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Michael Pollan and Ruth Reichl dine at Bell & Anchor in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. (Illustration by Lara Tomlin)

Michael Pollan and Ruth Reichl Hash out the Food Revolution

Be a fly in the soup at the dinner table with two of America’s most iconic food writers

The biggest problem was figuring out where to eat.

When you live on opposite sides of the country and have wildly conflicting schedules, choosing a restaurant is the least of your troubles. Michael Pollan and I couldn’t even figure out on which coast we wanted to dine. We finally settled on the East, but that still left the choice of town. For various (not very interesting) reasons, we ended up in Great Barrington, Massachusetts.

After that it was easy; Bell & Anchor was the obvious choice. Proprietor Mark Firth left Brooklyn (where he’d been a restaurant pioneer with Diner and Marlow & Sons) to become a farmer in the Berkshires. But he’s a relentlessly hospitable fellow, and last year he opened this relaxed and rustic restaurant to serve what he and his neighbors raise. The restaurant has become a local hangout for people who are passionate about the ethics of eating. Everything Michael and I ate had been sustainably and humanely raised, and much of it came from within a few miles of where we sat. As we discussed the culinary revolution, the future of food and his new book, Cooked, we were literally eating our words.—R.R.

Ruth Reichl: The thing that’s so odd is you’ve sort of become the voice of food for Americans but you didn’t start off as a cook.

Michael Pollan: Not at all. My whole interest in food grew from my interest in gardens and the question of how we engage with the natural world. To go back even further, I got interested in gardens because I was interested in nature and wilderness and Thoreau and Emerson. I brought all their intellectual baggage to my garden here in New England and found that it didn’t work out very well, because ultimately Thoreau and Emerson’s love for nature was confined to the wild. They didn’t conceive of a role for us in nature other than as admirer and spectator...which is a problem when a woodchuck eats all your seedlings. What do you do?

Waiter offers some wine.

R: Oh! This reminds me of one of those amphora wines ! They are peculiar. You feel like this is what wines in Greece must have tasted like 1,000 years ago. It’s everything Americans don’t like. It’s totally not charming.

P: It’s definitely not charming. It requires you to pay attention. So where was I? So, much of my work grew out of this wonderful American tradition of nature writing, which I was steeped in in college and graduate school. The first food story I wrote was called “Cultivating Virtue: Compost and Its Moral Imperatives,” about American attitudes toward gardening, which are uniquely moralistic. That became the first of a series of essays looking at the interaction between Americans and nature in a place that wasn’t the woods, wasn’t the wild. Ever since I’ve been interested in these messy places where nature and culture have to mix it up. And of course food—the plate—is the most important place. Though I didn’t realize that at the time. First it was gardens and then the garden led to agriculture and agriculture led me to food.

R: But it must be hard. You now have this burden on your shoulder. You’re sort of responsible for all of American food in some way.

P: I’m doing a pretty bad job if I am.

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