Pressure from ag interests halts reading of "Omnivoire's Dilemma" at Washington State University?

Pathbreaking book about agri-business dropped from Freshmen Reading program-

Wazoo (Washington State University in Pullman) has a common reading program every year for freshmen. This is a growing practice at universities, but Michael Pollan’s look at how our food is produced in an unsustainable manner (oil and corn) seems to have been too controversial for the appropriation scrapped university.

I suspect we are going to here less and less social and political analysis from our universities because it offends state legislators and Boards of Reagents who hold the purse strings in a time of economic crisis.

WSU balks at book critical of agribusiness. “Washington State University has decided to halt a common reading program for incoming freshman that would have used a book critical of agribusiness”. By The Associated Press






  1. Maska Avatar

    Good grief! Are we back to this sort of nonsense again. It brings to mind the flap in which certain brilliant minds in Wyoming wanted to shut down the U. of Wyoming law school because prof Debra Donahue published a book that poked holes in the myths surrounding public lands grazing.
    (The Western Range Revisited, 1999)

    Some philanthropist ought to pony up the dough to get a copy of The Omnivore’s Dilemma into the hands of every new freshman at–did you say Wazoo? “Here’s the book THEY don’t want you to read.” Nothing enhances a book’s reputation like making it forbidden fruit.

  2. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    The school had already purchased 4000 copies of the book.

    These ranch and ag folk are not at all afraid to infringe on freedom of speech, press and expression.

    Maybe people will also remember all the “veggie libel” laws? The MSM made this seem like a big joke until they went after Ophra, but these people don’t want public discussion of the food supply.

  3. jerry b Avatar
    jerry b

    This is surprising in that they were known for having a progressive ag department and were one of the first, if not the first, to offer a degree in “organic” farming.
    Well…..another book to read.

  4. Jay Barr Avatar
    Jay Barr

    That’s my alma mater!! Bring on the enlightenment.

  5. izabelam Avatar

    and I thought it was possible ONLY in a communist country (where I went to school).

  6. Maska Avatar

    And some of the conservation “big dogs” think we can sit down with these folks and all sing “Kumbaya.”

  7. Maska Avatar


    Book banning is nothing unusual in the U.S. Every year some group–I think it may be the American Library Association–puts out a list of the most banned books. You can even get a t-shirt listing them.

    It’s funny how some of the right-wing, superpatriotic groups that are always prattling about “freedom” are among the first to single out books for the honor. Of course, they aren’t the only ones. Mark Twain’s classic Huckleberry Finn has often been pulled off library shelves–or well-meaning, but misguided, folks have demanded that it be removed–for its use of racial pejoratives and its portrayal of nineteenth century racist American society.

    Other topics that raise the hackles of various groups are homosexuality, any hint of sexual interest among young teens, alleged Satanism, atheism, witchcraft, and a host of others.

  8. Brian Ertz Avatar

    the truth and critical thought with regard to anything that might unfavorably implicate ag in the west is a social – and in so many instances – professional, liability. land grant (and other) universities, like public land & wildlife agencies – go out of their way to make concerned citizens and truth-tellers’ lives hell within the professions. their business is the alchemy of finding multi-billion-dollar innovative ways to show how these industries are “green” – to muddy the waters (see: Univ. Colorado’s attempts to get ranchers on the Chicago Carbon Exchange, see: Univ. Idaho’s work on attempting to demonstrate the “tool” of blasting away vegetation communities via grazing for “fuels reduction”, see: “Healthy Forest Initiative” and all the trash coming out of land grants to muddy the waters about the impact of logging, etc.) – these are revenue sources for the universities – pork barrel dollars that industry sympathetic congressmen can send back to their constituents at university and use as leverage to muzzle the intellectual freedom of those places that are supposed to be the source of truth.

    we are second class citizens sitting at the back of the bus. many of the “big dogs”, and even the timid small ones, find the allure of sitting silently at the front of the bus – in privileged company – and perhaps the flush of (often industry sponsored) foundational grants that accompany such access – worth the putrid taste of the bottom of a boot.

    the willingness to “greenwash” is an asset, in terms of organizational fundraising ~ Simony

    we see the impact of such traded away integrity for the sake of access right now, in the presidential appointments and the same-bad decisions that are coming down. The worst are the boards, executives, and decision-makers (not the activists on the ground) of groups like Defenders, NRDC, TNC, Sierra Club, etc. Even those we thought among us, those we thought as impervious to such allure are fading ~ Suckling just got a fat grant for climate change and CBD’s activists on the ground are suddenly told not to protest renewable energy developments that impact wildlife (the same species you downloaded a ring-tone of believing it’d help give them a voice) if another group is on it. Incremental recession of integrity justified by the willingness of others to do the ground-work. We saw how they got rolled with the polar bear, hopefully they win that one.

    these groups’ access and dollars are hollow and largely meaningless on the landscape and to wildlife communities. the response when rolled over and over again ? meager, disgruntled emails hit the inboxes of their million supporters urgently asking members to send emails to the trash-bin folders of decision-makers — and always a donate button so we can give our money again to the impotent non-profit industries that have become little more than marketing firms ~ indulgence.

  9. Tom Page Avatar
    Tom Page

    Pollan is a charismatic and extremely knowledgeable lecturer on many topics. If he comes to your town I highly recommend going to see him. His book The Botany of Desire (before Omnivore’s Dilemma) is equally good if not better. To some extent the central thesis ( I won’t spoil it – it’s worth finding out for yourself) of Botany is extended into his more recent books.

  10. Salle Avatar

    Here’s a link to Bill Moyers’ Journal oon PBS where he interviews Mr. Pollan.

  11. bob jackson Avatar
    bob jackson

    I grew up in Iowa, and even with all those years in Yellowstone, always kept touch with my roots in Iowa land. It is where my buffalo herd is and has been since 1976, the only social order managed herd I know of in the world.

    What is said and happened above happens here ….and there. Something so simple a concept, extended family life in herd animals, one would think would be so easy for others in academic, environmental and agricultural circles, to grasp and then run with it, whether it was out in Washington or Iowa.

    But it is not so easy. Ulterior selfish motives prevails, just like what Brian talks of with some of the well established environmental groups.

    So many want to gather in parts and then spin off as their own for credit, but don’t want to actually learn or care to carry out.

    Some of the sayings Mikael Pollan in his book attributed to others prominent in the “alternate agricultural” world come directly from me. I know because I gave presentations at the same places as them and gave them my power point notes, upon their request, to them. Their interest was self serving one finds out. There is no mention of where they got this. I guess it is just “information shared” Ya thats it.

    One could say “exchange of ideas” is the main reason for doing anything if there is a higher purpose, but when quotes come from those advocates, environmentalists, activists and scientists do not want to know the basis for those statements then it only leads to an idea that can not sustain itself …. or be studied in logical fashion.

    My observations and applications on the ground were the core reason a large western USA university wrote and invited Mr. Pollan a few years ago to come to that university to see a “new” highly compatable and very sustainable way of behavioral management. But their knowledge was superfical and there could not be the depth of drive sustained to see it through.

    Censorship goes on. For example, my brother was the first one to teach a bison management class at a 4 year university. It dealt a lot of with what I knew. Indians from bison herd tribes from “out West” even enrolled. This generated such interest higher level students flocked to the “new” graduate level class he was to teach. The problem was so many grads wanted in it meant a lot of profs who had to have at least four students to justify their class now couldn’t meet this minimum. They went to the Dean. Then my brother said he’d limit it to 35 (125 signed up where the normal class was 12-15) and started interviewing for admission. But the jealosy’s were too much to overcome. A novel curiousity threatened the institution and supposedly it all the way to regent level …the same as what apparently happened in Washington. Alas the course was cancelled less than a week before starting. This screwed up a lot of students schedules and the jealous profs refused to take some students in even though they had plenty of room, …. and thus some couldn’t get their masters on time…but of course the higher ups knew this would happen and the institutions of higher learning “won”.

    The world is not fair out there… and there isn’t a person reading these postings who also doesn’t know a lot can be accomplished by kowtowing to those with influence to bestow them with anownership they don’t have.

    But it is not that simple. How does one give knowledge to those who want credit when image, not substance, is the main reason they want this knowledge? I imagine some “bright”, climb the ladder type in house will soon reinvent Pollans work to present in his “own style” at Washington.

  12. cobra Avatar

    I also thought Huck Finn and all the Tom Sawyer books were classics. It’s to bad that people can’t look beyond a few words to get the real story. I’ve also heard and can’t say for sure that the Harry Potter books and movies have been frowned upon by some of the churches. It’s to bad really that some of todays youth won’t get to read these books or see their movies.

  13. jerry b Avatar
    jerry b

    We recently had a high school science teacher here in Missoula admonished for showing the film “Stuff” in her class.
    We also had the Noble Prize winning climatologist banned from speaking about global warming at a high school.
    Then of course we have an almost daily letter to the editor about wolves eating kids.
    Enlightenment is not on the agenda in most of Montana.

  14. izabelam Avatar

    Both books by Mr. Pollan are on the main display at Barnes&Noble in Sandy, Utah and titled as “worth reading”.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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