Making Microbes Palatable

While perhaps focusing on an unsavory topic, I found Michael Pollan’s piece on gut microbia extremely interesting, due in part to his style of writing.  Introducing the topic of with a personal slant made it more interesting and relatable, and speaking with a couple different experts on the subject and their families, who all had been microbiotically  examined, made for a more relatable article on an otherwise uninteresting or difficult topic.  He was able to present a lot of different arguments for why gut microbes are an important part of a human’s biology, from lending possible immune system strength to those who are vaginally birthed as well as breast fed, to regulating our metabolisms, allergies and even aspects of our personalities.

Do you think using personal anecdotes as Pollan does in his piece is more or less effective in getting the facts across? Do you find him more or less credible as a resource for this information?

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About solamuno

Art History and French at the University of Michigan / Fashion Editor at SHEI Magazine

6 Responses to “Making Microbes Palatable”

  1. I found this piece fascinating, and discovered that I had an easier time reading such a lengthly article when the information is integrated with personal anecdotes. If I was just trying to keep up on current events, I wouldn’t want this piece to be in this style, since it is far from succinct. All the personal information would get in the way of the point. However, in the piece, Pollan is able to integrate facts and personal narrative in a way that keeps you engaged in a rather dry and science-y topic. I find myself convinced of his credibility simply by his investment in exploring the topic, but I suppose the incorporation of personal narrative could potentially open the article up for more biases.

  2. I really appreciated this piece in many ways. Firstly, the topic is absolutely fascinating. The connections that these scientists are finding between our microbiome and things like personality and major diseases is incredible. Secondly, I really appreciate Michael Pollan’s writing. I have read his book the Omnivore’s Dilemma and found that to be quite compelling as well. He seems to really know his audience, and is constantly able to use great anecdotes and metaphors to both enhance the reader’s understanding of the topic, and keep you interested in what he has to say.

  3. This piece was really interesting to me. I found it daunting when I opened it and discovered that I would be reading what seemed like a short research paper on gut microbes, but it read very easily. I found myself intrigued by a topic that ordinarily would hold very little interest to me, and I attribute that mainly to his personal anecdotes.

    There were a lot of little examples in this piece, such as when he refers to the bacteria “with whom I share my body,” when he made this relatable to everyone reading. There were a lot of metaphors that made a somewhat confusing and even slightly gross topic into something that could be followed along with easily and did not make me uncomfortable. I also really liked how he included a lot of research in the piece; that makes it so much more credible and interesting. I felt very informed after I read the story, and overall thought it was a great piece.

  4. I’ve really enjoyed Pollan’s writing, and I think that the way he wove his own personal stories and narratives through this scientific story that otherwise would be hard to get through for many readers was very successful. It captures readers’ attention and makes us see the personal aspects of the story, makes us truly connect to a piece.

    The human/personal touch in a story at times can be more effective than a million statistics. Julia touched on this, and I think that she is right, if I was trying to get a quick synopsis of the news Pollan’s personal anecdotes would be distracting. But for the reader who is truly trying to learn more about a topic, this style draws them in. Also, this style makes readers want to learn more. It is personal, but that is what people respond to, more than numbers or statistics. We talked in class about how to make people care about a story, and personal anecdotes are the most effective technique.

  5. I thought the opener to this piece was truly amazing. It was framed in a half-serious, half-kidding existential crisis that made the science in the article extremely approachable. Rather than being an objective outsider, the author takes you on the journey with him. I’m thinking, “Okay, wow, we just got our results! Now we’re going to the lab! Now we’re having dinner with the scientists!” I felt like I was very much along for the ride.

    I think the article is also aided by a few voices that put words to the discomfort readers may be feeling. Pollan admits that they talked about feces at dinner way more than expected and that even Dr. Knight’s wife was a little over the whole “sampling” thing. At the same time, it was cool to read about people who really took this information so seriously; a hugely helpful anecdote was when the doctor’s child had to be born via C-section and he actually covered his baby’s skin in certain fluids to ensure the colonization of certain necessary microorganisms. It’s solid evidence that these people believe in what they’re doing as much as they’re writing academic papers on it.

    • Personally, I find nothing wrong with personal anecdotes or hard facts in a story such as this one. In fact I think both are very important to a worthwhile story. The personal anecdotes make the story relatable and entertaining to read (something I can definitely appreciate). As for the hard facts/data, these make the story believable and combined with personal anecdotes, makes me want to investigate further.

      Another interesting point the article makes is about what happens when we try to change what naturally occurs in our bodies. To be sure, advances in modern medicine and food handling have done wonders for humanity, but trying to alter microbes or DNA for example can have unintended consequences (and not necessarily positive ones).

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