Photo of Michael Pollan
Download high res photo

Michael Pollan

Knight Chair in Science and Technology Reporting
University of California Berkeley
Berkeley, CA
Personal Website


Michael Pollan’s popular books and lectures have made him a national leader in journalism on the science and policy of food and agriculture.


Professor Pollan is author of five New York Times Best Sellers: The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, The Botany of Desire, In Defense of Food, Food Rules and, mostly recently, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation. In 2010 he was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time Magazine.

Pollan’s fourth book, The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (2006), was named one of the ten best books of 2006 by the New York Times and the Washington Post. It also won the California Book Award, the Northern California Book Award, the James Beard Award for best food writing, and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. He is also the author of A Place of My Own (1997) and Second Nature (1991).

A long-time contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine, Pollan is the recipient of numerous journalistic awards, including the James Beard Award for best magazine series in 2003 and the Reuters-I.U.C.N. 2000 Global Award for Environmental Journalism. Pollan served for many years as executive editor of Harper's Magazine and is now the Knight Professor of Science and Environmental Journalism at UC Berkeley. His articles have been anthologized in Best American Science Writing (2004); Best American Essays (1990 and 2003) and the Norton Book of Nature Writing. He lives in the Bay Area with his wife, the painter Judith Belzer, and their son, Isaac. To contact him,

Grant Background

Berkeley proposes to create a new senior tenured position for a science/technology writer who would continue his or her own journalistic projects while teaching and running a new Center for Science and Technology Reporting. Such a center and endowment would anchor the school's specialized reporting curriculum and... create a nerve center for related events, conferences, special programs and commentary on the critical challenges faced by science and technology reporting. As a result of the teaching and research of the Knight Chair, Berkeley will serve as a new resource for science and technology journalism nationally, as a training center for young journalists and as an intellectual center for the public on issues involving the news media in the coverage of science and technology.

Recent Activities

Published Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, which helped push the subject of home cooking, and gender (who does it?), to the center of the national debate on food.

Launched, with funding from the 11th Hour Project, a new Fellowship program for early career journalists writing about agriculture and food issues. Received more than 200 proposals.

Published a cover story on the human microbiome in the NYT Magazine, which helped advance the conversation on the causes of chronic diet.

Question-and-Answer with Knight Chair

  Social media is not just a distribution or promotional platform. Tweets like, “Read the story I just wrote!” are a minority of successful Twitter communications. How do you teach your students to use social media to engage ?  

I encourage them to use Twitter, which I consider a particularly valuable social media tool. It has replaced my RSS feeds because it is more efficient and better “edited”: I find that if I follow the right people (mostly other journalists, activists, NGOs) on a given issue, I will see all the important articles and reports I need to see. I also use it as a broadcast medium, making a point of sending out a few links every day. I’m told this generates large amounts of traffic to obscure websites, academic articles, Kickstarter campaigns, petition drives, etc. It is particularly useful as a politico-journalistic too during campaigns, such as last fall’s Prop 37 campaign. But for students the value is as a screen on information and opinion they need to see, and as a low-cost way to begin building a personal “brand” in the infosphere. Facebook can help with this too, but Twitter seems to reach the journalism community much more efficiently.

  Many student journalism projects are read by few people in the target community and have little impact. How should that change? Should students engage with the community to understand its information needs before doing their journalism ?

We work hard at Berkeley to get our students read as widely as possible, ideally by helping to get them published—which we have considerable success in doing.  We send their pieces to editors we know, and regularly bring editors to campus to meet students. We also publish “Brink,” a magazine of student work. I don’t think the problem is the failure to understand the community’s needs, however. Getting published is hard, as it has always been, and often student work –at least in longform, which is what I teach—takes so long to be ready for publication that the story can lose its currency or salience. That said, it’s important to remember the goal of student work is not to have “impact” necessarily, but to learn how to write and tell stories well. Impact can come later.