May 14, 2011

Michael Pollan on what yoga practitioners should eat.

Below: a few highlights from Michael Pollan’s in-depth yet accessible, inspiring keynote discussion with Yoga Journal editor-in-chief. I’ve added commentary from my memory of what he said or what the context was, so these should not be regarded as quotes—they’re not:

Voting with your fork is important. Organic farming is a $24 billion business, built largely without government support (rather the opposite, considering subsidies).

Don’t eat any foods that won’t rot…if bacteria won’t eat, say, a twinkie, then you shouldn’t either—they trust their instincts, we’ve forgotten how to do so.

Eat all the French fries you want as long as you make them yourselves…it’s a labor-intensive joy that most of us would probably do no more than once a month.

Kids don’t get the connection between french fries and potatoes.

Processed foods are more profitable than real foods, largely because of subsidies. So we’re marketed to endlessly by corporations to eat stuff that isn’t actually food, but rather edible food-like substances.

In the wild, everything eats chickens—ie, left to own devices, domesticated animals mostly wouldn’t survive. Pigs would. But chickens and cows would all die. They depend on us, we depend on them. Grass-fed is key: it creates soil. Maybe 1% of meat is actually sustainably produced. Be picky if you eat meat.

Eating meat, especially beef, is our largest carbon footprint. Chicken is much more efficient.

If the Chinese consume meats like the Americans—and they’re starting to—we’d need 2.3 worlds to keep up the production chain.



I’m at the Yoga Journal Conference in New York City—my first time in the City in three or four years, since I took elephant online (we used to be a print magazine).

It’s a city I grew up visiting, my family going back generations here. Photos of my grandma as a little girl on top of her daddy’s penthouse. It’s in my blood, though I didn’t really grow up around that side of my family.

New York City is, like all famous spots, a place that, if you’re absent from it for long, soon seems to be a fictitious, imaginary. We all see it in so many TV shows and movies and read about it in the Times and news generally every day, that like a story retold, soon the original reality fades from memory.

So it’s good to be back and see and smell and taste and touch the real thing.

I arrived in JFK at 5 pm after a uneventful flight spent catching up on sleep after last night’s New Era Spring Dinner at the deeelicious, slow foodie Duo in Denver. The fundraiser—packed with political movers and shakers—benefited New Era, a getting-young-people-involved-in-politics non-profit I’m on the board of. I served as auctioneer, and we exceeded our rather modest goal thanks to the (beer and wine and g&ts and margaritas and) generous, fun crowd.

So I was up late, had a drink too many, got up early, hugged the hell out of my dog Redford— it’s simultaneously hard to leave such a happy town and busy life, and yet I’m excited to travel for the first time in three long, painful, broke years…and visit NYC and old friends and their new babies and, then, my mom and Buddhist community in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and, then, my Aunt and venerable grandma down in Virginia. I spent the flight catching up on sleep, or staring-out-the-window at the amazing round world below, or watching in quiet horror at the amount of plastic waste our little flight was creating, and the amount of entertainment—TVs in every seatback—that we crammed over what, you know, is a miraculous experience.

I arrived, worked on free wifi (that expired, at JFK, after 20 minutes), took the cab rather than subway on the advice of NY friends, and thoroughly enjoyed the ride, window open, staring out at everything. Dropped off at the midtown Hilton, I tipped the driver, found the Yoga Journal conference upstairs and my dear friend Kasey Luber, who’s the yoga world’s video queen—videoing and interviewing everything and everybody and uploading them same day (well, night, it takes her hours of video drishti to get the stuff edited and uploaded).

Bonus, via Kasey, her newest superfun yoga video for YJ and its sponsors:

On Friday of the 2011 Yoga Journal Conference, Kasey Luber and David Romanelli hit the streets of New York! Watch as they try to find the Yogis amidst the 8 million people. They arrive back at the conference just in time for the keynote discussion with Kaitlin Quistgard and Michael Pollan. Video Sponsored by Luna www.luna.com.

Within minutes I’d seen Michael Pollan, Dayna Macy, Elana Maggal, Craig of Boulder Bookstore (they help run the Yoga Journal Conferences under the name Horizon, I think)…and it was time for the keynote discussion, held in a big ballroom with crystal chandeliers and Yoga Journal banners and a around 600 yogis. Later on, after the keynote, a lady called out my name…it was Yogadork herself, one of my fave writers on the planet, who I called “yoga’s Batman”—her identity is more or less a secret.

But back to the keynote. Michael is eloquent yet accessible—he’s one of my heroes, since long before I got to interview him a year or so back. He’s professorial yet somehow engaging, reasonable about difficult issues, frank yet unoffensive. He’s remarkable—one of very few, like say Jamie Oliver, who can get such an important issue as food, health, environment, diet—across to the masses in an intelligent and inspiring manner. I was psyched YJ chose to invite him, and re-inspired after his talk.

(I’m hoping a video of the talk will appear on youtube, anyone? Let me know in comments if you find one, and I’ll add it here—it’s well worth it and the actual thing is far better than any summary I can offer).

Suffice to say that Michael Pollan emphasized the why behind his “Food Rules”—that he was less about right and wrong, vegan vs. meat-eater than he was about education and caring—you know, mindfulness. That said, he did emphasize that a meat-based diet is horrible for the planet, and causes an unreal amount of animal suffering, and isn’t good for our health or budgets, long-term. That those of us who eat meat should eat only grass-fed beef, and far less meat—it should be something special and appreciated, not everyday and casual.

Tomorrow the yoga classes continue—I gave my press pass months ago to one of our more popular writers, Alden Wicker, so she’ll be covering in my stead for the most part.

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