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

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

(Continued from page 2)

R: I think in Berkeley it suddenly shifted and it becomes about deliciousness.

P: Was that Alice Waters’ [of Chez Panisse] doing?

R: I think it was everybody’s doing. When you go from the industrialized food of the ’50s and ’60s and you suddenly get more serious about cooking and start thinking, “How do I make this better? Maybe I can make my own sausage.” A lot of that energy just shifted into learning to cook.

P: It became about craft. And the politics were de-emphasized.

R: And the money equation came into it. Suddenly, hippies who were growing gardens were successful.

P: The early food movement was rooted in ’60s culture. What happened in the ’80s was a reaction against ’60s culture in all respects.

R: Oh definitely. For me it was.

P: I think for a lot of people. We had this huge backlash against ’60s culture during the Reagan years, and at least nationally, the food movement went away for a while. And then it revived in the early ’90s. The Alar episode was a galvanizing moment. Do you remember that? 1989, “60 Minutes” opened the floodgates, Meryl Streep spoke out and there was a big cover story in Newsweek. People got freaked out about the practice of spraying this growth regulator on apples, which the EPA had said was a probable carcinogen. Mothers stopped buying apples all at once—or insisted on buying organic. That’s when organic kind of took off nationally. I wrote a lot about the history of the organic industry in The Omnivore’s Dilemma and experts all date its rise to that moment. That’s when you suddenly could make money selling organic food nationally. And then you had other food scares in the ’90s that contributed. What year is the scare over mad cow disease? Mid-1990s? Remember?

R: It’s definitely mid ’90s. I was a food editor at the L.A. Times, but I stopped in ’93 and mad cow was definitely after ’93 because we would have been right on top of it. [It was 1996.]

P: So that was another big episode, even though it was mostly confined to Europe. We didn’t know if it was going to come here and we learned all these horrifying things about how we were producing beef and that too generated a lot of interest in the food system and was probably one of the reasons Eric [Schlosser] wrote Fast Food Nation.


Comment on this Story

comments powered by Disqus