Michael Pollan, a UC Berkeley professor, author and sometime critic of "Big Ag," spoke in the heart of California's ag country Wednesday.
It was what he did not say that was surprising.
The author of "The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals" and other best-selling books, Pollan has often criticized the industrialization of agriculture for the increased amount of greenhouse gases it emits.
But rather than make that point, Pollan told the audience how to eat real food.
Pollan was speaking in Fresno as part of the San Joaquin Valley Town Hall series at the William Saroyan Theatre. Board members said they welcome speakers with different point of views.
The event was sponsored by the Smittcamp family, a well-known farming family. Lisa Woolf, a Town Hall board member from a farming family, introduced Pollan.
"You know he is a bit controversial here in our ag community, especially with some of our cattle guys," she said on stage.
When Woolf said she first asked Pollan to speak in Fresno six years ago, he replied, "Are you serious?" she recalled.
But Pollan's speech Wednesday probably didn't raise anyone's blood pressure in the audience. Instead of taking on Big Ag, he focused on what people eat.
Pollan talked about "orthorexia," an unhealthy obsession with eating healthy that has people fixated on details like the amount of antioxidants in food.
"We arm ourselves with lots of psuedo-science," he said. "It's really interesting that we feel we need a biology education to eat."
About 60 percent of the American diet is processed foods, he said, and that leads to all kinds of health problems, from heart disease to diabetes.
Those boxed and bagged foods sell so well, however, because of the health claims they make. Soda may be fat free, for example, but it's not a health food. Yogurt is also healthy, but yogurt with M&Ms or Girl Scout cookies mixed in? Not so much.
Holding up an apple, Pollan added that truly healthy food like "this pretty quiet fruit" can't compete with the advertising budgets of processed foods.
The whole thing is confusing, he said.
Instead of trying to understand the details of the science around food, Pollan recommends consumers eat real food.
"Don't eat any foods that won't eventually rot," he said. "The shelf life of this stuff is amazing."
His advice: If you show a product to your grandma and she doesn't know it's food — for example, the tubes of Go-Gurt portable low-fat yogurt — don't buy it.
His message boils down to his rules for eating in his book, "Food Rules: An Eater's Manual." They are just seven words: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."
Take studies with a grain of salt, and avoid food with health claims on the package, he said.
"The quietest food in the supermarket is the healthiest food," he said.