Since last Saturday was the final Farmers' Market of the season, a visit to the Arcata Plaza seemed mandatory. (Plus we needed spuds for the potatoes au gratin my wife was making to take to dinner at a friends' that night.) While making the rounds I got to talking with Grady Walker of Green Fire Farm in Hoopa. We touched on food politics (SB 510, the Food Safety Modernization Act and the Tester Amendment protecting small farms like his), then on this year's weather and the effect of late spring rains on farmers' bottom lines. While he conceded that it was not a good year at all financially, Grady was still optimistic. People have not stopped spending money on food and they're still shopping at farmers' markets.
"People have to eat. They make choices about how and what, but they have to eat," said Grady. And more and more, people want to eat food grown nearby. "It's always been good in Humboldt. There's an awareness here, but it's growing nationwide with an explosion of farmers' markets in the last decade. People want more intimacy with their food, more knowledge about where it comes from."
In part he attributes this to the work of Michael Pollan, a UC Berkeley journalism prof who has written a series of best sellers. There's no questioning Pollan's influence. As a lecturer, New York Times columnist and author he's changed the way we look at food especially with books like Food Rules: An Eater's Manual, In Defense of Food and perhaps the most important, The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals.
Last year Newsweek had him in their top 10 "New Thought Leaders." Earlier this year Time magazine listed him as one of the top 100 most influential people in the world.
What is this new thinking he's engaged in? One aspect of it is boiled down to this seemingly simple advice: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." (Of course the question, what do you mean by "food" complicates matters considerably.)
"I think Michael Pollan has had a huge effect, particularly on the 20-something generation," said Grady. "His writings, his books and his speaking, especially in the digital age, are so available. He's done for this generation what Wendell Berry did for our generation: Wendell said that eating is an agricultural act; Michael says eating is a political act.
"There are deep ramifications to that, whether you want to be conscious of them or not. I think we're seeing a new awareness. Almost everyone who contacts me wanting to work on my farm mentions Michael Pollan's influence. And these are often people who don't want to be farmers; they want to have a better sense of where food comes from and the labor and integrity behind that food. Most site Pollan as someone who provoked their thinking and challenged their assumptions."
Are you ready to have your assumptions challenged? Michael Pollan lectures on "In Defense of Food: The Omnivore's Solution"* *on Wednesday, Dec. 1, at 8 p.m. in HSU's Van Duzer Theatre. Tickets are $45, $25 for HSU students and are available at the Works, at the University Ticket Office, 826-3928, or online at humboldt.edu/centerarts.