Special Sauce: Michael Pollan on Cracker Jack and Childhood Gardens

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[Photograph: Vicente Franco]

"I am first and foremost a writer, and I don't really feel I've done an honest day's work if I'm not writing," says journalist, author, professor, and activist Michael Pollan in this week's episode of Special Sauce. You've probably heard of Pollan; over the last 30 years, he's shared his passion for food and agriculture in numerous articles for The New York Times, as well as nine books, including In Defense of Food, Cooked, The Omnivore's Dilemma, and The Botany of Desire. This week, Pollan and I caught up to discuss what's kept him in the garden, in the kitchen, and writing for all this time.

As I found out during our chat, Pollan has had an interest in food and agriculture since his childhood. He really appreciated his mother's cooking, which was heavily influenced by the 1960s obsession with Asian and French cuisine, and, at eight years old, he started gardening on his "farm" in his family's backyard in Long Island, New York: "As a gardener, though, I had always been interested in growing vegetables. I didn't see the point of flowers; that seemed like a waste of land and effort." This youthful passion sparked decades of research about the food we put in our bodies and the places it comes from. (He does have a guilty pleasure, though: Cracker Jack. Pollan turns out to be a longtime student of the caramel-coated popcorn's packaging through the years. )

In this episode of Special Sauce, we discuss what inspired him to write and what made him adapt his work to new media, including the documentary about his book In Defense of Food and his new documentary based on Cooked, which is now streaming on Netflix. You'll also learn about Pollan's initial pest-control methods—surprising, I assure you—and how his early involvement with Monsanto led to what he calls a series of detective stories.

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