Award-winning food writer and journalist Michael Pollan spoke Tuesday at the Tempe Center for The Arts for the Flinn Centennial Lecture. The centennial lecture is put on by the Flinn Foundation, and this year’s lecture was also a celebration of Barrett, the Honors College’s 25th anniversary.
Barrett Dean Mark Jacobs introduced Pollan to the auditorium of students, professors and the Tempe general public, highlighting the value of the Centennial Lecture and its importance to the community.
“The chance that this gives all of us to come to know these accomplished visitors is very, very valuable to us,” he said.
Pollan spoke for almost an hour and his lecture revolved around education and his writing process. He weaved humor into his story telling, taking the audience through each of his novels and the methods he took to write each one, reading excerpts from his novels along the way.
Pollan explained that when he started writing, he put himself in the story, a method he learned from George Plimpton’s 1994 novel “The Paper Lion.” Pollan’s first foray into writing was about gardening, and his experience as a novice gardener making the realization that he knew nothing and everything he thought he knew was false.
“(Plimpton) found a new vantage to look at an old story, which is the sense of wonder you get from doing something for the first time,” Pollan said.
Pollan’s lecture was a unique look inside the mind of the writer. His knowledge of food came directly from hands-on experience and research he did himself. His writing has always centered on dispelling claims of the food industry and shedding light on the truth and he let the audience in on his way of accomplishing this.
He spoke about the inspiration that led him to writing his most well-known novel, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.” It all began when he was allowed access to a farm run by the food-producing giant Monsanto, an experience that is unheard of today, because the corporation is enveloped in controversy and negative pubic opinion. He said he was amazed at the toxicity of the pesticides that were being used on the potato farm, and this insider’s look gave him a push to write the book.
“I realized, I need to write a book a bout where our food comes from,” he said.
Pollan ended the night with a short question and answer session moderated by Dean Jacobs. The questions were written by audience members before the lecture. Pollan responded to the questions that ranged from meals every college student should have in their tool belt, to the validity of genetically modified organisms.
Dance sophomore and Flinn scholar Allyson Yoder attended the lecture after hearing about Michael Pollan when she was doing research about food and health while she was making her decision to become a vegetarian.
“I knew his name really well and I knew what he stood for,” she said. “I definitely am excited about reading his books now.”
The night ended with a book signing in the lobby, where a long line of fans formed, eager to ask Pollan more questions and have their copies of his latest book signed.
Pollan’s most recent novel is “Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation.”
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