Those expecting a brawl got more of a lovefest when Whole Foods CEO John Mackey met with Michael Pollan author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma at UC Berkeley last night. The feud, if you can call it that, goes to back to a time shortly after the publication of the book when Mackey took issue with the quality of Pollan’s research, his criticism of Whole Foods and what he called “industrial organic”. Over the months that passed a series of letters were made public in which each seemed to take the other to task. Those letters can be found here:

Letter 1: Mackey to Pollan
Letter 1 Response: Pollan to Mackey
Letter 2: Mackey to Pollan
Letter 2 Response: Pollan to Mackey

Mackey complained that he wasn’t contacted by Pollan before the book was published and tried to argue that all “industrial organic” is not bad. Pollan challenged Mackey on the authenticity of the storytelling present in the store, and on how much produce was truly “local”.

The problem is and was, that Pollan and Mackey agree more than they disagree. While Mackey got his chance to explain his philosophy and to announce several new praiseworthy initiatives that deal with fair trade, animal welfare, support for local “food artisans” and loans for farmers and food producers, he admitted that criticism was good, and that it spurred a reexamination of their practices and a rethinking of their approach. Pollan in turn praised Mackey for the new initiatives and for being willing to so thoroughly engage his critics, something few CEO’s are willing to do.

It was surprising how unpolished and passionate Mackey was compared to the almost slick and sometimes snide Pollan. Mackey even went so far as to say the backlash against his company and the concept of organic has actually been good in some ways. Still Mackey doesn’t like being compared with Wal-Mart, and his philosophy of a more enlightened capitalism and movement towards a post industrial age he calls the “ecological era” puts him on the forefront of progressive businesses.

For his part, Pollan kept the conversation to a discussion more about the future than the present or the past in the discussion part of the program which was entitled “The Past, The Present, The Future of Food”. Pollan even envisioned a kiosk in a grocery store that would allow shoppers to scan items and see what was happening back on the farm for a kind of nanny-cam meets corporate transparency, a vision that Mackey seemed to embrace. Perhaps both Mackey and Pollan are ready to put down the gloves and make peace with the past and present (in addition to each other) and to make more room for a focus on the future.

Michael Pollan & John Mackey 28 February,2007Amy Sherman

  • swag

    I am offended that the UC School of Journalism is now charging for corporate investor relations presentations. I am even more appalled that I actually paid money for that.

  • Amy Sherman

    In many ways it did seem like an unpolished shareholders meeting. Rah rah rah! Funny though how for all the clapping not everyone was buying it.

  • Ken-ichi

    It’s funny, I totally felt Mackey was a little corporate and fake and that Pollan was the more authentic. Then again I’m a student so maybe I’m just more used to an academic mode of presentation. Just goes to show, rhetoric is hard with a big crowd.

    We’re talking about this event over on localoaf, as I’m sure many others are across the *shudder* “blogosphere.”


Amy Sherman

Amy Sherman began blogging in 2003, because all her
friends and family were constantly asking her where
and what to eat. Three months after it launched,
Forbes chose her blog, Cooking with Amy, as one of the
top five best food blogs, praising her writing as
“smart, cozy and witty”. Since then her blog has been
featured and recipes reprinted in many newspapers and
magazines in the U.S. and the world.

In addition to regularly updating her blog, Amy is a
guest contributor to the blog, and
Contributing Editor of Glam Dish. She also writes
restaurant reviews for SF Station.

Her focus on Bay Area Bites is primarily cookbook
reviews along with some interviews and current events.

Amy is a recipe developer and freelance food writer.
She is author of WinePassport: Portugal and wrote the new introduction to the classic cookbook, Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book, published by the University of Nebraska Press. She recently completed 45 recipes for a Williams-Sonoma cookbook and wrote her first piece for VIA magazine.

She is currently serving on the board of the San Francisco Professional Food Society and is a member of the International Association of Culinary Professionals. Amy lives in San Francisco with her husband, tech journalist Lee Sherman.

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor