Michael Pollan Wants Us To Hide From Our Problems

Sociology professor Andrew Szasz came up with the term “inverted quarantine” to describe people who seek to isolate themselves from exterior ecological threats by way of individualizing environmental responsibility. Similarly, according to Michael Maniates, Americans think that the environment can be spared as a result of smart consumer action done by individuals. Such an idea is also the main focus of Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food. At the end of his novel criticizing industrialized food, Pollan’s answer to readers about how to eat more healthily and sustainably largely entails individual actions and solutions. He urges cooking at home and avoiding processed foods, but does not recommend any form of political participation or any desire for regulation. But will a bunch of people eating organic kale save us from rising sea levels and global warming? Not likely.

This principle of the individualization of responsibility that Pollan advocates for is dangerous because, as Maniates points out, Americans are experiencing less willingness to participate in collective political action as a result. Shopping is more accessible than political participation so we choose buying “green” products as our preferred form of dissent to let the government know that we care about protecting the planet. While changing policy measures is viewed as “idealistic,” consumption is easy and is something we are good at. But easier does not always mean better.

Experts agree that this is merely a trap that is keeping us from reaching real progress which could only be achieved through political action. Individuals can try to change the system, but they will not succeed until they become a collective, and until their voices become too strong to be overlooked. At this point individuals are easy to ignore so, Maniates argues, we need to vocalize and assemble in favor of the action we want to see, rather than quietly funnel money into companies we think will do the work for us.

Michael Pollan’s suggestions are ones that perfectly illustrate the principles of inverted quarantine. But quarantine will not solve a problem. It merely traps it and allows it to fester.

1 thought on “Michael Pollan Wants Us To Hide From Our Problems

  1. Esmeralda Meza-Guzman

    You make excellent points here! I would say you’re spot on in your labeling of Michael Pollan’s suggestions as encouragement for ‘inverted quarantine’. This is genuinely confusing for me because his suggestions come at the end of a book detailing the grand scope and context of a very complicated web of food issues. You would think he, of all people, would understand that the suggestions he makes could never be enough? Of course, individual actions are important because in theory collective individual actions add up and make a difference, but it just doesn’t play out that way due to the many people that are unable to afford to make individual changes, as well as many individuals who understandably view their choices as insignificant. So, it is not a stretch for some individuals to believe they are doing enough by making the right choices. But for Pollan to claim that this is the best course of action with such a large audience is dangerous. I think it’s safe to say that ‘inverted quarantine’ is dangerous in most contexts. Anyway, great blog post, and thanks for sharing these insights!


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