A crowd of almost 8,000 packed the University of Wisconsin’s Kohl Center on Thursday evening to listen to author Michael Pollan speak about his book, “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto,” which was chosen for the university’s common book reading program, Go Big Read. While much of the crowd consisted of students, staff and interested community members, a group of about 200 Wisconsin farmers and agriculture supporters showed up to the lecture wearing green t-shirts printed with the slogan, “In Defense of Farming: Eat Food. Be Healthy. Thank Farmers.”

While not staged as a protest, the agriculture group felt their presence at the lecture was necessary to make a statement against Pollan’s criticisms of modern farming practices and technologies.  More importantly, it also created an opportunity to reach out to consumers and tell agriculture’s story.  Pollan himself even acknowledged the group in his speech, saying that the slogan on their t-shirts could easily be used as the theme for the evening.  He then admitted that he believes farmers hold the key to solving our current health, environmental and energy crisis, but there will be many voices in those conversations.

Much of Pollan’s lecture focused on what he calls “The American Paradox” – a public that is so health conscious, but overall extremely unhealthy. He encouraged audience members to cut highly-processed foods out of their diets, and demand foods containing fewer ingredients.  Pollan also touched on the idea that it’s not just what people eat, it’s how they eat it; meaning they should start making more meals from scratch at home instead of buying their kids a fast food meal on-the-go.

Pollan had just enough time at the end of his speech to touch on his views of modern agriculture, stating that “Our personal health and the health of our farms are linked – it is the processors that stand in the middle.” He made the point that maximizing diets full of animal and plant foods that have been minimally processed will lead to more diversification on farms and higher profits for the farmers.

For more information, read: In Dairyland, Pollan's 'Food' book sparks debate