focused much of his talk on the environmental and personal health considerations involved in eating, he also delved into food’s role in society. In criticizing corporate influence on consumption habits, he said processed food is “designed to make you eat more than you should.”

McKinley Sherrod ’14 said following the event, “I was impressed that he knew a lot about the context of what he was speaking about.”

Despite discussing such unpleasant subjects as the oppressive stench of massive cattle feedlots, Pollan wore a smile on his face throughout his talk and drew repeated rounds of laughter from the audience.

Two hours before Pollan’s talk, Canterbury, Kenyon’s Episcopal student group, discussed food, broadly understood, at its weekly dinner.

Margaret Tilson ’14, one of the attendees, felt students should attend Pollan’s lecture “because food matters,” she said. “What he has to say is almost always relevant to students. Food is part of our daily lives.”

Rebecca Ogus ’14, who moderated the Canterbury discussion, claimed that it’s “important to have a consciousness about how your food is prepared.”

While Pollan said Bahn had been asking him to come to Kenyon since she matriculated, the Faculty Lectureships committee sponsored his visit this fall.

“Michael Pollan was proposed by a member of the faculty,” Reginald Sanders, an associate professor of music and chair of the committee, wrote in an email. “The Committee pursued this proposal because Pollan is one of the most important and influential people writing about the intersection of nature and culture.”

Sanders did not respond to a question asking how much it cost to bring Pollan to campus.

Helen Svoboda-Barber, the rector of the Harcourt Parish Episcopal Church, also took part in Canterbury’s discussion yesterday. “I think his food rules are really good,” she said, “and I like that that’s getting play nationally as well as here.”

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