Tag Archives: books

A Delightful Evening with Michael Pollan


Last night, I had a wonderful time visiting with Michael Pollan, American author, journalist, activist, and professor of journalism at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.

There also were about 600 other people in the room for “An Evening With Michael Pollan” in the Music Building at the University of Mississippi at Oxford. Judging by their rapt attention and applause, I’d say they had a splendid time, too! If you care about food (other than stuffing it in your mouth), its history, its social importance, and health effects, then Pollan is an expert worth heeding. The fact that his six books on the subject have all reached bestseller status is testimony that plenty of people are interested in heeding him.

Author Michael Pollan speaks at the University of Mississippi at Oxford, May 21, 2014. (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

Author Michael Pollan speaks at the University of Mississippi at Oxford, May 21, 2014. I was thrilled to sit on the third row in the packed auditorium. (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

The event was sponsored by the Southern Foodways Alliance and Square Books of Oxford. Pollan’s latest book, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, has just come out in paperback and Pollan was on a book-signing tour.

His talk, which lasted about 70 minutes, started out with background and stories from the gathering of information about the book. He regaled the audience with humorous stories about his immersion into the making of barbecue — and the audience laughed at his tales, which included pork aficionados’ crack-like desire for “skins” or crackling.

The Southern Foodways Alliance had two short films that illustrated the cooking of pork and places featured in the book that were located in North Carolina.

Pollans’ talk vaguely paralleled the layout of the book: Fire (barbecue); Water (soups); Air (bread); and Earth (fermentation). It’s a superlative book; but I’m not an impartial observer. I’m a big fan, and it really made my day to briefly chat with him afterward and give him a signed copy of my book, Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing: Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press, 2012) while having him sign my copy of Cooked.

Regular readers of this blog will recall that my reading the hardcover copy of Cooked last year led me to start baking my own bread. I figured, if Michael Pollan can do it, I can, too! Baking bread – particularly sourdough bread – is now one of my favorite hobbies. I have three different sourdough starters bubbling in the fridge, even now. (Might have to pull one out and bake a loaf this weekend!)

Readers of my book, Conscious Food, will remember that a central question is: How did we become so distanced from the making and appreciation of our food, including its spiritual aspects?

It’s a puzzling and disturbing quality of modern life, and Pollan also brought it up, saying that only a generation ago no one would have bought his books explaining where food came from because it was so tied to daily life. There would be no mystery, no question. Now, of course, that’s not so.

In fact, as Pollan pointed out, there are laws being enacted and proposed to actually prevent people from seeing how food is made, making it a crime to photograph a slaughterhouse or chicken factory farm. The highly processed food we eat, composed of highly refined sugars, starches and carbohydrates often can only truly be called “food products” rather than food. That processed foods also almost certainly contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is also a cause for alarm among many.

That’s how far we’ve come in making something which should be wholesome and good (making food) into something that is feared, insulated, even secretive.

A long line snakes down to author Michael Pollan in the Music Building at the University of Mississippi, May 21, 2014, where he appeared for a speech and a book signing.  (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

A long line snakes down to author Michael Pollan in the Music Building at the University of Mississippi, May 21, 2014, where he appeared for a speech and a book signing. (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

While Pollan seemed to get the most interest by the audience in his tales of making barbecue, he also explored the other foodstuffs in the book. He discussed the making of bread – not nearly enough in detail for my avid interest, of course. But he did point out in great detail how sourdough bread, and other fermented products such as cheese and krauts are healthful when done in traditional ways.

Illustrating the benefits of probiotics (good bacteria versus bad bacteria) he told of one experiment that showed that raw milk processed into cheese in stainless steel vats and injected with e. coli became toxic while the same milk in reused wooden barrels did not because they contained accumulated beneficial bacteria that held the e. coli in check.  So much for our theories of anti-bacterial cleaning!

He even often insights that what we usually eat – for flavor, texture, etc. – is aimed at only 10 percent of us; the part that tastes food. Ninety percent of real food feeds the “gut” – the microorganisms that do the work of digestion, absorption of nutrients and health protection. Mother’s milk, he pointed out, is 100 percent food. A pizza or cheeseburger or “Supersized” cola would be 10 percent.

Soups, he noted, extended the lifespans of humans since, generally, people lose teeth when they age; it allows nutrients to be obtained with a minimum of chewing. Taking a swipe at raw foods, he said that cooking unleashes myriad nutrients and chemically changes food; but he also said that raw food enthusiasts can obtain premium nutrients by processing their food with a mixer. I love my Vitamixer!

I know I’m not doing him justice here. His talk was insightful, interesting and not only repeated some information in the book but provided his thinking behind it and revealed his zeal in pursuing and promoting a healthier society that exalts good food. He was singing my song, for sure!

If he appears anywhere near you, and you care about these subjects, I’d highly recommend you go hear him and, of course, buy the book. The talk was three and a half hours away from me by car — I didn’t get back home until after midnight. But it was well worth it and I would certainly do so again!

Before the "Evening with Michael Pollan," I spent a few moments in one of my favorite places: Square Books in the courthouse square in Oxford, MS, having a cup of coffee and a couple of cookies! (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

Before the “Evening with Michael Pollan,” I spent a few moments in one of my favorite places: Square Books in the courthouse square in Oxford, MS, having a cup of coffee and a couple of cookies! (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

I also got to visit for a while beforehand at Square Books in the courthouse square in Oxford — one of my favorite independent bookstores. Naturally, I bought a couple of books while there and since I had a few moments before the talk started, I also had a cup of delicious fresh-brewed coffee and a couple of homemade cookies.

What  delight!

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, and former organic farmer now teaching natural, sustainable and organic agricultural practices. His latest book is Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press). Find Jim on Facebook, follow him @EdiblePrayers or @OrganicWriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

From Books to Garden Plots, Gifts of Love

Dec. 16, 2011
Garden plot to books: Give a truly organic ‘gift of love’

Looking for a quick Christmas present? Why not give the gift of good, wholesome, nutritious food!
All you need is a little elbow grease, some simple tools like a shovel and willingness to dig.
Like last year, I’m suggesting that if there’s anybody you can think of who can no longer fend much for themselves and would appreciate it, such as an elderly neighbor or family members, that you give them a gift certificate for a “Jim’s Plot.”
That is, offer to put a 4-by-8-foot plot of ground in their yard, perhaps by the kitchen in a sunny place, where simple greens or vegetables can be grown – and then keep it tilled and planted throughout the year.
Call it a gift of love. What could be more loving than the gift of health?

Books are good gifts, too. And also for treating yourself with when relatives give you a check or gift certificate for your Kindle, Nook or iPad – or bookstore!
Here are a few books I’ve written about in the past year:


Looking for an “edible yard,” or swapping your lawn for an edible landscape? Pioneered by Rosalind Creasy, with The Complete Book of Edible Landscaping: Home Landscaping with Food-Bearing Plants and Resource-Saving Techniques (Sierra Club Books, 1982, and several other books since then), and boosted by other such popular books as The Edible Landscape by Tom MacCubbin (1998), shifting yards to make them into foodscapes has become a national movement.
Check out Eliot Coleman’s classic: The New Organic Grower: A Master’s Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener (Chelsea Green, 1995, $24.95).
Or Coleman’s The Winter Harvest Handbook: Year Round Vegetable Production Using Deep Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses (Chelsea Green, 2009, $29.95).
For unique views on farming, check out: The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer by Joel Salatin (Polyface, $25)
Or, to learn what’s really going on with your yard or pasture, see: Weeds: Control Without Poisons by Charles Walters (Acres USA, 1999, $25).
Or take a “hands-free” approach to growing: The One-Straw Revolution: An Introduction to Natural Farming (New York Review of Books Classics, $15.95, 2009).
For a classic on permaculture, see Toby Hemenway’s Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture (2000, updated 2009, Chelsea Green, $29.95).
Like healthy foods you can make during the winter? See: Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods by Sandor Ellix Katz (Chelsea Green, 2003, $25).

Classics to be:
Brad Kessler’s book is one of my favorites, a “must” read for anyone who longs to “go back to the land” and raise goats: Goat Song: A Seasonal Life, A Short History of Herding, and the Art of Making Cheese (Scribner, 2009, $24).
Organic Manifesto: How Organic Farming Can Heal Our Planet, Feed the World, and Keep Us Safe, by Maria Rodale, (Rodale Books, 2010, $23.99).

The Backyard Homestead Guide to Raising Farm Animals by Gail Damerow (Storey, 2011, $24.95).
Urban Homesteading: Heirloom Skills for Sustainable Living by Rachel Kaplan with K. Ruby Blume (Skyhorse, 2011, $16.95).
Modern Homestead: Grow, Raise, Create by Renee Wilkinson (Fulcrum, 2011, $26.95).

Good reading:
The Wisdom of the Radish: And Other Lessons Learned on a Small Farm by Lynda Hopkins (Sasquatch Books, Seattle, 2011, $23.95) is a sweet, sometimes humorous and sometimes bittersweet tale of a young woman learning the joys and heartaches of growing food for others.
Eat Naked: Unprocessed, Unpolluted & Undressed Eating for a Healthier, Sexier You by Margaret Floyd (New Harbinger, Oakland, Calif., $16.95) is an eye-opening book about eating raw food; it’s not naughty but gives the straight skinny on nutrition!
Slow Gardening: A No-Stress Philosophy for All Senses and All Seasons by Felder Rushing (Chelsea Green, $29.95); not organic, but our local horticulturist has some great ideas!
Honeybee: Lessons From an Accidental Beekeeper by C. Marina Marchese (Black Dog & Leventhall Publishers; $14.95), details a woman’s education from knowing nothing about bees to becoming a master “beek,” with lots of culinary and medicinal lore learned along the way.
Attracting Native Pollinators: Protecting America’s Bees and Butterflies by The Xerces Society (Storey Publishing; $29.95).
Homegrown Herbs: A Complete Guide to Growing, Using, and Enjoying More than 100 Herbs by Tammi Hatung (Storey Publishing, 2011; $19.95).
The Cooking Light Gluten-Free Cookbook: Simple Food Solutions for Everyday Meals (Oxmore, 2011, $21.95).

Online: Want a quick gift? Give a donation in someone’s name to the International Rescue Committee: http://gifts.rescue.org.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.