Michael Pollan and Ruth Reichl Hash out the Food Revolution- page 6 | Innovation | Smithsonian
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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

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(Continued from page 5)

R: That piece was so amazing because you really managed to make us feel for these people who were doing such terrible things.

P: My editor in that case deserves a lot of credit because I was utterly lost in that piece. I got immersed in all the different issues tied to beef production, from feedlot pollution to hormones and antibiotics to corn. I was drowning in amazing information. My editor took me out to lunch and I did the data dump and he starts to glaze over. Then he says, “Why don’t you just do the biography of one cow?” That was brilliant. I immediately saw how you could connect the dots. And I saw how you could meet people exactly where they are—eating their steaks or burgers—and take them on a journey. I was very careful to tell people at the beginning of that story that I ate meat and that I wanted to keep eating meat. Otherwise, people would not have gone on the journey with me.

R: And the other thing that you did that was so smart was to make the ranchers sympathetic. Because they are. They’re caught between a rock and a hard place.

P: They’re selling into a monopoly. It’s a terrible predicament and they really resent it. They’re doing things the way they’ve always done them, only the market is more concentrated and they’re under enormous pressure. I was very sympathetic to them, though they weren’t pleased with the story.

R: But that’s when you’re really successful. If the people you write about like it too much, you probably haven’t done the right thing. But I do think that Omnivore’s Dilemma was a really major moment. Again, a surprise best seller. Who would have thought?

P: I didn’t. I was shocked because, first of all, I thought, “I’m late on this, this issue has peaked.” But I can remember the moment where I sensed that there was something going on. It was at the Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle, at the beginning of the tour in the spring of 2006. I went there to find a huge crowd hanging from the rafters and screaming as if it were a political rally. There was this energy unlike anything I ever experienced as an author. I could feel it during that book tour that the culture was primed to have this conversation.

R: At Gourmet we were all talking about that but we hadn’t put it together in a satisfying package. And so what Frankie Lappé was for me, Omnivore’s Dilemma was for my [college-age] son Nick. This is not a deeply political generation, so it gave them something.

P: Food is definitely one of the defining issues for this generation.

R: It’s a cause his generation can feel good about. I’d say half of Nick’s friends are vegetarians for ethical reasons and a quarter of them are vegans and I think that’s not uncommon.

P: Their food choices are central to their identity. And they’re more fanatical than older generations. I’m always meeting them and I’m like, “Wow, you are really a purist.”

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