Michael Pollan at Sweet Briar Oct. 9

| September 14, 2007

If you ask Michael Pollan, “What’s for dinner?” you’d better be ready for the answer.

Don’t expect a simple, “Steak and potatoes,” but something more like the old ditty “Dry Bones,” about how the finger bone’s connected to the hand bone, etcetera. The man can trace the genealogy of a chicken nugget from take-out window to dirt.

Michael Pollan will be at Sweet Briar Oct. 9.

Pollan, author of the New York Times bestseller “The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals,” will present this year’s Julia B. Waxter Environmental Forum at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 9, in Murchison Lane Auditorium at Sweet Briar College.

Titled, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma: Searching for the Perfect Meal in a Fast Food World,” the lecture is free and the public is invited. A book signing and reception will follow.

In his book, Pollan embarks on four decidedly diverse dining experiences: McDonald’s take-out, a meal consisting of items purchased at Whole Foods, a chicken dinner from a Virginia farm that eschews pesticides, antibiotics and synthetic fertilizers, and a feast of wild hog hunted and killed by the author.

Pollan’s main target, however, is corn, the ubiquitous foodstuff that finds its way into nearly everything that passes our lips.

On page 18, he writes, “Corn is what feeds the steer that becomes the steak. Corn feeds the chicken and the pig, the turkey and the lamb, the catfish and the tilapia, and increasingly, even the salmon, a carnivore by nature that the fish farmers are reengineering to tolerate corn.

“The eggs are made of corn. The milk and cheese and yogurt, which once came from dairy cows that grazed on grass, now typically come from Holsteins that spend their working lives indoors tethered to machines, eating corn.”

According to Pollan, more than a quarter of the items in America’s supermarkets contain corn. “You are what you eat, it’s often said, and if this is true, then what we mostly are is corn – or more precisely, processed corn,” he writes.

Pollan blames corn, particularly high-fructose corn syrup, for the increase in obesity, diabetes and other health problems. He’s also no fan of the recent hoopla about ethanol.

“We grow more than 10 billion bushels of corn a year in this country, far more than we can possibly eat – though God knows we’re doing our best, bingeing on corn-based fast food and high fructose corn syrup till we’re fat and diabetic,” Pollan wrote May 24 on his blog.

“We probably can’t eat much more of the stuff without exploding, so the corn lobby is targeting the next unsuspecting beast that might help chomp through the surplus: your car.”

Last summer, Pollan spoke with Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert about the dangers of a corn-based diet.

The Seattle Times called Pollan’s book a “searing indictment of today’s food industry.” Eric Schlosser, author of “Fast Food Nation,” praised Pollan for his “great wit and intelligence,” adding, “Eating well, he finds, can be a pleasurable way to change the world.”

Sweet Briar’s Waxter Forum is funded by Julia Baldwin Waxter, an SBC alumna, and her husband, Bill. The series presents lectures focusing on environmental issues and concerns that affect today’s world.

Admission is free, but tickets are required. For reservations, e-mail name, mailing address and number of tickets needed to [email protected] or call Shelbie Filson at 381-6228.

For more information, contact Rob Alexander, associate professor of environmental studies, at [email protected] or 381-6451.

— Suzanne Ramsey

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