Earlier this week, I was informed that Michael Pollan will be speaking at Michigan State University on April 12 as a part of the Wharton Center’s “World View” lecture series. It is not uncommon for the university to bring in speakers from many different areas and so, while this intrigued me, I wasn’t necessarily surprised.
That is, until I learned that the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources will be sponsoring Mr. Pollan’s presentation.
For those of you that are unfamiliar with Mr. Pollan’s work, let me give you a brief overview. Pollan is a contributing writer for the New York Times and is the author of several best-selling books, including The Omnivore’s Dilemna, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, and Food Rules. His writings cover a variety of topics about the relationship between people and food. He recently appeared on the Oprah show (where she labeled him a “food expert”) and was a consultant and co-star for the film Food, Inc. Mr. Pollan is highly critical of the agricultural industry.
Now, I’m not going to lie and say that some of the things he discusses aren’t valid. Is the rate of diabetes in children rising unnecessarily? Yes. Is America, as a country, needlessly obese? Yes. Are we buying too much junk food and not enough healthy food? Yes. Is that the fault of American agriculture and American farmers? Now, that’s where I start to have problems.
In a recent statement, the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at Michigan State University stated that:
“When the CANR learned of the upcoming event and was approached to be a sponsor, we thought it was an opportunity to engage with Mr. Pollan in a constructive dialogue regarding agricultural issues and our collective food future.”
I am fully in favor of having a “constructive dialogue” with Mr. Pollan. Unfortunately, that doesn’t appear to be what will happen. CANR has scheduled a seminar for the college’s students the afternoon before the lecture and another “pre-lecture event” for CANR leadership to “interact with Mr. Pollan” (whatever that may mean–maybe h’ordeuvres and champagne?). While this may give those interested in the industry a chance to converse with Mr. Pollan, it does nothing to present a well-rounded view to the hundreds of students and faculty who will sit in Cobb Great Hall of the Wharton Center. Those people will hear what he says and nothing else.
I am not opposed to Michael Pollan coming to Michigan State (and even if I was, it wouldn’t matter!). I am opposed to the College of Ag and Natural Resources supporting this presentation without the requirement of input from other representatives in the agricultural industry.
On October 15, 2009 Michael Pollan spoke at Cal Poly University in a similar situation. However, the one difference is that Cal Poly created a presentation where Pollan spoke as a part of a panel with representatives from multiple production methods. According to @SIPtheGoodLife, who attended that presentation, the panel discussion was much more interesting and much more valueable to those who attended.
I would encourage the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources to pursue a panel-like event where a true dialogue can occur. Allowing CANR students to ask questions is one thing–they already understand the other side. Presenting a one-sided lecture to hundreds who don’t understand both sides–not what I would categorize as “constructive” or “dialogue”.
On a related note, I find it interesting that CANR Dean Jeffrey Armstrong refused to engage in a dialogue with a representative from PETA earlier this fall, yet supports and monetarily sponsors the presentation of another activist. Just something to think about…