- University of California Berkeley
- Berkeley, CA
- Personal Website
Michael Pollan’s popular books and lectures have made him a national leader in journalism on the science and policy of food and agriculture.
Professor Pollan is author of five New York Times Best Sellers: The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, The Botany of Desire, In Defense of Food, Food Rules and, mostly recently, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation. In 2010 he was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time Magazine.
Pollan’s fourth book, The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (2006), was named one of the ten best books of 2006 by the New York Times and the Washington Post. It also won the California Book Award, the Northern California Book Award, the James Beard Award for best food writing, and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. He is also the author of A Place of My Own (1997) and Second Nature (1991).
A long-time contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine, Pollan is the recipient of numerous journalistic awards, including the James Beard Award for best magazine series in 2003 and the Reuters-I.U.C.N. 2000 Global Award for Environmental Journalism. Pollan served for many years as executive editor of Harper's Magazine and is now the Knight Professor of Science and Environmental Journalism at UC Berkeley. His articles have been anthologized in Best American Science Writing (2004); Best American Essays (1990 and 2003) and the Norton Book of Nature Writing. He lives in the Bay Area with his wife, the painter Judith Belzer, and their son, Isaac. To contact him, email:email@example.com.
Berkeley proposes to create a new senior tenured position for a science/technology writer who would continue his or her own journalistic projects while teaching and running a new Center for Science and Technology Reporting. Such a center and endowment would anchor the school's specialized reporting curriculum and... create a nerve center for related events, conferences, special programs and commentary on the critical challenges faced by science and technology reporting. As a result of the teaching and research of the Knight Chair, Berkeley will serve as a new resource for science and technology journalism nationally, as a training center for young journalists and as an intellectual center for the public on issues involving the news media in the coverage of science and technology.
In 2013 Pollan helped to establish the new Berkeley Food Institute, a joint project of three units on campus: Journalism, the College of Natural Resources, and the Goldman School of Public Policy. The outcome thus far has been to foster collaboration across campus, and to raise the profile of food studies at UC Berkeley. Funding for three years has been pledged.
Pollan recently published an illustrated edition of Food Rules, with paintings with Maira Kalman. The book extends the reach of his project of helping to educate the largest possible audience on food and health, including people who would never read a long book on the subject. The book, much of the content of which was crowd-sourced, was a number one New York Times bestseller. A series of viral videos and slide shows and TV interviews (Good Morning America; the Colbert Report) accompanied publication in Fall 2011.
In 2011, Pollan established Edible Education, a new undergraduate course on campus that introduces a large group of students (400) and community members (300) to the full range of issues under the rubric of food politics. Funded by the Edible Schoolyard Foundation and, now, The Berkeley Food institute, the course features weekly guest lecturers, including Eric Schlosser, Peter Sellars, Marion Nestle, Alice Waters, Robert Reich, and others. Innovations included a live webcast and YouTube archive, as well as inviting in the local community onto campus to participate. The course became a gathering place for both students and faculty engaged by food and agriculture issues, and it is being repeated spring 2014.
A PBS production of Pollan’s 2008 book, In Defense of Food, is in production, and scheduled for broadcast in 2014.
Question-and-Answer with Knight Chair
State of the industry: What disturbs you most about journalism and the media industry today? What excites you most?
I am disturbed by so many things (the fact that my students have trouble finding jobs or getting paid for their journalism; pressure on freelance rates; the disappearance of various media outlets) but at the top of the list is the fact that the refereeing function of mainstream journalism in our society appears to be completely kaput. Case in point is the 2012 primaries and election. It would seem that the factchecking function of newspapers and TV network has lost all authority and credibility. When a TV network or the New York Times calls a candidate out on a lie, it is simply attacked as partisan. The pressure to descend to the level of Fox News is building across the spectrum.
What excites me is the fact that there is now a place to publish almost any half-way decent piece of journalism, which is very good news for my students. And if the piece is better than half-way decent, no matter where it appears, the relevant community of interest will find it. The internet has clearly expanded the audience for good writing; what’s more, once published, nothing ever disappears. On the other side of the ledger, there is a race to the bottom on fees, and many credible websites (such as Atlantic.com) are no longer ashamed to offer nothing –literally $0-- for substantial pieces of journalism.
Media innovation: Do you think journalism programs should keep up with the quickening pace of change in the industry? How can they? What is your approach?
Journalism programs should obviously keep up with the quickening pace of change in the industry, but at the same time they should not slavishly follow every new trend or platform-- or panic. Teaching my students how to report, structure, and write a long journalistic narrative is still the most useful thing I can do for them. The market for such pieces is changing, but it still exists, in magazines, on-line (By-Liner and the Atavist, to name two excellent outlets), and book publishing. My most accomplished students over the past few years are publishing books with top publishers and receiving substantial advances—enough for them to live on. So we try not to over-react, keep our head down, and do the work.