Michael Pollan on Eating While Traveling, the Gluten-Free Craze, and More

Photo: Alia Malley/michaelpollan.com

We’re thrilled to welcome bestselling author and leading food-thinker Michael Pollan (“food-thinker” is a term now — we just coined it) for a discussion and signing of his book, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, this Wednesday. As we prepared for his visit, we wondered how someone who warns against dining out too frequently prepares for eating on the road over an extended time. Here’s what he had to say about that — plus a few other things.

You’re a big proponent of people cooking their own food, at home. What do you eat when you’re traveling for book tour? 

MP: Eating on the road is always tough. Airports are the worst. If I absolutely have to eat at an airport, I’ll seek out the burrito place and have a rice and beans burrito. One of personal rules, though, is No Airport Meat. I generally go vegetarian when I’m traveling, because who knows about the meat? But if I find a farm-to-table place, which you can do in almost any city these days, I’ll eat freely there. I do pack a few home-y items, like dried fruit and almonds from the farmer’s market. (Just stocked up now.)

So many people are gluten-sensitive now — or just want to avoid gluten — and it seems like there are more and more products on store shelves marked “gluten-free.” What’s your take on all the increased attention being paid to gluten these days?

MP: This is a social contagion behind which there is probably an increase in gluten sensitivity — but it cannot have increased at the same pace the market for gluten-free products have. I meet a lot of people who “feel better” when they get off gluten, and that may be — especially if they reduced their intake of carbs as a result, which is often the case. But don’t underestimate the power of suggestion. I have some theories as to why we may be more sensitive to gluten . . . but you’ll have to come to the talk to hear them.

cookedIs there a fabulous piece of cooking equipment you don’t have but dream of owning?

MP: A pasta extruder would be nice, but I don’t have the counter space, so I’ve had to stop buying gadgets. (And I don’t have many as it is.)

In Cooked, you write that scientists are just beginning to understand the “microbiome” — the community of bacteria that live in our bodies — and how our food and cooking choices affect the function of those bacteria and, ultimately, our own health. How can Americans begin to take a more friendly view of bacteria, as something to feed and cultivate, as opposed to something to eradicate as a “germ” everywhere we see it?

MP: I think Americans are discovering the pleasures of fermented foods and in the process learning to love, or at least accept, bacteria in their diet. We have a ways to go, but there are so many wonderful fermentos out there, and restaurants working with fermentation, that I think that in time the wonderful flavors will soften people’s opposition to bacteria — since they are responsible for creating them.

Cooking takes time, and food that’s good for you isn’t always quick to prepare or convenient to get your hands on. As a very busy guy, how do you make time to cook and eat healthfully?

MP: I make time most nights because I enjoy it — it’s how I unwind at the end of the day, mincing garlic and sipping a glass of wine and recapping the day with my wife. But I definitely have shortcuts. The big one is to always makes 50% more than we can possibly eat to make sure there are leftovers. And often on Sundays I’ll make even more than that — of a stew or braise or even pasta — to squeeze two meals out of one cook. I’m not sure what I’ve taken out of my day to make time for cooking, but I can’t say I miss it!

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For much more with Michael Pollan, check out his great interview with our friends at Chapter16.

Pollan’s visit takes place at Ingram Hall at the Blair School of Music on Wednesday, May 14, at 6:30 p.m. This event is presented in partnership with Humanities TennesseeThe Nashville Public Library Foundationand the Blair School of MusicThis is a ticketed event. Tickets to the event are $20 and include a paperback copy of Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation. Please be sure to bring your ticket to the event, as it will secure your admittance to the auditorium.

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