Michael Pollan: Eat Foot. Mostly Your Own.


Michael Pollan’s a sharp writer, and we generally love his stuff here at Utne when we’re not printing mildly critical pieces like “The Food Police: Why Michael Pollan Makes Me Want to Eat Cheetos.” Anybody who can turn sustainable eating into a catchy seven-word slogan (“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”) and talk about agriculture without sounding like a Farm Report host has a rare talent. But I almost choked on my açaí bubble tea when I read a Q&A with Pollan on the great new website Yale Environment 360 and found him uttering these words:

“You know, eight percent of the American landmass we’ve kind of locked up and thrown away the key. That’s a wonderful achievement and has given us things like the wilderness park.”

Where do I start with this? I suppose by pointing out, as one commenter did, that less than 5 percent of the U.S. land mass is actually federally designated wilderness, and less than 3 percent if you’re talking about the contiguous U.S.

Then I’d point out that such wilderness isn’t “locked up” at all. It’s available for anyone to visit, even New York Times food writers. They can use it for activities ranging from hunting and fishing (the ultimate sustainable food sources) to hiking, camping, rafting, skiing, snowshoeing, birdwatching, and many other things. They could even use it simply to look at. To appreciate. To marvel at.

The other problem with the phrase “locked up” is that by employing it Pollan parrots the language of the extractive industries that consider every acre unavailable to them to be “locked up.” Pollan is a master of the soundbite, so it’s natural that he gravitates to catch phrases, but he ought to be aware that this one hits the ear of many environmentalists like an F-bomb and undercuts his credibility with anyone who really knows wilderness issues.

Geez, you’re probably thinking, settle down: He said setting aside wilderness was a “wonderful achievement.” But I read some sarcasm into that statement, especially because he went on to say:

Keith Goetzman_1
7/11/2008 3:04:25 PM

Christian, I've gathered, from other things Pollan has written and said, that his overall position is more nuanced than comes through in this Q&A. But saying that wilderness is "locked up" and that the wilderness ethic is "all or nothing" is not exactly opening the door to a nuanced discussion. The wilderness advocates I know are also the people *most likely* to be advocates of sustainable farming, organic food, buying local, etc.--all the things that Pollan champions in his "garden ethic." So I'm perplexed by his continual desire to paint the two views as contradictory. -Keith Goetzman

7/9/2008 3:40:07 PM

KG, I think you might be completely misreading MP's statement. He simply thinks that it is wrong to only protect 5% of our land and pillage the rest. In fact, I think he is actually trying to present a truly nuanced position here. He is both praising US conservation, and saying we need to work a lot harder at taking care the remaining 95%. These is not mutually exclusive and I don't think he is trying to stir up any conflict.

Rebecca Swan
7/7/2008 9:01:16 PM

The Wild Sky Wilderness bill protecting a 106,000-acre Wilderness in the heart of the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest in the Cascade Mountains of Washington state was passed by the U.S. Senate recently with both Democratic and Republican Senators giving unanimous approval. The area is already visited by thousands of people every year. Many people come just to watch the salmon runs. They also enjoy hiking, climbing, rafting, fishing, and in the winter cross country skiing. Several picturesque small towns in the area directly benefit from this steady flow of visitors Read more about this piece of really good news at: http://goodwordswan.wildflowerstew.com/2008/05/13/getting-it-right/

Facebook Instagram Twitter