Tag Archives: University of Mississippi

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.

‘Traditional’ planting time

April 15, 2011

‘Traditional’ planting time no longer set in stone

Next week marks Earth Day and Good Friday – both major events for gardeners (aside from religious and social reasons).

Good Friday is the traditional day central Mississippians have planted seeds in their gardens.

Some old-time gardeners plant by the moon, which means they plant while the moon is waxing, not waning; in which case, you’re a bit late as Monday is full moon. You would have to wait until May 3 (new moon) to “plant by the dark of the moon” with it waxing again – which could be a good idea for plants that like hot weather, like okra.

When is the right time to plant? Nowdays, there are so many hybrids that can be planted at various times that it’s hard to tell when the right time may be. For example, when I was young, farmers would want to get their corn in the ground by April 15 so they could avoid pests later on and still have time to plant soybeans and/or cotton.

The rule of thumb for cotton and other summer crops was that the soil temperature would be right when folks stopped sitting on buckets to fish and instead sat directly on the ground. (If your bottom didn’t get cold, it was warm enough to plant.)

Nowdays, though, I see folks planting corn in the middle of May; and a lot of folks don’t plant by the moon, or Good Friday.

And have you tried to buy corn that’s not genetically modified? A friend and I have been trying to find old traditional, local varieties to plant, without much luck.

Pioneer, which used to be a widespread variety here is no more, unless it’s GMO (which is banned for organic).

Mosby Prolific Corn (introduced by J.K. Mosby of Lockhart, Miss., in the 1800s), which used to be widespread, is now a rare heirloom that, as far as I can find, is not available locally in bulk seed.

We should be conserving local heirloom seeds, not allowing them to be bought up by multinational ag giants, to be modified genetically or discontinued and allowed to go extinct. Genetic diversity in plants is something we owe to future generations and it doesn’t belong to anyone, much less as a patented monopoly.

Normally, I would plant the week after Easter, since we here in central Mississippi usually have a cold spell then. But the temperatures have been well above normal and Easter is late this year.

So, we’ve been planting, really, since mid-March. Up so far are peas, onions, shallots, various greens, lettuces and chard. We’ve also been planting: tomatoes, melons, squash, cucumbers, beans, nasturtiums (edible flowers) and various other plants. Because of the heat, some of our plants, such as radishes and salad mizuna, just bolted. They bypassed maturity. The weather got them confused!

You want to plant as early as possible, being mindful of the number of days listed on the seed packages for maturity. For example, if you plant April 15 and it says on the package “90 days,” that means its average date to bear fruit will be July 15.

We’ve found that, growing organic, the later you plant, the more problems with insects and weather. So, if you plant May 15 in that hypothetical plot, fruition will be Aug. 15, which is also usually quite hot in Mississippi and often a time of drought.

Lots of varieties wilt in temps above 100 or won’t bear fruit and treated water can stunt microrganisms in the soil which further stress plants, leading to insect problems and disease.

So, plant as early as you feel you comfortably can.

Remember: Organic! A Reminder on planting: If you’ve got your 4-by-8-foot Jim’s plot up and running, that is, having put compost in it all winter, you should be able to disc it up easily with a shovel.

Remember to use certified organic seeds or heirloom varieties and no synthetic fertilizers.

When you’re ready to plant, cover each seed or roots with fish emulsion and kelp (there are dozens of trade names, check with your local garden store) as fertilizer, mixed with water; it should be plenty of a boost, along with any amendments you have already added like compost, and/or pellets of dolomitic lime or greensand.

Earth Day: Big observances are planned in Starkville and Oxford:

•At Starkville, Mississippi State University’s Earth Day and ECO Week are in the works. The main event will be the Earth Day Fair on Thursday, since the campus is closed for Good Friday. Green Starkville, MSU ECO and the Students for Sustainable Campus are teaming for this event.

For more information, see: http://www.greenstarkville. org/earth-day-2011.

•Oxford, the University of Mississippi and Yokna(patawpha) Bottoms Farm are celebrating Green Week today through April 22.

For more information, see: http://www.mississippigreenweek.com and http://yoknabottoms.com.

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.