A great interview with Michael Pollan runs in this week’s New York Magazine.
Reflecting on the beginning of his career as a food journalist and thought-leader, Pollan says:
“[New York Times Magazine] had given me a one-word assignment: meat. Eric Schlosser’s book had come out the year before and had been a surprise best seller—a really big best seller. Nobody was ready for that book.
And so I went out and learned everything I could about meat. But I was completely at a loss on how to organize this story, because there were so many issues—pollution, antibiotics, health. I went to lunch with my editor, Gerry Marzorati, and did that data dump you do with your editor sometimes, and I saw him start to glaze over. Then he finally said, ‘Why don’t you just write the biography of a cow?’ And suddenly it all fell into place.
When that piece came out, there was a sudden series of ripples in a way I had never seen before with anything I’d written. I started hearing from people in the farmers’ market that everybody wanted grass-fed beef—even butchers would say, ‘Everyone is coming in and asking for grass-fed beef.’
Alice Waters came to hear me give a lecture about it at Cal. I had just finished but not published this piece, and I told the whole story of the cow. She was in the front row, and she’s taking notes, and she’s passionate, and she went back to the restaurant that night—I heard this subsequently from her chefs—and said, ‘That’s it, we’re no longer serving anything but grass-fed beef.’
It was an interesting lesson to me as a journalist. The piece was actually not about grass-fed beef—that was three paragraphs at the end of an 8,000-word article.”