Pages Navigation Menu

One curiosity after another

Michael Pollan on Research

Michael Pollan and Jack Hitt, New Haven, CT

Michael Pollan and Jack Hitt, New Haven, CT


Michael Pollan came to New Haven March 30th to talk about his new book, Raw.  While most of his conversation with journalist Jack Hitt focused on our food culture, at one point he spoke about how he researches his projects.  I thought his experience might be useful for anyone out there feeling stuck and wondering just how to start writing more popular pieces.

Mr. Pollan’s process begins, he said, with books.  For Raw, he bought and read all kinds of books.  He read recipes. History.

Next, he looks for local people who know something useful, and asks them if he can come in and learn by doing— “Can I work here for a day or two?” He said people are generally happy to have a little free labor, so volunteer your services.

Then, he looks for experts, whether or not they’re local.  He reads their academic papers, calls, and asks for an interview. And in each interview, he makes sure to ask, “who else should I talk to?” You’re done when everyone starts to repeat themselves. Then it’s time to write.

If you do it all from reading, he says, oddly enough, you get it wrong.