Michael Pollan
Michael Pollan. Photo: Ken Light

When word leaked out in the spring that Michael Pollan would be co-teaching a class on the rise and future of the food movement, students at UC Berkeley rushed to sign up. The 10-week, two-unit course was filled minutes after it was listed online.

Now, the general community has a chance to participate in this gold rush.

UC will be releasing tickets for Edible Education 101 on a first-come, first-serve basis on August 15. There will be about 282 tickets available for each class and people will be able to sign up for just one lecture or all of them, said Carolyn Federman, director of development for the Edible Schoolyard, which is co-sponsoring and paying for the course. The tickets will be free and will be sold through Ticketweb, she said.

Pollan is co-teaching Edible Education 101 with Nikki Henderson, the executive director of People’s Grocery, a food justice organization in Oakland. While Pollan and Henderson are the co-teachers, much of the class will center around lectures given by luminaries in the food movement. Confirmed speakers include Carlo Petrini, Peter Sellars, Marion Nestle, Frances Moore Lappé, Raj Patel, Ann Cooper, Eric Schlosser, and Alice Waters.

The class will be held Tuesdays from 6-7:30 pm in Wheeler Auditorium, which seats about 732 people. Four hundred of those seats will be for enrolled students and 50 will be held for VIPs, course planners, and others, according to Alix Schwartz, UC’s director of academic planning. The remainder will go to the general public.

Pollan is a Knight professor at the Graduate School of Journalism, so this class is a great opportunity for undergraduates to study with him, said Schwartz.

“To be exposed to this material – it’s great for undergraduates,” she said.

The class is also part of the 40th anniversary celebration of Chez Panisse restaurant. The Chez Panisse Foundation — which will change its name to the Edible Schoolyard Foundation in the fall — is footing the $30,000 cost for the class, said Schwartz.

It is the first time that UC has held a class that brings together students and members of the community, she said. There is a class on race at Cal that is made up of students and staff, but no other course with those outside the system.

The first lecturer on August 30 will be Carlo Petrini, the founder of the Slow Food movement. He will speak in Italian, so there will be a translator.

Frances Dinkelspiel

Frances Dinkelspiel (co-founder) is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California,...

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  1. Is it possible to look past the personality to the core of the message?  Another person on the side of “stop eating that crap and have a vegetable or less processed item” is a GOOD thing, is it not?  Of course, haters gonna hate…

  2. Bruce: 
    Your analysis of the Pollen = Kellog equation is brilliant.  I don’t know if this thesis is original to you or not, but you have masterfully outlined and articulated  the pitfalls of guru based nutritionism, past and present. 
    Personally, I have a high regard for Pollen’s insights into the modern diet, but based on his academic background and apparent total lack of experience as either a peasant or gentleman farmer, I really question how well his sweeping dictats for reorganizing the world’s entire food chain would actually pan out with 6 billion plus human lives in the balance.  Some of you may recall Pollen’s  “An Open Letter to the next Farmer in Chief” in the Oct. 2008 NY Times Magazine which laid out a very ambitious program to transform radically both the dietary habits  and the agricultural system of the entire American food chain.
    While one could argue that what Pollen advocates in terms of top down reprioritization of agriculture might be termed the Rekulakization of the USA, it still instructive to see how Dekulakization of the Soviet farm system actually worked out when, in the abstract, it may have made a great deal of sense to Marxist agronomists of the time.
    Lastly, I think it’s a real pity that such an interesting and provocative thesis as your concise and provocative analysis has (apparently) elicited so little interest, debate or rejoinders.  It speaks to a collapsing level of discourse on Berkeleyside in particular but on the internet in general.

  3. Perhaps part of the reason that Pollan provokes such negative responses is a perception of hypocrisy.   For example, he is critical of historic figures like Kellog for promoting “nutritionism”.   Nutritionism is a scientifically oversimplified, bogus way to look at healthy eating.  Pollan’s food chain and science review writing and speaking helps to highlight the intellectual shortfalls of nutritionism.  

    Pollan likes to use the example of Kellog, an early nutritionist.  Kellog, in retrospect, appears to have been kind of crazy.

    Are Pollan and Kellog all that different?   It’s a question that Pollan invites by criticizing Kellog.

    Kellog, in some sense, got famous and influential by assuring rich people that:  Affluent people were smart and superior to others to spend more money on diet issues than most could afford to spend.   Kellog was happy to get a taste of that spending.  He assured the affluent that the typical food most affordable to and consumed by hoi poloi was morally inferior when chosen by anyone who might be able to sacrifice to avoid it.  He offered that pursuing these newly coined food values for a hedonistic outcome of bodily pleasure was a political and religious virtue.  He allowed that a masochistic element to his program of eating and other regimines was proof of its moral superiority.  And finally he held that by pursuing these dietary values, one was actually bringing about a transformative improvement to society and the world at large.

    So for Kellog’s followers, you had a dash of self flagulation, a sense of moral superiority, a valorization of conspicuous consumption, a messianic narrative, a false elitiism, a false identification of one’s bodily sense of well being with one’s political virtue….

    Whereas, from that perspective, with Pollan … you have exactly the same thing with fresh curtains.   Instead of Kellog’s god in the equation you have a faith-based interpretation of traditional culture.   Instead of a narrative in which science enables the perfecting of diet, you have a narrative in which science currently proves mainly its own limitations in diet design.   Instead of services sold at the Sanitarium, you have farmer’s food boutiques, lifestyle small farming for an affluent customer base, and books and lectures.

    I’ve very little doubt but that Pollan’s eating advice and notes on the supply chains are vastly better than anything Kellog had to offer.   I’ve very little doubt that many of his fans have had their lives objectively improved by their exposure to Pollan.    Maybe his program even does some kind of good in the world — I hope so but I have my doubts.  Nevertheless, the negative reactions are easy to understand when you see that the most visible evidence of his reception by the general public more closely resembles a slight update to Kellog than it signals the dismissal of the social dynamic that gave Kellog such influence.

  4. MIchael Pollan is a charming person who has a lot to say. I haven’t read all of his books but I love his writing.

  5. Boy – sometimes I think people don’t post here any more unless they just want to complain.

  6. That may well be. But I’m critical of the light weight nature of his books, not his personal qualities. I’ve never learned anything new or gained any insight from his works. And as for students signing up in droves, of course they will and so would my son (except that I wouldn’t pay the tuition for a mickey mouse course) if they could ace an easy class that counts towards GE requirements. It’s tiresome to see Info Lite achieve cultural heft in this country.

  7. Such bitter, snooty comments are very distasteful and I’m sorry to read them on Berkeleyside; I thought the trolls in the Bay Area were so busy on SFGate that they’d leave this little bit of media real estate for more thoughtful commentary. Instead of attending the series with people who might be celebrity-philes, serious foodies, or simply curious, you can be as righteous as you’d like with all your other Pollan-phobic friends. But please keep it to yourselves!

  8. For one, he doesn’t preach (others my disagree).  And he’s fairly self-deprecating.
    That tends so set him apart from the food fascists…

  9. An interesting concept – celebrity classes open to the public as another source of income for educational institutions, could help stanch rising costs  

  10. as if all of the other people and orgs involved have nothing to do with the popularity of this class. michael pollan created these people, eh? chez panisse and others have been doing it for so long now…nice attempt at a wry quip, though. give respect to this movement.

  11. as if all of the other people and orgs involved have nothing to do with the popularity of this class. michael pollan created these people, eh? chez panisse and others have been doing it for so long now…nice attempt at a wry quip, though. give respect to this movement.