Although I don’t get asked as often as I should about who is one of my favorite authors and heroes, last evening I had the opportunity to see Michael Pollan speak at The Egyptian Theatre in downtown Boise, Idaho. Michael is a writer and activist about the subject of the food we eat and the environments from which our food originates. He has published numerous books, two of which include The Ominvoire’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food, and writes for The New York Times.
His speech was informative and entertaining as I expected. The use of humor was most appreciated as we heard him talk about the “mysterious” world of nutrition and food, and how our expectations and traditions about it have set the stage for the health condition of our current society. He talked about our obsession with “being healthy” while at the same time maintaining our status of being the “most unhealthy” nation on the globe. We also listened as he discussed briefly the history of the industrialized world and processed food, which began some 150 years ago – which has had a profound influence on the state of our declining health ever since.
We learned that in the 1970’s, food labels were required to carry the words “imitation” if the food was not actually real food. My how things have changed! Any glance at the list of ingredients on most food packages will confirm this theory. He kept the audience wanting to hear more, as well as relayed useful information from his research, travels, and experiences as he described to us what he uncovered when on the quest to discover where our food comes from.
During the lecture, the announcer informed the audience that we would have the chance to ask questions after Mr. Pollan was finished speaking. I was lucky to have my question selected among the ten or eleven others read out loud and answered: What would you say to school board officials and dietary supervisors to get them to listen when communities ask what important changes can be made to the school lunch program to make positive changes in our children’s health and academic performance?
His response to this question was encouraging and well articulated — schools need to integrate the teachings and curriculum of food into the school schedule, and should usher back into the classroom the lost art of training children how to cook. As well as cooking, children should also be engaged in hands-on activities with food in environments such as a school garden where they all work together and are responsible for planting, growing, and harvesting food.
He also addressed the change we have been working for with regard to the actual food children are being served in the school cafeteria and touched on what many districts have already done – implemented farm-to-school programs and included foods from local growers, removed the junk and garbage and replaced with real, whole foods. Mr. Pollan did add that the cost would certainly be an issue – and I respectfully disagree, as we have already been shown in the Two Angry Moms film how various school districts have made successful changes without raising the cost of meals. But the fact that he gave such a thoughtful answer to an issue that truly does affects everyone in our nation, with the supporting applause from the audience, told me that this problem is indeed something that is close to many people’s hearts and concerns. He made us feel that if we work together and continue to educate about issues in our food supply, eventually the consciousness of its significance will be something we can no longer ignore. We must step up and fight for the change we need and want, plain and simple.
It is inspiring to see an individual such as Mr. Pollan, who is clearly engaged and interested in an issue worth talking and doing something about, willing to put his research and word out for the public to evaluate. We need more people like him in the world. Keep up the good work, Michael!
For more information about teaching children about food in schools, visit Food In Schools.