Fact-checking Michael Pollan in Fresh

I’m sitting now watching a screening of Fresh. Michael Pollan has come on screen with some of the same points I’ve already responded to. To name a few:

  • He says that monocultures are bad without mentioning the corn, soy, and oats that feed the chickens and pig on Polyface Farm, his model of polyculture (featured prominently in the film).
  • He repeats the myth that E. coli O157:H7 is a feedlot disease.
  • He correctly points out that feedlots have created waste removal and fertility problems, but then goes on to say that animals make nutrients for plants. As I have mentioned, the nutrients in animal manure come from their feed.

Incidentally, I’m working on a post related to Michael Pollan’s piece in Sunday’s New York Times. I hope to have that up in the next few days.



  1. Pollanites seem to think grass fed beef is the answer to all evils…….but it is expensive.

    Why is it expensive and why do factory farms not use grass.

    I’m sure the answer is that they make more money not using grass, but I would be interested to know why. Grass seems to grow fast and it doesn’t seem to need more resources than corn.

    • Adam Merberg said

      Government subsidies for corn explain it to some extent. Also, grass-fed beef requires a lot of land.

      • I might just look up the numbers someday.

        It is fascinating to think that the subsidies are so great that buying corn is cheaper than buying grass. It is also mind blowing to think that cows eat so much grass that more land would be needed for that than growing corn.

  2. Gerardo Tristan said

    Hi Adam,

    First, please excuse my english but I am still learning it. Secondly, I want to thank you so much for taking the time to do a close reading of Michael Pollan’s books and a closer examination of his ideas. Besides some of the problems you already ponted out in your previous blog entries regarding Pollans discurse and ideas; I do have a fundamental problem wiht Michael Pollan, let me see if I can explain it here.

    One of my main problems with Pollan is the fact that he makes me feel invisible as a minority when it comes to food issues. I think that he totally ingnores the concerns of non white poople on his books, speaches and interviews on purpuse. In my opinion Polland si totally invested in keep being the face of a white food movement but his declarations and actions are very demaging and problematic for the food movement. When Pollan talks, he always promotes meat and dairy ( he does not follows is own mantra or golder rule ” eat mostly plants”) and he does never stop to consider that the promotion of such a wester/white diet is very bad for at least 44% of all the poeple in this country (native american, african american, asian, latino, etc. since we have very high levels of lacto-intolerant people in all these groups. Also, Pollan–better than anyone else–knows that US lives in a kind of food aparthaid, yet he says things such as ” I am very pick when comes to choosing my meats” (on NPR) or he cooks out an animal 36 hours and apears on the NYT magazine! These acts tell me that he does not care at all for food justice and so many other ethical issues directly related with the foods he is always promoting.

    So, in short, I am not impressed wiht Pollan –for these reasons just mentiones and many more others. My hope on sharing with you this rats is that you take my points into consideration while reviewing Pollan and, given the opportunity–also carry our concerns and reallity when speaking/debating Pollan.

    OK , I hope I made myself clear. I can write better in french and spanish but english is my 7th language and I still have a long way to go with it. If you have any concerns/questions/comments I will be very happy to read them and answer them.

    Again, thank you for your valuable work on this blog and keep it up Adam!

    Best wishes,
    Gerardo Tristan.

    • Adam Merberg said

      Hi Gerardo,

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment. These concerns you raise are very important. As I mentioned in this post, I am writing a post that about the 36 hour goat roast. That post will be largely about class issues. There are certainly also issues of race, and I will see if I can fit some discussion into that post. (If not, I’ll work it into another post soon).

      Thanks again for bringing up these important issues. I’ve been meaning to write about them for some time but have been extremely busy the last few months with my qualifying exam and opening a cooperatively run grocery store. I hope to finally get around to them soon.


      P.S. Your English seems fine to me, though I do speak some Spanish if you’re more comfortable writing to me that way.

    • Adam Merberg said

      Also, you might appreciate Julie Guthman’s talk, “The Unbearable Whiteness of Alternative Food.” You can find it here: http://www.havenscenter.org/audio/julie_guthman_incredible_whiteness_alternative_food

    • I’ve had similar thoughts after reading a post by a Pollan follower who was angry that he could not afford the same things that Pollan could. I looked up some prices and made a blog post. As a vegan, I can go organic ( excluding produce ) , planet friendly, health friendly and near cruelty free for about 1/3 the cost of a Pollanesque diet:


  3. Gerardo Tristan said

    Definitivamente te tomo la palabra Adam! Gracias mil por tu pronta respuesta a mi comentario y tambine por el link que me compartes!

    I am looking forward to read your post on Pollans “36 hours dinner thing” and the post talking about race/class issues as well as all your future post on food and ethics. Your writing on this blog is great; can you re-post this in other respectable blogs such as ” Civil eats” et all?

    Also, I wish you all the best for your qualifying exam, opening the cooperative grocery store ( I would love to visit it when I get to the bay area!) and all your other projects Adam!

    Saludos fraternos,
    Gerardo Tristan.

  4. Gerardo Tristan said

    By the way, here is a link to a Canadian radio interview of Jonathan Safran Foer and Anthony Bourdain in case you haven’t hear it. Bourdain sound Pollanesque to the maximum potency ( clasist to the point of nausea!). Also he seems like a politician, full of crap!


    Peas and love,

  5. Lance said

    Are humans Omnivores? And is eating grains good for humans? There have been a ton of studies on the impact of gluten. Then soy is tough as a protein source for me. When 80% of the soy in this country is a GMO bean from Monsanto(a monopolistic corporation I CANNOT support) , does that feel good? I think eating a ton of veggies is great, and if you keep them local then I’m with you. But if you are eating tomatoes and bananas in the winter and you live in pretty much any part of the country that is a problem. Mono-crop agriculture isn’t the answer either and planting so much of our land with a pretty much inedible corn is a problem. So for someone like me who will not support GMO food, soy is tough, do not eat any processed food, can’t eat gluten… My choices become so limited that I’m not sure I can live a healthy life without some meat protein. Pollan doesn’t have the answer and I don’t know the guy so I don’t even know if he is nice, but his book has people thinking about the issue and movies like fresh, king corn, food inc. are raising awareness and that is a good thing imo. The issue with our food system is mainly consumer based, people want to be driving down the road at 1am and pull off and get food in 5 minutes. That is not good nutritious food and it drives the factory based volume we need in this country. With obesity, type 2 diabetes etc, something needs to change, right?

    • Adam Merberg said

      I really can’t figure out what in my post you’re responding to here.

      Regarding plant protein, I will make two comments, however.
      1.) There is plenty of organic non-GMO soy available for human consumption.
      2.) There are plenty of sources of plant protein other than soy and gluten. My favorites are chickpeas, lentils, and quinoa.

  6. […] ask questions when we see it presented as an alternative to monocultures (as it is in the movie Fresh and Keith’s The Vegetarian […]

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