Michael Pollan is a writer, teacher and activist. His most recent book, How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression and Transcendence, was published in 2018. He is the author of seven previous books, including Cooked, Food Rules, In Defense of Food, The Omnivore’s Dilemma and The Botany of Desire, all of which were New York Times Bestsellers. The Omnivore’s Dilemma was named one of the ten best books of the year by both The New York Times and The Washington Post. 

Through careful research and engaging prose, Michael Pollan shines a light on the often hidden costs of our food system, from the widespread use of antibiotics in factory farms to the environmental impact of corn production. In doing so, he offers readers a valuable lens through which to view the modern food system. By revealing the hidden costs of our current food system, Michael Pollan invites us to consider more sustainable and ethical alternatives. In doing so, he helps us to build a more just and sustainable food system for all.

Pollan teaches writing in the English department at Harvard and at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, where he has been the John S. and James, L. Knight Professor of Journalism since 2003. Several of his books have been adapted for television: a series based on Cooked (2015) is streaming on Netflix and both The Botany of Desire and In Defense of Food premiered on PBS. In 2010 Time Magazine named Pollan one of the 100 most influential people in the world. Pollan lives in Berkeley with his wife, the painter Judith Belzer.

Please enjoy our interview with Michael Pollan…

What are you reading at the moment?

Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen and The First Minds by Arthur S. Reber.

How has your writing process changed over the years? How do you begin to plan a new book?

Different books come out of different processes. Sometimes a series of articles becomes a book; sometimes I start with ‘a book idea.’

Sabbath's Theatre - Michael Pollan interviewHow did your first become interested in the socio-cultural impacts of food?

As a gardener, I realized I faced the same challenges farmers do—dealing with pests, and keeping the soil healthy, so I began looking into agriculture and soon realized that the way we were eating influenced the way we grew food and the reverse. But it all began in my garden.

Is there a book that you’ve read more than once? What is it and why did you revisit it?

Sabbath’s Theater. Philip Roth’s best and most hilarious and outrageous novel.

Without naming one of your own brilliant books, what would you say are the three most important books ever written on the topic of food?

Food Politics by Marion Nestle; Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser; Wendell Berry’s essays, taken together.

What research into food are you most excited about currently and why?

There’s a renaissance of food science around plant-based substitutes for animal protein. Whatever you think of it, this is the most exciting work going on right now.

the overstory - Michael Pollan interviewWhat book do you feel humanity needs right now?

The Overstory by Richard Powers.

Your recent work has explored psychedelics and their misconceptions, how did you first become interested in this topic?

I’ve always been interested in the various uses to which we put plants, and changing consciousness is one of them. When I read about new research on psychedelics, I knew I had to explore it.

What is the book that you feel has had the single biggest impact on your life?

Wendell Berry’s essays have been a tremendous influence; William Cronon’s environmental history too.

Can you give us a clue as to what you’re working on next?

I’m afraid I’m not ready to talk about it yet, sorry.

What books or subject matter do you plan on reading in the next year?

My work on psychedelics has piqued my interest in the philosophy of mind and consciousness, so I have a pile of books on such and related topics waiting for me, patiently.

If you enjoyed this interview with Michael Pollan, you may also enjoy our interview with Marion Nestle.

Photo credit: Jeannette Montgomery Barron