His book, In Defence of Food is nicely summarised in an article he wrote for the New York Times. It is well worth reading and contains his famous motto that tells you everything you need to know about diet: “eat food, not very much, mostly plants”. To make those shelves of diet books redundant with just seven words is genius.
This ability to get to the heart of an issue that has been overlayed with too much conflicting information is again displayed in an essay about what to do when faced with a problem as overwhelming as global warming. Would changes in individual behaviour make any difference? If so what would be the best things to do? The helpless logic that says that any carbon reduction I make will be nullified by other people is potent and there is truth in the statement that such a big problem needs to be tackled by national and global institutions. However to get political change in our societies it needs to be shown that the mass of the people are willing to change. It is impossible for political leaders to go too much out on a limb. They can cajole and persuade but that cannot fully act without demonstrable support.
That is why it is important for us all to do something and through that action inspire other people to make changes. Momentum will come through aggregating all of our actions.
One thing he suggests, which can have a big impact, is for us to grow more of our own food. Dig up lawns for vegetables, take on an allotment. If we all did it , it would have a profound effect as it did in the last World War. (Monty Don is saying similar things here and here).
This makes a lot of sense but this is not a gardening blog, it is a running blog and there is something in the essay that I can relate to running
He talks about the mindset which has been formed by 250 years of cheap energy. The industrial model, which has lead to specialisation in work and then in our homes, so that we now outsource many areas of our lives. This leads to internal uncertainty, dependency and the breaking of the link between actions and consequences. Things become the responsibility of others and there can be conflict between underlying beliefs and actions
He cites Wendell Berry:
Nothing was likely to change until we healed the "split between what we think and what we do ... Once our personal connection to what is wrong becomes clear, then we have to choose: we can go on as before, recognising our dishonesty and living with it the best we can, or we can begin the effort to change the way we think and live."
Now this is profound and difficult. Consistency in thinking and doing, and changing the way we live are difficult and daunting projects So difficult it is easier to park them in the 'get round to it when I feel stronger file'. This is where running comes in. Now I am not going to make grand claims that running of itself can heal the soul and solve our problems. No it is just one thing, a little thing that can help put us on the path of looking at such issues.
When we run we directly respond to our own body. We are the only ones who know how it is feeling and what it is capable of doing. We look for advice from others (that is only sensible) but we test it out and either accept it or reject based on our own evidence. After all it only takes a couple of weeks to show that a plan is beginning to work and we can evaluate our own evidence. We are not outsourcing, we make our own decisions and we see how good we are at following-through. We learn more about our body and how it works, more about our motivation and what makes it work. It involves our mind as well as our body and it extends us. In so doing it brings together number of fragments of our personalities. In one small, discrete area it gives us the opportunity of being a complete person
I do not claim uniqueness for running in all those things – there are all sorts of activities (such as the gardening Pollan talks of) that can have the same effect. But they are all activities that need to be done regularly - an occasional run, or an occasional dig means nothing. The continuity means there is a thread that runs through our lives. That thread can make us more self reliant and help us organise the bigger stuff like the coherence (or lack of it) between what we think and what we do.
But then of course it is back to the important question of what we do in the face of climate change and expensive energy.