Michael Pollan is writing bestselling books almost annually now, most recently with “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto (2008)” and “The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (2006).” Lately his explicit focus has addressed what and how we eat, where our food comes from, and how the American food and diet worldview is undermining our health and environment.
This speaks to the underlying thesis of Pollan’s career: an exploration of man’s relationship with the environment; the intersection of what we think of as culture, and what we think of as nature. This turns out to be a very busy intersection, especially when one considers how intertwined these two concepts actually are. Part of the mission of the Urban Wilderness Institute is to demonstrate that a nature/culture divide is a fallacy, and more importantly, that divorcing what-people-do (culture) from the-rest-of-the-natural-world (nature) has fundamentally handicapped the environmental movement.
Environmentalists, to be effective, need to take back the city and even (gasp) the suburbs. Most people live here – not in the remote wilderness areas where environmentalists have often concerned themselves, such as the Adirondacks, Yosemite, or the Amazon. Environmentalists have the best opportunity to engage citizens with the environment they encounter in their daily routine. The human-dominated landscape has ecological significance and is the critical component to achieving many environmental goals. By acknowledging the ecological value of the built-environment, we communicate to people that what they do in their everyday activities matters; we start to break the nature/culture barrier and situate people firmly within nature.
We’ll close with a short piece by Michael Pollan, published in the NYT Magazine in 1989, one of my favorites. Pollan examines (very personally) the relationship between Americans and our lawns. And yes, it’s all a poignant metaphor for our larger relationship with nature. Why Mow? The Case Against Lawns.