Author Pollan will explore good, bad eating habits

| Tuesday, May 6, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

“It's the best and the worst of times.”

In this case, the reference is not to a line in Dickens' “A Tale of Two Cities,” but to a nation continuing to grapple with the way it eats. Michael Pollan, best-selling author, professor and food guru, uses the phrase as food for thought when discussing American eating habits.

“There is a much greater number of people paying attention to where their food comes from. They're cooking more, buying organic,” says Pollan, who will visit Pittsburgh this weekend. “On the other hand, we still have the dominance of fast food and a new range of fast-food restaurants flaunting unhealthiness.”

The Hillman Center for Performing Arts at Shady Side Academy will welcome Pollan at 7:30 p.m. May 10. Chef Bill Fuller, the mastermind behind Pittsburgh's Big Burrito Group, will interview Pollan onstage, with a book-signing to follow.

Pollan has explored how people relate to food through his books and articles for more than 25 years. His books include The New York Times best-sellers “Food Rules: An Eater's Manual;” “In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto;” “The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals” and “The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World.”

His latest title, 2013's “Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation,” delves into the power of the four classical elements — fire, water, air and earth — to transform nature into food and drink.

Pittsburgh is the first stop on Pollan's two-week tour. The well-known foodie has been to the 'Burgh for speaking engagements several times and remembers visiting the Strip District and enjoying a meal at Lidia's.

On a national level, Pollan says he's pleased to see more people embracing home cooking — particularly men — and more big-box stores like Walmart offering organic produce. However, America's reliance on fast food remains problematic, especially with restaurants trying to out-unhealthy one another, he says.

“It's like KFC with the Double Down sandwich or Taco Bell's Doritos Locos Taco — they're flagrantly junkie,” he says.

Cooking at home is a healthier, less expensive and a surprisingly less time-consuming option, Pollan says. Frozen meals often cost more than their homemade counterparts, he says, and take a great deal of time to heat.

“The time you spend waiting for your food, you could be cooking,” he says.

For those who still feel the time crunch, Pollan suggests exploring books and YouTube videos that can help even the most novice home cook get started.

“Really analyze what stands between you and cooking,” Pollan says. “People feel pressed, and their kids are overscheduled. I suggest doing an audit of how you're spending your time.”

Cooking several meals at one time can help. Pollan and his family reserve Sundays for making the bulk of the week's meals. Using a main dish whose leftovers work well in other meals is another time-saver. For example, the remains of a roast chicken can be tacos one night and soup the next.

Prior to the Pittsburgh show, Pollan will curate a VIP farm-to-table reception with five local chefs: Fuller, Kevin Sousa of Union Pig and Chicken, Station Street and Superior Motors; Justin Severino of Cure; Trevett Hooper of Legume; and Brian Pekarcik of Spoon and Grit & Grace.

Pollan says he's encouraged by the number of young people taking an interest in where their food comes from and creating meals based on local food.

“Young people are really charged up about the issue,” he says. “There are really good farm-to-table restaurants in every city I've been to. The chefs are connecting with the farmers, and that means better food.”

Rachel Weaver is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7948 or

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