Michael Pollan has written about Chicken McNuggets and high fructose corn syrup (in The Omnivore's Dilemma). He has written about apples, tulips, potatoes and weed in The Botany of Desire, about eating plants in In Defense of Food and about the wisdom of grandmothers and how white bread will kill you in Food Rules. He is the Big Banana when it comes to the slow and local and natural food movement. When Western Washington University brought him in to speak, his fee was $20,000. Just to talk for a little bit. About food.
Creepiest. Carrots. Ever.
Which, I guess, is why Michael Pollan can, with a straight face and no sense of irony at all, say things like: "A consumer who is willing to pay more for better food. That's a matter of consciousness and a palate that has been educated by the chefs locally. Paying $3.90 for a Frog Hollow Peach, there are a lot of people here [in the Bay Area] willing to do it. I don't know if you can find a more expensive peach in America. My little rule, "Pay more, eat less," is followed by a lot of people in the Bay area."
By which he means a lot of people in the Bay Area who have things like best-selling books and speaking agents that can get them five figures for a couple hours of conversation.
That quote came from a Wall Street Journal interview published today in which the author held forth on things like the aforementioned peach, shopping at farmers markets, getting caught buying sugary cereals for his kids and why paying $8 for a dozen eggs is a good idea.
For a long time, I have had a love/hate relationship with Pollan. On the one hand, because I have been really, seriously, shoplifting-toothpaste-poor before (and, being an alternative newspaper journalist, remain just slightly less destitute today), I want to punch Pollan right in the face every time he says something like that. When you've been too broke to buy soup, some iconoclastic dickhead trying to tell you that paying $4 for a peach is a good idea because it is a really good peach can be the kind of thing that makes you want to buy a rifle and a map to the homes of famous food writers.
On the other hand, I, too, am a food writer. I know way too much about food chains and the profit margins of small farmers, what eating a fast food diet will do to you in the long run and the opportunity cost of paying for the best (on the company expense account, of course). I love good food and farmers and delicious peaches and local markets as much as any of my conflicted ilk, and have made some truly ridiculous personal choices in my time (like dropping over a thousand dollars on a single dinner or buying Japanese snack foods and Chinese pork buns with money that was supposed to be for my car payment). I have been the enemy of the class warrior that still lives inside me and will never let me forget the nights I went to bed starving and woke to nothing in the cupboards but ramen and dust.
I've read Pollan's books, too, and he is damnably right about a lot of things. Omnivore's Dilemma? That fucked me up for life, and fundamentally changed the way I looked at food forever. There are things about the guy I really like. And if I ever get as rich and thoroughly disconnected as he is, I will no doubt be ten times as bad as he is now--eating only foods dipped in gold, smoking only weed that was grown on Allen Ginsberg's grave and having a team of MIT engineers build me a robot just to wash my balls every morning.
But until that day comes, I still have difficulty swallowing the notion that some rich man in Berkeley gets to be the sole arbiter of what is right and what is morally reprehensible when it comes to my shopping and eating habits. It is my fear that this kind of thinking--this idea that price is inextricably linked to goodness and morality to the area code of your tomatoes--will create a wicked divide: a permanent culinary underclass full of fat, wheezing poor people working three jobs and still unable to pay $8 for a dozen eggs, lorded over by shining, happy foodies constantly telling them that if they just did all their shopping at the Monterey Market all their troubles would go away.
Maybe that's just me, though. I straddle the divide in a strange way. So what do you people think? Read the WSJ piece and then sound off in the comments section below.