Industrial Agriculture and What NOT to Read During Summer Vacation

Washington State University assigned Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma to all incoming freshmen as required summer reading.  The idea: to spur a debate about industrial agriculture and its impact on American society.  Great idea, right?  I guess not.  Citing “budget constraints,” the university has withdrawn the book.

According to this article in the Chronicle of Higher Education (pay site, but you can get a cheap day pass…), not everyone buys the administration’s explanation for this turnabout, especially since the university had already purchased 4,000 copies of the book.

The article notes:

“What we were told is that when the committee picked The Omnivore’s Dilemma, because of the politics of the agriculture industry, we would not be having a common reading, and that President Floyd decided that this was not a battle he wanted to wage,” said one person who had knowledge of the program and asked not to be named because of fear of job loss.

Jeff Sellen, an instructor at the university who sat on a committee in charge of implementing the reading program, says members of that panel were told “we could not call it a ‘common reading.'”

“I think that was important because it would be less official and would maybe fly underneath the radar,” he says. “It was obvious that it was political.”

I don’t know what the reason(s) were; I only know what I read.  But I sure wish those Washington State freshmen were reading this book…

–David Cassuto

One Response

  1. I’m vaguely wondering why you can’t have a political reading, even if it is a state school, since the school is seeking to spur debate, rather than advocate a position. Would Pollan’s book be considered state speech?

    Regardless, I am not completely discouraged that the book was taking off the list. While the information won’t reach as many, banning a book (or in this case retracting it for political reasons) typically makes it more sought after, maybe my more than just WSU students.

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