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Bestselling food writer Michael Pollan makes exclusive appearance at the Salk

New York Times bestselling author and journalist Michael Pollan paid a visit to La Jolla on March 19 to take part in a thought-provoking discussion at Salk. Pollan is the author of the bestsellers In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto and The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, which was named one of the ten best books of 2006 by the New York Times and Washington Post. Salk professor Ronald Evans posed a series of questions to Pollan, who responded by covering topics ranging from how he got his start writing about food, agriculture and the environment, to his thoughts about America’s obesity epidemic and the food movement. The discussion was followed by a Q&A session with the audience and a reception.

As the grandson of a produce distributor and wholesaler, Pollan developed an interest in food and gardening at an early age. He grew his first garden at the age of eight and returned to gardening in his late twenties. It was these experiences that sparked his interest in the relationship between humans and nature.

Michael Pollan

“It was my mishaps in that garden that really launched me,” he says. “I thought, this is my subject; I’m going to write about nature in these messy places where humans and the natural world have to engage with one another.”

Over the past 25 years, Pollan has written books and articles about the perils of the industrial food chain. In The Omnivore’s Dilemma he traces four food chains–industrial, big organic, local farm and hunter-gatherer–and examines how what we eat affects our health and the environment. Pollan says that writing The Omnivore’s Dilemma changed his eating habits.

“I eat very differently,” he says. “What I’ve learned about nutrition and health has changed my behavior.” In particular, he has focused on fresh and local foods.

Pollan has long warned of the dangers behind industrial farming and has become a leading advocate for reforming the nation’s agricultural policies. He traces the start of America’s obesity epidemic to agriculture subsidy policies enacted in the 1970s. The subsidies favored some foods over others, with corn and soybeans taking the lead.

“Certain kinds of calories got really cheap,” he says, noting the importance of policies in shaping food trends.

At the conclusion of his talk, Pollan was asked what he believes is the secret to longevity. His advice was simple: everything in moderation and a focus on fresh foods. “Nutrients are still very confusing,” he says, adding that maybe someday scientists can design food intakes to maximize health but “in the meantime, we should focus on eating real food.”