Before I review Berkeley author Michael Pollan’s latest book Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, here’s a throwback book review I did of Pollan’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemma for San Francisco’s Mensa publication, the Mensa Intelligencer back in May 2008.
If Mensans were to ‘get Michael Pollan’ about what they ate (or in other words—really think about what they consume), their eating habits would radically change. Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma is billed as “a natural history of four meals,” but it is about much more than food. UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism professor Michael Pollan begins the book closely examining the omnipresence of corn in the modern American diet. Pollan then goes beyond the territory traversed by other books like Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation, by not only critiquing the unsustainable American practices of large-scale corn farming and PETA-angering Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, but by offering alternatives to these destructive systems.
Pollan explores the benefits and drawbacks of industrial organic, and the burgeoning movement of ‘local organic’ quite popular here in the Bay Area. Pollan looks beyond the rosy labels in the market and actually goes to the factories where our food is produced. Pollan writes, “The Judy’s label had always made me picture a little family farm, or maybe even a commune of back-to-the-land lesbians up in Sonoma.” But Pollan later finds out that Judy’s eggs are produced out of a big operation called Petaluma Eggs, an operation he was denied access to due to concerns “about biosecurity.”
Pollan writes about how gardening and other self-sustaining practices like knitting are still popular in our highly industrialized society, and he expresses the American need to rectify the producer-consumer disconnect. “Evidently we want to be reminded how the fundamental processes that sustain us, by now hidden behind a globe-spanning scrim of economic complexity, actually work. It may be little more than a conceit at this point, but we like to think of ourselves as self-reliant, even if only for a few hours on the weekend.”
The want to “eat a meal in full consciousness of what was involved” leads Pollan, an investigative food journalist, to hunt wild pigs in a remote area north of Healdsburg, CA. His motley crew includes his “foraging Virgil,” Angelo Garro, “a stout, burly Italian with a five-day beard, sleepy brown eyes, and a passion verging on obsession about the getting and preparing of food,” and Jean-Pierre, “a Frenchman who works as a chef at Chez Panisse” who wore a “green felt Alpine fedora with the feather (a hat he managed to wear without so much as a trace of irony) and a pair of tall black riding boots.”
After hunting, Pollan admits, “I enjoyed shooting a pig a whole lot more than I ever thought I should have.” Pollan’s joy at his first kill is later complicated by feeling ashamed of killing a living creature and celebrating next to the pig’s carcass with an ecstatic look on his face that reminded him of the photos from Abu Ghraib.
Pollan tackles many complex issues with diligence, intellectual rigor, and a humor that should appeal to many Mensans. Pollan even complicates things for vegetarians and vegans, noting that no one is innocent because countless field mice and other creatures are killed in the harvesting of wheat and soybeans that make up much of their diets.
Pollan raises many difficult questions throughout his book, which made him turn vegetarian, and then go back to eating meat consciously. But Pollan’s book is not a new fad diet book, or a dry treatise on farming legislation. It is an incisive look at “our national eating disorder,” and Michael Pollan’s solution to this disorder is for Americans to consume consciously.
California Magazine published an interview with me in their Spring 2013 issue on why I chose to print and hand-bind copies of Oakland in Popular Memory. In the interview, we discuss the great print vs. digital debate among other topics. Read the full interview here.
In the last month an a half, Bay Area Underground has been covered by a number of publications including: San Francisco Magazine, Berkeleyside, Oakland Local, and KQED. And today, the Huffington Post ran an excerpt from the book with a slideshow of some of the photos by Joe Sciarrillo and Matt Werner. Click the image below to read the article. Also, if you’re in the Bay Area, check out the book release parties on March 7 and March 13, 2013.
Bay Area Underground, the first photobook to cover the Occupy movement in the Bay Area and also the Oscar Grant protests, launches on January 1, 2013! Purchase the book from Thought Publishing or your local independent bookstore.
About the book:
From 2008-2012, Joe Sciarrillo and Matt Werner were on the ground photographing the major social movements and cultural events in the San Francisco Bay Area. This photobook is a collection of their best photos of protests and social movements including the Oscar Grant protests, Occupy Oakland, Occupy San Francisco, May Day marches, Free Gaza, and Free Burma protests.
Also included in the book are photos of Bay Area cultural events like the San Francisco Giants winning the 2010 and 2012 World Series, Bay to Breakers, Oakland’s First Friday Art Murmur, and Carnaval. This book chronicles many events not heavily reported on by the mainstream press, and it gives a unique lens through which to view life in the Bay Area during President Barack Obama’s first term.
See a sample gallery of photos from the book here.
2012 was the year that Oakland gained wider recognition for its art and music scene. Read more about the series on my blog: http://djmattwerner.blogspot.com/2013/01/oakland-local-runs-5-part-series.html
“It wasn’t until college that Matt Werner began to truly understand the meaning of his hometown. He remembers it vividly: He was at UC Berkeley, chatting with someone at a party, when she asked where he was from. He told her Oakland, which was met with an ‘Oakland? We don’t go into Oakland.’” -Ellen Cushing
Read the full article “Oakland, in Its Own Words” by Ellen Cushing on the East Bay Express website.
For those of you who haven’t yet been to an Oakland in Popular Memory book reading–you’re in luck! I have 3 events in November. Come to hear about the latest innovative artists and musicians in Oakland. You may also get a sneak preview of my next book, featuring photographs of Bay Area social movements by Joe Sciarrillo.
CDZA, the New York-based group that creates musical video experiments, just posted its latest video: How to Get Kids into Classical Music. It features a short essay by me in the video description on the value of musical education.
Jorge Luis Borges wrote fake book reviews of books that didn’t exist. Michael Chabon has taken this postmodern literary conceit beyond Borges. Chabon has not only written fan fiction based on his own writing, but he’s created stores from his fiction in real-life. Take for example Diesel bookstore in Oakland which was converted to Brokeland Records.
This fictional record store has replaced the independent bookstore from September 7-14 to correspond with the release of Michael Chabon’s latest novel, Telegraph Avenue. Chabon opening Brokeland Records goes beyond book marketing. It’s an interesting addition to postmodern literary experimentation, in that it raises the question, What happens when a fictional store you’re writing about, becomes real? And this isn’t the first store to be created from Chabon’s fictional work. The Escapist comic bookstore on Claremont Avenue in Berkeley is named after Chabon’s comic creation The Escapist from The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.
|Joaquin Miller (Courtesy Oakland Public Library, Oakland History Room.)|
Joaquin Miller was known as the “Poet of the Sierras,” and lived in a white cottage he called “The Abbey” in the Oakland hills from 1886 to his death in 1913. He earned his fame as an eccentric poet who told tall tales, and as a fashion icon. His house and hillside monuments now make up Joaquin Miller Park.
Over 1,000 cyclists turned out for one of the most popular East Bay Bike Parties to date. At 8pm on Friday, August 10, 2012, the lower lot at Rockridge BART was overflowing with cyclists of all ages from throughout the East Bay. People were on all types of bikes: road and mountain bikes, tall bikes, track bikes, custom “Burning Man-style” bikes, and even a tricycle outfitted with a canvas frame that made it look like a food truck vending donuts throughout the ride.
Hiram Lawrence was one-year-old when he was shot in Oakland on November 28, 2011. On Saturday, July 21, 2012 approximately 200 cyclists turned out for the 5th Annual Peace Ride in his honor. The event, sponsored by Bikes 4 Life bike shop, ended in West Oakland with a tree planting and dedication ceremony in Hiram’s honor, attended by Oakland Mayor Jean Quan.
The Huffington Post published an excerpt from Oakland in Popular Memory–the afterword titled “Gertrude Stein’s Oakland.” Read the post here.
This piece is adapted from a blog post I wrote for the Google Books blog for Gertrude Stein’s birthday on February 3, 2012.
Click here for more information about Oakland in Popular Memory.
Ever wondered what it’d be like to step back in time? To enter a place that’s surrounded by the post-modern and the digital age, but doesn’t give into the pressures to modernize and refuses to succumb to the latest technology?
Entering St. Hieronymus Press on April 27, 2012, I found a real Berkeley establishment that has stood the test of time. Large letter presses and mechanical offset printing presses from the late 1800s and early 1900s fill the print shop.