Q: Considering your body of work, what inspired you to examine the idea of what we consume and how it affects our culture?
Michael Pollan: I am very interested in the way we engage with the natural world. Although a lot of people don’t see it that way, I think of myself as a nature writer. I am very interested in nature, not as just something we observe from the outside, but as something that we actively participate in. When we eat, we are taking nature into our bodies. It is changing us, and we’re changing it. We’ve got no choice. So that has been a common theme in my work for a very long time. I’ve always been interested in how we use nature to gratify our desires, and of course, we have a desire for nourishment, for sweetness, for beauty. And then we have this other peculiar desire to change consciousness. Every culture on Earth uses some plant or fungus to change consciousness and what is that about? What good is it to us? What good is it for the other species? These questions have been in my work. But after doing several books on food, I thought it was time to really look at it closely.
Q: Do you think that your enquiry into psychedelics could only come at this time in your life?
MP: For me, I wasn’t ready to engage with these substances when I was 20 or even 30. I just was wasn’t ready, I wasn’t interested in other worlds. I was intensely interested in this world. I was afraid of the drugs and I did not feel like I was psychologically sturdy to try LSD or psilocybin, even in my teens. So for me, it was really something that became intensely interesting. I was in my 50s and that’s an age where you do feel you have these grooves of thought. You have these mental algorithms that you use to get through the day and organise your experience. And while they may be very effective and efficient, you also realise that they’re very routine and they’re not allowing you to experience the surprise of novelty.