wait wait michael pollan

American science journalist and author Michael...

Michael Pollan Image via Wikipedia

Oh, dear Michael Pollan. You got schooled–and on National Public Radio no less. I am so sorry. You must realize that nutritionists and comedians are not a good mix–even if you are really just a journalist. You should have known better. I hope you will be more careful the next time.

Here’s where I was when this public humiliation happened. In my kitchen concentrating fiercely on grout. Yes, grout. For the past few months, I have been held hostage by a kitchen renovation project. My release was imminent, but not until I finished grouting the backsplash tile. My contractor guy left me home alone equipped with a grout float, a grout sponge, a bucket and a milk carton-like container of powder with indecipherable directions.

Normally, my husband, Pete, provides me a task and temperament appropriate playlist of music before I undertake such projects–but not then. I just turned the radio on to find the weekly broadcast of the NPR game show Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me. I hear it occasionally, but I am not a regular listener. Just as I was trying to decide if I could really grout and listen to an inane game show at the same time, they announced the guest of the day–food and food economics guru, proponent of the sustainable food movement, and my blog name inspirationeven though he won’t admit that we are from the same once big potato farm–Michael Pollan. I now had no choice but to turn up the radio and begin mixing the grout powder with water.

The host touted Pollan’s accomplishments, listed The Omnivore’s Dilemma as one of his landmark works and asked him to describe some of the basic tenets of his nutritional philosophy. That is where the pounding began by none other than Paula Poundstone. Ouch. It pains me to recall the situation.

All serious-like, Pollan started out by saying we need to distinguish between food and edible food-like substances. Right off, Ms. Poundstone managed to get her mouth in. She announced to Mr. Pollan, that Ring Dings are one of her reasons for living. Were they not considered food? She informed him that they only have three ingredients–devil’s food cake, a creamy filling, and a rich chocolate outer coating. Pollan pathetically informed her that the creamy filling is not real cream. She retorted that it is C-R-E-M-E-Y and asked him, “What the hell’s the matter with you?”

Pollan stammered and began to comfort her that it is ok to have such a treat once in a while. She interrupted to remind him that she said they constituted a role in her reason for living and asked if he was suggesting that she save it for one day a year. Meekly, he said that he would not want to deprive her of that. This “Battle in Berkeley” as the show was called, taped in Pollan’s adopted hometown, was now calling for my attention at the risk of hardening my grout mixture. Poundstone, now ready to fully devour her prey, attacked with, “You may know a lot about food, but you don’t know the first thing about living, buddy.”

The host intercepted, trying to save his guest, and asked Pollan another question. This led Pollan to tell a little story about shopping at ‘The Berkeley Bowl’. The local crowd went crazy at the mention of this Berkeley food oasis. For the wider radio audience, he had to describe the large grocery store as full of all sorts of wonderful produce, grass raised beef, etc. He jabbed at Poundstone, that the store would be like her idea of hell, but the comment fell flat and got no response. The indignity finally ended only after Pollan was made to answer three questions about electronic Japanese Supertoilets. Forget the backsplash. At this, I felt the sclerosis of my own inner being.

This may have all been in the name of fun and games, but to us real nutritional professionals, this is the substance of what we do. The Paula Poundstones of the world are who fill the cracks and crevices of the story behind the dogma–though most are not nearly as funny. Right now, I am considering using a photo of Ring Dings as the graphic for my post. But, I know that mere visual suggestions of such foods can cue unhealthy feeding behaviors. I’d prefer not to feed into that so to speak. But, I will be torn. I am sure they will be more colorful and enticing than any stock photo I may find of Mr. Pollan.

If Ms. Poundstone was my client, we might explore such issues as food addiction, what role food is playing in her life, comfort eating, insulin resistance, effects of sugar, menopausal weight gain, food sensitivities, the seduction of chocolate and motivation for dietary change. Inside, I’d be grappling with the question of what do I know about living and the sacrifice of putting down the beloved Ring Ding and stepping away.

These are the things I muse about daily. The crossroads of food, health, the environment, and pleasure. I am an adherent to the pathways that Mr. Pollan promotes as essential for increased sustainability and to rescue our birthright of health. I am grateful for how his writings have advanced this work. However, I hope he has gleaned that it is one thing to write about this stuff, another to work it in the wild. Throughout my career, I have often joked that after a long day at the office, I am grateful to go out to the parking lot and find that there is still air in my tires. That I have not pissed off the Ms. Poundstones in my role as the messenger and that I have still maintained my sense of humor in this work.

Well, by now, the renovation is done. Fortunately, I have now added grouting and caulking to my resume. By my professional assessment, I think there will always be work to do in the proverbial kitchen.

Thank you for listening, sharing, following and supporting my writing. Please subscribe in the sidebar to receive notice of new posts. Comments and greetings always welcome.

In health, Elyn

The closest I come to comedians is that I keep an article about Drew Carey’s transformational weight loss on the bulletin board in my office. With that, I can trust that he can be solely a source of inspiration rather than nervous perspiration.

Related Post: Holistic, Intuitive Eating, Community-Based Nutritionist Seeking Michael Pollan

My Plate Haiku

Drink tea and nourish life.  With the first sip joy.

With the second, satisfaction.

With the third, danish.

by Jewish Grandpa

7 thoughts on “wait wait michael pollan

  1. Well said, Elyn. Your post would bring more comfort to Mr. Pollan after that dreadful experience than any ring ding ever could.


    • dear susan, well, i am not exactly sure about that, but i do hope i spare him future pain and humiliation and that he will be grateful to me. i hope he knows i am out here looking after his best interests. i think that he and i grew up in the same place. you have to look after your home-peoples.


  2. I missed that show. Darn! Great post. We all have our twinkies or ring dings. Well most of us anyway. Mine are chocolate chip cookies — home made at least but chocolate chip cookies none the less. Is life worth living without them. OK… maybe.
    Might need to make use of your grouting credentials!


  3. Pollan’s job is to know about food, not to win humor contests with professional comedians. Wait…Wait, as I understand it, is the most listened-to show on public radio — dozens of people must hear it. And they will remember Pollan more fondly because he was a good sport and will listen more carefully to his messages and read his books because of this.

    And many of us thought Paula P. was very funny. (I have to wake the kids at night so they can eat the cantaloupe during the ten minutes when it is ready.)

    Wait…Wait uses the Poundstone/Pollan “conflict” clip as a promo, so the message gets out even more.

    In fact, I kind of suspect you agree with me and only wrote this blog entry to stir up conversation yourself. Good job, if a bit sly.

    I hope you are happy with your kitchen. Please post a picture.

    – Dave


    • david, i do hope it was evident that my reaction to the show was very tongue-in-cheek. yes, poundstone was very funny with this and i could have gone on about the fruity pebbles story, the canteloupe etc. to me, their “battle” represents the core of the human dilemma around eating. this post is related to my prior one called “holistic, intuitive eating, community nutritionist seeking michael pollan” where i also discuss my respect for pollan’s work but show how it is difficult to apply in the “trenches”. not sure if you picked up my thing about where he is originally from.


  4. Wow! Elyn Zimmerman and Michael Pollan, two of my favorites on food and eating. And both from Syosset? Too good to be true! Thanks as always for sharing your gentle, funny and humble thoughts.


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