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Adding magic to mushrooms

Why famed food writer Michael Pollan changed course to psychedelics

Chelsea Slender

It’s 2016. Michael Pollan’s four part Netflix documentary Cooked has graced our screens and all discussion of the award winning writer’s work centres around nutrition, nature and the famous mantra: “eat food, not too much, mostly plants”.

Fast forward to 2019 and the conversation has certainly changed. Pollan’s latest book is called How to Change Your Mind and now, along with sustainable eating and the importance of fresh food consumption, Pollan has us talking about tripping, meditation and the power psychedelics have to revolutionise the mental health industry.

From experimenting with micro-dosing, to immersing himself in both above and below ground psychedelic culture, Pollan brings his storytelling prowess and approachable take on science to a whole new facet of the human experience. 

How to Change Your Mind

A deep dive into the shadowy world of mind-altering substance use, How to Change Your Mind offers readers a front row seat into Pollan’s personal journey from psychedelic-virgin to “psychonaut”.

The New York Times bestseller combines a history of the rise and fall of psychedelic drugs in America with an investigation into what Pollan terms a ‘renaissance’ of research into their potential benefits. Looking to the future, Pollan profiles scientists who are convinced psychedelics will revolutionise the way we treat addiction, depression and the terminally ill.

At a glance, Pollan’s transition from food to drugs may seem drastic. However, when asked by The Guardian whether he thought his new book was a departure or continuation of his previous work, Pollan said “Both, really”.

“I have this abiding interest in how we interact with other plant and animal species and how they get ahead in nature by gratifying our desires. And one of those desires I have always been keenly interested in is the desire to change consciousness.” 


Far from being constrained to the written word, Pollan’s messages have made their way into homes all around the world via the small screen. In 2016, Netflix released the four-part documentary series Cooked adapted from Pollan’s book by the same name. Each episode focuses on one of the elements (Fire, Water, Air and Earth) and explores the different ways they transform our cooking and shape our world. Other adaptions of Pollan’s work include the PBS documentaries In Defense of Food (2015) and The Botany of Desire (2009). 

Words to live by

Ahead of the Opera House’s An Evening With Michael Pollan, we’ll leave you with this thought from How to Change Your Mind:

“Our task in life consists precisely in a form of letting go of fear and expectations, an attempt to purely give oneself to the impact of the present.” 

Find more about Talks & Ideas at the Opera House