Talking Kosher Pork With Iconic Foodie Michael Pollan

Taking a Second Look at the Other (Treyf) White Meat

Field Work: In researching ‘Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation,’ Michael Pollan harvested wheat (above), made cheese with a microbiologist nun and learned to roast a pig.
Courtesy of Michael Pollan
Field Work: In researching ‘Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation,’ Michael Pollan harvested wheat (above), made cheese with a microbiologist nun and learned to roast a pig.

By Sara Rubin

Published May 08, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Michael Pollan considers himself a nature writer, but since publishing “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” in 2006, he’s become a major voice in the cultural revolution currently happening around such food issues as sustainable agriculture, health and locavorism.

Pollan is such a cult figure among foodies that people follow him around the grocery store and the farmers market in Berkeley, Calif., where he lives, just to see what he’ll buy.

His new book, “Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation” (Penguin Press) presents an analysis of the science and history of food preparation methods through time and across cultures, and a personal narrative of Pollan’s own relationship with cooking. In the section on meat, Pollan recounts the time his family summered on the beach and temporarily adopted a pet pig — named Kosher.

Forward contributor Sara Rubin caught up with Pollan by phone in Chicago, one stop on his 17-city book tour.

Sara Rubin: How did you evolve to writing about cooking from writing about food systems and agriculture?

Michael Pollan: This book is completing this food chain from the earth to the body. “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” is about tracing food back to the farm. Then I wrote a couple of books about health. Along the way, I kept bumping into the fact that what happens in the middle of the food chain, where the food gets transformed, had an enormous influence on the two far ends of the food chain.

Many of the changes we see in agriculture are a result of the processed food industry and its needs for cheap meat, cheap sweeteners, cheap oil. The way we were eating influenced what happened on the farm.

If humans are cooking, people tend to eat healthy diets and not get into trouble with salt, fat and sugar.

I came to think this middle link was the most important and the most influential, and the one we had the most control over, too.

How do kosher food and preparation factor into your understanding of cooking?

Meat eating is always surrounded with lots of rules, because a lot is at stake. There is death, there is killing, there is sharing. That’s a good thing; eating meat is consequential, and it should be approached with a lot of consciousness and care, and that’s a very positive thing about kashrut.

I said semi-jokingly in this little sermon [on April 12 at Beth El Synagogue, in Minnesota], it might be time to reconsider pork as treyf.

The beauty of the kosher rules is that food choices should be informed by our ethics and not be careless and just about consumption or fueling up, and ethics change over time.

Pigs can be a very sustainable form of animal protein in that they’re the great recyclers in a sustainable food system. On the other hand, you have to weigh that against the value of several thousand years of tradition. That’s important, too. One of the reasons we have food is to help knit a community together.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Novelist Sayed Kashua finds it hard to write about the heartbreak of Gaza from the plush confines of Debra Winger's Manhattan pad. Tough to argue with that, whichever side of the conflict you are on.
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • A new Gallup poll shows that only 25% of Americans under 35 support the war in #Gaza. Does this statistic worry you?
  • “You will stomp us into the dirt,” is how her mother responded to Anya Ulinich’s new tragicomic graphic novel. Paul Berger has a more open view of ‘Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.