Pollan Debate Gone Civil

After nearly a year of trading public missives about the state of sustainable food, author Michael Pollan and Whole Foods CEO John Mackey met face-to-face at the University of California, Berkeley earlier this week. Their thoughtful, two-hour-long discussion touched on a number of philosophical, ethical, and economic issues around food, but the civil tone didn’t sit well with Mr. Cutlets of Grub Street, who had insinuated that the event would involve some angry chair-throwing. As he asks in his postmortem:

What exactly is up with Michael Pollan? We sat up late into the night waiting for him to put hard questions to Whole Foods CEO John Mackey in the discussion we previewed the other day. Part of Pollan’s bestselling book The Omnivore’s Dilemma was devoted to unmasking Whole Foods’ claims to sustainability and the like, but when the author finally sat down with Mackey, he was as cordial and giving as the publicity-obsessed CEO.

Thing is, this debate stopped being contentious months ago, during the letter-writing phase; as Pollan put it, in this week’s meeting he was “not interested in scoring points so much as having a conversation.” And that’s pretty much how he should be approaching it now—because his earlier criticisms of Whole Foods (that “organic” doesn’t always mean sustainable; that the rosy picture the grocery chain paints of its produce-purveyors doesn’t necessarily conform with reality) have caused Mackey and his company to pay a lot more attention to where their “whole” foods really come from.

The webcast is worth checking out when you have a few hours to spare; it may involve less insanity than the other beef occupying the food world right now, but I’m not sure that’s a bad thing.