Michael Pollan Overlooks Veganism at WMU Talk

Intrepid vegan reporter (and VK cofounder) Chris Hendrickson attended Michael Pollan’s recent talk at WMU, and wrote up his exclusive report for us below. Thanks, Chris!

On Thursday November 6th, author Michael Pollan gave a speech at Western Michigan University’s Miller Auditorium as part of the Kalamazoo Community Foundation Annual Community Meeting, and over 3,000 people were in attendance including myself. I was personally curious about what Mr. Pollan would be talking about as I had read his book The Botany of Desire in college as a part of my Systematic Botany class at WMU. I was also secretly hoping that he would mention Vegan Kalamazoo’s Open Letter to Michael Pollan published as an Opinion Editorial on mlive.com just a day before the event.

An introduction was given by Kalamazoo Community Foundation CEO Carrie Pickett-Erway, and then Pollan took the stage. He started his speech by stating that all he knew of Kalamazoo was the song “I Got A Girl In Kalamazoo” and Derek Jeter. Pollan spoke for about an hour and, for the most part, talked about his new book, Cooked. This lecture topic struck me as a bit odd as the Kalamazoo Community Foundation website for the event stated, “Pollan will talk with us about the importance of a healthy food system and healthy food.”. Pollan made little discussion of this stated subject during the bulk of his speech while providing attendees a verbal summary of Cooked.

Although initially disappointed–I had come with higher expectations than to hear an hour long plug for his book–I sat with an open mind and listened diligently. Pollan made some very interesting points about how cooking is what helped our species, Homo sapiens, evolve from our common ape ancestors, and how different flavors in cooked food correspond to the regional presence of certain plant species. I really found that last bit enlightening and feel excited to try more geographically-specific vegan dishes such as chickpea wat from Ethiopia and aloo gobi from India. Pollan discussed the invention of revolutionary technologies such as using fire to externally digest meals for easier consumption and pottery use to allow for soups to be created which helped feed young children and older adults. These inventions allowed for our increased brain development and extension of the human lifespan.

After the overview of Cooked, Pollan and Pickett-Erway sat down in comfy chairs on stage and had an informal question and answer session that lasted about 20 minutes. Pickett- Erway hand picked the questions and didn’t make reference to any questions (my question) about health and veganism. They discussed Pollan’s solutions to food instability for children, how people should get together and discuss food options as a community, and what Pollan would prepare for a group of twenty at a dinner party. Pollan noted that he would ask about dietary restrictions but suggested albacore tuna caught fresh from the Pacific. I found this an odd choice given the known presence of mercury and other toxins in tuna.

Overall, I am happy I went but felt that Pollan missed a huge opportunity to advance the audience’s understanding of how to ethically produce healthy food for a community such as Kalamazoo. Vegan diets are scientifically proven to be healthy for all ages of life, infinitely more sustainable than nonvegan ones, allow for support of local farmers, and are no question a more ethical choice. Pickett-Erway and Pollan openly advocated for animal product consumption, specifically Otto’s Chicken. Pollan referenced that McDonald’s fries are “delicious” and insinuates that hamburgers, cheese, milk and other unhealthy products of animal agriculture are completely acceptable and just. As we stated in our open letter to Pollan, this is not acceptable and we will continue to advocate in opposition of these viewpoints. They are no longer justifiable in our community and are in direct conflict with our current understanding of what is considered healthy, regardless of being cooked or not.

Vegan Kalamazoo’s Letter About Michael Pollan Published in MLive!

Published here.

And here’s the text in its entirety:

Dear Mr. Pollan,

We are thrilled to hear that you are coming to Kalamazoo. We appreciate the work you do educating people about the perils of industrial foods. We are 100 percent in favor of advocating awareness about where our food comes from. And, like you, we support local farmers and proper treatment of our environment.

What we don’t understand is your continued advice to eat “mostly” plants. In an increasingly crowded and depleted world, how can anything except a 100 percent plant-based (vegan) diet be the moral choice when animal agriculture not only uses up so many more resources than plants, but is a huge driver of both climate change and deforestation?

How can it be the moral choice when animal agriculture is such a huge abuser of both animals and people? The horrors it perpetrates on animals are becoming increasingly well known, despite the industry’s constant attempts to cover them up. However, its labor abuses are also terrible — so much so, in fact, that in 2005 Human Rights Watch issued its first-ever report about a U.S. industry on conditions in slaughterhouses and meatpacking plants.

On your website, you refer to the “shame of killing,” but then say, “I’m not a vegetarian because I enjoy eating meat.” We appreciate your candor, but why does something shameful become acceptable just because you happen to enjoy the result?

Your talk is part of Western Michigan University’s “Healing Arts” series. How does eating animal products fit into that theme when countless studies show that people who eat more meat, dairy, and eggs suffer from more heart disease, cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis, and other maladies? You presumably wouldn’t suggest “mostly” not-smoking, so why is it okay to suggest “mostly” eating plants?

Finally, how can you encourage all of the above negative outcomes when eating animal products is wholly unnecessary? In 2009, the American Dietetic Association released a statement endorsing vegan diets as “healthful” and “appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes.”

Thanks for reading. We hope you enjoy your stay in Kalamazoo, and look forward to you addressing these questions in your talk.

*Amazing* Tempeh Bacon Recipe Courtesy the Kalamazoo People’s Food Co-op

The Kalamazoo People’s Food Co-op published the following amazing recipe for tempeh bacon in its latest newsletter. Kudos to deli manager Chris Orsolini for coming up with it!

Not only is it delicious, but you’ll save money by buying plain tempeh as opposed to prepackaged tempeh bacon.

•    Thinly slice an 8 oz package of tempeh

•    Marinate in a mixture of:
–    1⁄4 C extra virgin olive oil
–    1⁄4 C tamari sauce
–    2 T rice vinegar
–    1 t garlic powder
–    (dash of smoked paprika, optional)
•    Bake at 375 degrees for 15 – 20 minutes or until dark and crispy, and slightly caramelized.

That’s it! We eat it mostly in TLT (tempeh-lettuce-tomato) sandwiches, prepared with vegan Nayonaise of course!

Thursday, October 16: Kalamazoo Premiere of Forks Over Knives! (Everyone invited!)

Forks over knives posterFree Movie night! Forks Over Knives
Thursday, October 16, 7:00 -9:00 p.m.
Natural Health Center, 4610 West Main Street (Westwood Plaza, near Drake Street), Kalamazoo
Lots of free parking.
Attendance FREE. Snacks will be served. Short discussion to follow film.
Everyone invited! Please RSVP via email to Chris.

Forks Over Knives is a captivating documentary that details the current state of health in the United States ­and how the over consumption of animal products is leading to a life of chronic disease and illness for many. With diseases like type 2 diabetes, cancer, heart disease and obesity showing no sign of slowing down in the population, two researchers seek to find a solution to combat what years of medical science and research has yet to thwart. Forks Over Knives follows the journey of Dr. T. Colin Campbell (Author of The China Study) and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn (Head of the Breast Cancer Task Force at the Cleveland Clinic) promoting a whole food plant based diet as medicine to people all across the countries of Canada, China and the United States. The conclusions of this documentary are disruptive to the foundation of the standard dietary choices in the US and suggest a whole foods plant based diet as a simple yet elegant solution to these chronic diseases plaguing the nation.

9/20/14 – 100+ Strong: Grand Rapids Activists Protest Ringling Brothers Circus

Grand Rapids anti-circus demonstrationCongratulations to our fellow vegan and animal activists up in Grand Rapids for a successful protest of the Ringling Brothers Circus, whose cruelty against the animals it exploits for profit has been well documented.

Read the Mlive article about the protest.

Please boycott all animal-based entertainment, including circuses, aquariums, and, of course, Seaworld. It’s all cruel.