Michael Pollan on Oprah

pollanI’m not a huge Oprah fan, but when I heard she was having Michael Pollan on her show today, I immediately set my DVR.

I’ve seen Pollan making the rounds of various talk shows over the past couple of weeks with a short clip each time, but this is different. Oprah has dedicated an entire to show to discussing food and where it comes from, and when this discussion gets to Oprah, you know it’s finally becoming mainstream. And this is a conversation that very much needs to be mainstream.

I couldn’t resist pulling out my laptop and taking notes.  This is a bit disjointed because I’m not adding a lot of commentary.  I just thought I’d share as much of the show as I could with those of you who didn’t catch it.

FACT: On average, kids drink twice as much soda as milk.
FACT: 28 million pounds of antibiotics a year is fed to our meat sources.
FACT: Chickens are now raised and slaughtered in half the time they were 50 years ago, but now they’re twice as big.

In fact, they have actually redesigned chickens to have large breasts because people prefer white meat. Cause, you know, the way God designed them isn’t good enough.

Following are some random Pollan quotes from the show:

“Cheap food is great, and we have to acknowledge that achievement, but we also have to acknowledge the cost of it.”

“We spend less of our money (9.5%) on food than any other people at any other time on this earth.”

“Before the western diet comes in, populations did not have high levels of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, etc.”

“It’s not about fats. It’s not about carbs. It’s about whole foods.”

He has a new book called Food Rules.  I’ll add that one to my Amazon recommendations on the sidebar shortly.

Rule #1: Eat real food.

“Food is alive, and it should die.”  Snort.  His point is, if it doesn’t eventually go bad, it is not real food.  I saw a feature once on a woman who kept a McDonalds hamburger and fries for YEARS and it didn’t rot.  I think that pretty much illustrates his point.

The key, he says, is do you want to pay the price for good food, or do you want to spend the money at the doctor’s?

FACT: In 1960 18% of our income was spent on food, and 5% of the national income was spent on health care.  Today, 9% of our income is spent on food, and 17% of our national income is spent on health care.

As Pollan asks: “Who would you rather pay?”

I love Rule #39 – “Eat all the junk food you want as long as you make it yourself.”

He uses french fries as an example – if you make them yourself, it’s a process. You aren’t going to eat them every day because you aren’t going to MAKE them every day.

In other words, the convenience of food has contributed to the problem.

“If you understand what it takes to make food that cheap, you lose your appetite.”  I can attest to that.

Rule #27 — “Eat meat that has itself eaten well.”

“When you feed animals corn, they grow faster, but they get sick because cattle were evolved to eat grass. When they eat grass, they don’t need antibiotics, and their beef is healthier.”

“Get out of the supermarket,” Pollan says.  I know, it’s easier said than done, depending on where you live.  But it really is key to finding fresher, healthier food.

“If we are eating real food, we don’t need to worry about nutrients.” That really simplifies matters, doesn’t it?  So we can ignore the latest study about the latest fad nutrient.  Just eat a good variety of whole foods, and it will all even out in the wash.

After Pollan’s segment, Alicia Silverstone joins the show to discuss her book, The Kind Diet.  While I don’t agree with the vegan lifestyle, I like her point that eating better is not about giving things up; it’s about adding things in.

I definitely feel that I have not given up as much as I have added in, and there’s just not that much room for the junk anymore.  And it doesn’t even look good to me.   Seriously.  And I used to LOVE junk.

Next Oprah interviews the owner of Chipotle, Steve Ells.  I have heard about this restaurant chain, but I’ve never been to one.

His philosophy is: “Just because it’s fast doesn’t mean it has to be a fast food experience.”  Everything is fresh, never frozen.  They buy produce from local family farmers when it’s available, and they serve more naturally raised meat than any other restaurant chain in the country.

“How do you keep the standard?” Oprah asks.

“You do a few things, and you do them really well,” Ells replies.  Then he explains that he actually teaches his staff to cook.

He switched to all pastured pork in his restaurants after seeing free range pigs and feed lot pigs.

Oprah turns to Pollan and asks if it is possible to feed all the people in the world if all of the animals were raised outdoors. Good question; I often wonder this.

His answer went something like this: “If all of our animals were grown outdoors, we might not eat as much meat.  We eat a rather obscene amount of meat.  It’s a trade-off between quality and quantity.”

I loved it when he pointed out earlier in the show that if we figured out how to re-engineer the chicken, we can figure out a way to mass produce sustainable food.

I’ll close with two of the best quotes from the show:

“The consumer is the biggest voice behind whether there will be change or not.”

“We can all vote with our fork. We get three votes a day.”

Now here’s a deal for you.  Until midnight tonight, is offering Food Inc. for $9.99 with a free download.  So if you haven’t seen it, here’s your chance.  (And I will also tell you that you can get it on Netflix, which is how we saw it, and probably even at Blockbuster.)

Disclaimer: My quotes are as accurate as possible, but not all are word-for-word.  There are affiliate links in this post.

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53 thoughts on “Michael Pollan on Oprah

  1. Great post! I watched as well and enjoyed the show. I loved what they said about reading all the ingredients. That is very important! I can’t believe how many people have not been to Chipotle! It is our favorite restaurant. You must go. So yummy!

  2. They do turkeys the same way. My husband is a truck driver and used be contracted out through his company to work for Sara Lee. The turkeys he was picking up for them had HUMONGOUS breasts on them and were engineered to be that way. They mature for slaughter very fast and the demand for them must be pretty huge itself as more and more turkey farms are popping up everywhere. (around here) After picking up on these farms he didn’t want turkey for Thanksgiving for a good 2 years. He also had his company switch him to different loads to get away from the farms.

    I will say this about the over crowded barns these birds are in. They don’t have heat (that I know of) going to the barns. The birds stay warm due to the body heat of each other. Here it dips below zero a lot in the winter (actual temp, sometimes as much as -20) so the more birds they have in there, the warmer the birds stay. That said, the whole of it is still a disgusting and oh so sad practice to me.

  3. I vote for a PMB get-together @ the Chipotle in Cherry Hill! I thought this was a great episode of Oprah, and I will be watching Food Inc. tonight. It’s on Instant Play @ Netflix.

    Great post!

  4. Awesome recap! I love Michael’s books and think he is a great person (I worked for his father in college and Michael was generous in advice and help to me.)

    One question: how have you never eaten at Chipotle?!?! It’s a-maz-ing!

    1. You know him? How cool!! Chipotle isn’t convenient for me, and my stomach doesn’t do so well with Mexican foods so I haven’t tried it. I want to though!

  5. What a great post- I REALLY wish that I had seen this episode of Oprah. This is something I have become really passionate about lately. We need to be more aware of what we are putting in our bodies and how it will effect us!

  6. I know we have a big problem with our diets her in America but it all seems pretty overwhelming to me. I guess you start out one step at a time. I started keeping track of my own sugar intake and being aware of my kids sugar. It can add up really fast!

    1. Bonnie, I think sugar is a great place to start. For one thing, it’s an area ALL the experts seem to agree on. I think if you start by eliminating sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and fake stuff (low fat foods, margarine, fake sugars, etc) then you’re already taking a HUGE step towards better health for your family. I had already eliminated that stuff when I discovered “real food” so that helped a lot.

      Then the next step is to get rid of processed snacks or at least limit them severely. Replace with fresh fruits and veggies and homemade snacks.

      Then you can tackle pastured meat and eggs and organics and milk, etc.

      That’s the way I went about it, anyway.

  7. “FACT: Chickens are now raised and slaughtered in half the time they were 50 years ago, but now they’re twice as big.” Thats disturbing.

    and i LOVE this: I love Rule #39 – “Eat all the junk food you want as long as you make it yourself.”


  8. Great post! I just put a hold on Michael’s book at our local library and am looking forward to reading it. We’re working on eating more “real food” here too, but rather than starting with sugar (which is just an overwhelming idea for me!) we started with local vegetables. It’s helped a lot because we have a better sense of where the food comes from (what’s in season etc), we’re eating a LOT more veggies (because a set amount just show up!) and since I simultaneously made a pact with my husband that we wouldn’t buy any other vegetables from the grocery store in order to stay within budget we actually buy less junk food since we go to the store less often.

    We have quite a lot of our food delivered now; most of it from local farmers and it’s amazing how that’s impacted the type of food we eat.

    1. That’s awesome! I have been trying to eat more local veggies too, and they are SO yummy. I miss them, now that it’s wintertime.

  9. I’m not a big Oprah watcher either, but I did catch the last 20 minutes (hoping to catch the first 40 later tonight). Thanks to you’re blog and the stuff I’m seeing around the blog-o-sphere I’m really starting to get convicted about this. My family eats too much junky processed food and a big reason is because it’s cheap and easy. One of my new year “goals” is to slowly start to buy better quality stuff and start cutting out some of the junk. It’s a slow process, but we’ll get to a place that’s good for us. I admit that I was a little annoyed when you first started blogging about all of the whole food stuff, but I’m glad that you did because it’s really got me thinking.

    1. LOL. I wonder who else I’ve annoyed along the way! 🙂

      I am an all or nothing sorta girl. It works for me. I can’t do things halfway or I lapse back into old habits. But I think many people do better taking small steps, and that’s a great way to make changes if that’s how you can make them last. I hope you find a place that is right for you. 🙂 And I hope I’m not too awfully annoying when I post about food! 🙂 🙂

  10. Wow! You’re informing me about things I’ve never taken the time to think about before. Thank you! I’m looking forward to delving into this matter a little more closely once I quit work and have more time.

    By the way, I have nominated you for an award that will be on my blog tomorrow morning. Thanks for all your information. I really do appreciate coming to your blog every day and reading what you have to say. You are very informative and very entertaining.

  11. Missed this b/c like you I’m not a big Oprah fan anymore, but I would have tuned in for this one. But thanks for the recap!! I am not surprised by the less spending on food. I’ve def done the ‘try to save & coupon as much as I can game’ and while I definitely think it’s still important & that I can coupon & save & still eat healthy, I also know that sometimes the price plays a higher piece of my decision making than what I’m eating … sad, but true!! I need to start thinking of it like the dr./food relationship he described!

  12. Wonderful post!! I can’t wait for his next book. I would love to meet him in person.

    Can’t believe I missed this show today.

  13. This show absolutely fascinated me. So much so, I ran right to Netflix and put it in my “instant” view (you can watch it for free on your computer if you have the $8.99 plan on Netflix).

    My question for you is, do you think we need to spend close 20% of our income on food as other counties do? Because I have to say, that is a staggering $$ amount.

    1. It’s only staggering b/c we are used to cheap, crappy food. I have no idea what percentage of our income we are spending on food now. I should try to figure it out. Would be interesting.

      I know people do eat “real food” on a budget, but honestly, we spend a lot of money on food. I know we are blessed that we can, but on the other hand, our kids might want to go to college. 😉

      I guess everyone has to decide what they can do and what they can’t and then not feel guilty about what they can’t, kwim?

      And if the govt would subsidize fresh vegetables rather than commodity corn, real food WOULD be affordable, and crap food wouldn’t. Not that I’m really excited about the govt being involved at all, but it’s just the way it is, I spose.

      1. I like this quote I’ve seen on a couple of real food blogs: “If you think organic food is expensive, have you priced cancer lately?” JOEL SALATIN
        Goes right along with what Michael was saying that you quoted: In 1960 18% of our income was spent on food, and 5% of the national income was spent on health care. Today, 9% of our income is spent on food, and 17% of our national income is spent on health care.

  14. When I first learned about this issue with the chickens I mentioned it to my brother-in-law who farms. He said he has seen these chickens and it looks ridiculous…they can barely stand up, much less walk…some of them kept falling over. It’s kind of funny to think about but mostly sad. I’m not a big Oprah fan either, but she’s the way to get this info. out there!

  15. I watched the first half of the show and then missed some of the end because I was in the shower. 🙂 It got me thinking again about the choices we are making and where I can make changes. The hardest thing for me is time and money. As you know, budget is huge for me, as we are feeding a large family and trying to get out of debt and save where we can. That being said, I buy very few packaged foods, especially snacks. I try to give the kids fruit and cheese and so on, but it is HARD. My 2 yo wants to eat constantly and sometimes I just don’t want to cup up another apple or give her a piece of cheese (especially if I am afraid of finding petrified fruit later, ha!).

    I liked that Pollan was very sincere but non-judgmental about this. He seems to really get that families are struggling and that it is difficult to make these changes, at least at first.

    We already use less meat in recipes, and I try to have a meatless meal at least once a week. But, we could still do a lot more and I’m trying to get there. I will admit too that my motivation is lacking because we don’t have health issues or behavior issues (at this point) that would probably make me change things a little more quickly. I know that is sad and selfish, but there it is anyway.

    Thanks for the recap!

    1. Yes, I think his casual demeanor is what makes his message tolerable. He’s not judging.

      And I agree with you — if there aren’t tangible reasons to change, it is harder to find the motivation. For me, it was a combination of my own tummy troubles, and just seeing the difference between industrial foods and naturally raised foods.

      I really do believe that food choices are a very individual thing, there are so many factors, and I hope we can share information with each other and encourage each other where ever we are in the journey. My biggest fear with these posts is being a discouragement to someone.

  16. This is a great post! First, because I discovered AFTER my illness that I had to eat more natural foods–and those that are high in quality. I like his statement about the junk food and making it yourself. It’s so true–Last night I made chicken and noodles for dinner. I made the noodles from scratch–took me one and a half hours to make the noodles. They were delicious–but will I make them soon? Nope. Maybe next month if it’s still cold outside.

    I visit our local Farmer’s Market–I get the best veggies there. I’ve learned to freeze those that can be frozen for winter-time use. It’s like opening up a container of summer every time.

    1. So they freeze well? I’m always afraid they will be mushy. I love our local farm market in the summer months. It’s not organic, but it’s so fresh and yummy that I don’t care, lol!!

  17. I didn’t get to see the show, so thanks for the recap. I am definitely going to watch the movie on Netflix this weekend. And I’m going to clean out the pantry too.
    I am pretty good on the vegetables here, but getting sugar out is going to be hard. My biggest challenge is the time with working full time. I’m going to have to figure out how to incorporate this into our daily routines.
    One last point, the chicken thing has me all wierded out now. I’ll be asking for the name of your farm where you get the chicken & eggs.

    1. Kim, I know. You already do so much. Not all of it is time consuming, though. Since we don’t have sugary snacks, I try to keep those organic black tortilla chips and popcorn and pretzels around for something snacky that isn’t fruit or veggies. It does get boring, though. What about cheese sticks? I need to try to get inventive for my own gang b/c we are tiring of tortilla chips, lol.

      I do buy those Annies chocolate bunnies for a treat, but the kids can go through them in one sitting if I let them.

      For me, snacks are the biggest challenge. I’ll poke around some of my favorite real food blogs and see if I can come up with some ideas for us.

  18. I never watch Oprah but happened to be channel surfing and caught this. I thought of you and wondered if you were watching. Very much to think about on this program for sure. The whole chicken reconfiguring thing really disturbed me.

    1. Yes! I saw that. I would love to try it, but Mexican can be hard on my tummy so I haven’t made it a priority to get to one.

  19. Thanks for recapping this, Jo-Lynne, because I missed it too. I recently read Food Rules. It is an incredibly easy read — you can read it in an hour — but it is worth a second and third reading. Such great tips. The one I always think of is, “Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.” He uses those Go-Gurt portable yogurt tubes as an example. Great-grandma would want to know whether it’s a food or toothpaste. 🙂

  20. I know you’ll be shocked, but I watched the show and while I will never be on board with loading up on the butter ;), I DO totally agree about the meat. We are in the heart of a big city and I have no idea where to get free-range type of meat but I’m going to try. My daughter doesn’t even like soda, so no problem on that one.

    1. LOL. I’m getting ready to get my lipids tested. I’ll let you know what I find out. Of course, I have always loaded up on butter, even before I thought it had nutritional benefits. I just love me the butter. 🙂

      You may be able to find a buying club that delivers to the city. And also, big cities often have free range meat at farm markets. I’m sure it ain’t cheap, but, you can probably find it.

  21. First time to your blog…. I will be looking thru it after commenting. =)

    I am not an Oprah fan, so didn’t see the show. But I am reading The Omnivores Dilemma too and I think their subtitle says it all… “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants”. I try to really limit my meat and dairy products and feel it is the healthiest of eating styles. But boy do I love me some CHOCOLATE!!!!!!

    Another great book that changed my view of food last year is “Healthy at 100”. Fascinating study of the 4 people groups in the world that have the longest, healthiest life span. Common denominator= just a little meat.

  22. I just love your posts on real food.

    They’ve been especially helpful to me because as a college student, I’m learning how to do a lot of things on my own (some for the first time in my life). Though my parents would do anything for me, I have to decide what’s best for me as far as my health is concerned. Your blog has been very informative, and while I may not necessarily agree with everything, you’ve provided some awesome recipes and insights. And I really enjoy the “Real Food: What to Eat and Why” book. I know I’m not perfect with my eating habits yet, but I’ve made a lot of good changes and learned quite a few new things. I’ve actually gotten to the point in which I can’t stand the taste of white eggs anymore. I thought that was rather interesting, and kind of strange too. I sometimes still use them in baked goods just because they’re the only types of eggs that come in a half dozen (it’s hard for me to purchase food and ensure that I actually consume it all since I usually buy food for myself). However, when I eat omelets or any other type of egg like that, brown, organic eggs taste so much better. Also, I’ve realized that I am developing an ability to taste the difference between organic fruits and non-organic fruits.

    I do have one question right now, though. Do you have any tips or ideas on what to do to ensure that I get a decent amount of good fruit and veggies in the winter? Of course in Illinois the winters here a little rough and there’s never fresh, local produce during this time of year. I don’t mind occasionally getting non-organic vegetables from the regular grocery store. But I’ve noticed that I really can’t stand some of the fruits. I do go to the health food store, but for some reason, it just doesn’t seem as fresh and it sometimes makes me kind of nauseous. Is that weird? Lol. I really need to find a way to always consume fruit because I have a terrible sweet tooth. If I don’t eat fruit with healthy sugars, I end up binging on candy or something. 🙁 So, does anyone know of any fruits that freeze particularly well? Also, how are you supposed to package fruits that you intend to freeze?

    One other thing — I found a recipe for fruit “leathers” (like fruit snacks), and I think they would be really good. If you haven’t ever seen a recipe for them before and would like one, let me know and I’ll send you the link.

    Thanks for any info. 🙂


    1. Darcie, good for you, for starting to think about how you eat so young. I lived on Coke and Doritos in college, and I’m living to regret it.

      I have a hard time with fruit in the winter too. I mostly rely on apples and bananas for my fruit. I get them at the whole foods store, and they are organic. And I do splurge occasionally on the Driscoll’s organic raspberries that they fly in from CA.

      I actually froze some peaches and they are STILL in my freezer. I’m not sure what to do with them, lol. Not sure they’d be good straight. We aren’t big into smoothies around here. I could bake with them, I s’pose. I need to do better about freezing and canning next summer.

  23. I just finished watching this and I actually wondered if you had caught it and would blog about it 🙂 It really made me think (and so has your blog). I want to start making some changes.

  24. Chipolte is a MUST. I usually just get black beans/rice and it is divine.

    I love all the info from the show. I agree w/you—this conversation have finally become mainstream!

  25. Hi Darcy,

    Not sure where you are located exactly but if you are in a bigger city (or close to a main agricultural centre) often CSA programs exist that have “winter shares”, which is a good way to get at good organic vegetables (and sometimes fruit) in the winter. We get our vegetables that way here in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada (If you are interested I talk about it on my blog eg I’m a big fan of having my fruit and vegetables travel as little as possible; It makes a noticeable difference in the taste of what’s received.

    CSA’s with winter shares aren’t just a Canadian thing either; is one example from a farm in your state (although who knows if it’s anywhere close to you!)

    Most berries are considered to be good candidates for freezing, as are plums, peaches, apricots and pears. I personally prefer my plums, peaches, apricots and pears canned though. Not in the tin things which taste metallic to me; I do my own canning. has extremely good information about preserving food for the winter – both canning and freezing!

    Finally, I do have to say one thing about brown versus white eggs. Egg colour is determined by the variety (and colour!) of the hen, and there is nothing particularly “healthier” about brown eggs versus the white ones. (See for the best commentary I’ve read, including why some brown eggs may taste better sometimes, and why the colour is no guarantee!)

    Hope that helps!

  26. I LOVED watching this show. I think you hit the key Pollan points. And I was so glad to see him have more air time, because when watching him on some of the other shows he’s been on in recent weeks I feel like he is never quite clear enough for someone who doesn’t already know what he’s saying…if that makes sense.
    I though Alicia sounded a bit lame for the most part. What was up with her talking about avoiding processed foods and then showing us the fake meat thingies and fake ice-cream she eats?
    Lastly, Chipotle is awesome. My husband and I have been big fans ever since we lived in Chicago. And this was before i knew this story, so now I am even happier about them. I suggest you find one near you, and promptly:)

    1. Yeah, my post was long enough so I didn’t go too far into Alicia’s segment, but I wasn’t a fan. And the p00p discussion? Um, no thanks.

  27. Thanks so much for the re-cap. I’m sorry I missed that episode of Oprah. It sounds like it was absolutely fascinating.

    Quick question for you: Pollan mentions “getting out of the grocery store” for our food. Do you still shop at the grocery store and, if not, what DO you do?

    One other thought – we have plenty of Chipotles here…and the food is delish. 🙂

    1. Hey Steph! Yes, I do shop at the grocery store sometimes, although now that you mention it, I can’t remember the last time I was there. Hmm… Oh that’s not true. I went to Wegmans a few weeks ago. I like to go there for fish because I hear that they have strict policies regarding their fish and I trust them to be selling me what they say they are selling me. And they have a nice organics section where I like to get flour and oats and baking ingredients. And I buy some organic veggies there. (And some conventional.)

      Once summer comes, I will get all my produce at the local farm market or I may look into a CSA.

      I get my meat and eggs and milk at various local farms. And I shop my whole foods store for other things. I also go to Trader Joes. They have good prices on frozen veggies, cheeses, and I do buy some convenience snack foods there b/c they have fewer additives than the ones at the grocery store.

      Hope that helps! It sounds like a lot of running around, and I suppose it is, but I don’t mind. It’s worth it to me, and I’m used to it now.

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