Maybe Michael Pollan's new psychic friends could have foreseen it. Only weeks ago, content to have The Omnivore's Dilemma atop the bestsellers list, Pollan now enjoys the distinction of having single-handedly sparked what promises to be America's latest nutrition regimen of choice.
Pollan seems an unlikely heir to diet craze celebrity. He doesn't have a medical degree. He can't offer inspiring testimonials about personally dropping two hundred pounds through careful eating and persistent exercise. He has never been photographed in spandex or a muscle shirt. All Pollan did was write an article for New York Times Magazine.
And all Americans did was read and internalize it. Or at least part of it. Of the over 10,000 words in Pollan's "Unhappy Meals," readers latched onto fewer than ten: "Don't eat anything your great-great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food."
Why this sentence in particular resonated with the public remains uncertain, but that it struck a chord is indisputable. In the weeks since Pollan's piece hit newsstands, the website of the National Genealogical Society has received a record number of hits. Everyone, it seems, has a burning need to pinpoint his great-great-grandmother's birthplace, to ascertain the likely limits of her dietary worldliness. Would old Bertha have been familiar with quick-cook oats, or only steel-cut? Would oranges have reached her in that secluded corner of Ireland? Suddenly, these questions are pressing ones.
Psychics, too, benefit from America's newfound interest in generations past. Mediums report swarms of clients eager to run proposed menus by long-dead matriarchs for approval. Pollan is credited with reviving an industry struggling after the recent Sylvia Brown fiasco.
Pollan, though, remains modest. "There's just a profound societal need to reconnect with the familial past we feel is slipping away," he explains. And digs into a bowl of good old-fashioned porridge.