Here’s what I think:
The best non-fiction writer in English these days is Michael Pollan.
I just finished his article in today’s New York Times Magazine, “Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch,” in which he describes how take-out and TV cooking shows have turned cooking into a spectator sport. As usual with Pollan, the writing is brilliant, clear and insightful. (And the photography along with the article, showing high-end kitchens laden with cobwebs, makes it worth trying to see the print edition. But, if you can’t see the article in print, please read online at the link above.)
I’ve read three of Pollan’s books:
The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s Eye View of the World, shows how four plant species learned to manipulate us long before mass-marketers ever figured it out. (And, the chapter on cannibis, and how it mimics chemicals in our brains, is the best writing on marijuana, ever.) There is a PBS documentary on this book airing in October.
The Omnivore’s Dilemma contrasts industrial food production, organic food production and the hunter-gatherer lifestyle to show you just how far we’ve been duped into getting fat on corn products. A fabulous narrative. At one point he shows how a McDonald’s Chicken McNugget has 38 ingredients, 15 of which are corn … including the chicken. (After reading this book you will never be fooled into believing that corn-fed beef or chicken is a good thing, ever again.)
In Defense of Food is summed up on the cover with this phrase: “Eat Food, Mostly Plants, Not Too Much.” Pollan tells us that we shouldn’t eat it if our great-grandmothers wouldn’t recognize it as food. And he shows us that labels claiming nutritional value (“Added Vitamin C,” “Reduced-fat”) are usually signals that the food is not nutritious.
Pollan helps us understand how industry, the media and pop medical science have teamed up to change not only the way we look at food but the way we eat. You’ll see our symbiosis and relationships with other species in a completely different way, and, while you’re at it, you’ll enjoy some great writing.