Presentation Case Study: Michael Pollan

Memorable Dramatization

Michael Pollan

If ever there was a natural storyteller, it’s Michael Pollan. His books, including The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food, teach people the sources of their food. They have completely changed the way Americans look at the existing food system.

When he was asked to speak at Pop!Tech, he wanted to make a lasting impression on the audience about one particular point. He and his team had calculated the amount of crude oil it took to make one double cheeseburger at a fast food outlet. The quantity was shocking, and he wanted to make sure the audience remembered it.

At the start of the presentation when he walked on stage, Pollan carried a paper bag from a fast food chain with him. He explained that it was, “a little something for later” and put it down on a table in the middle of the stage. Then he began his presentation, leaving his listeners in a state of suspense about the bag.

Later on, when he started talking about the connections between crude oil and our food supply, he said, “I want to show you how much oil goes into producing this [cheeseburger].” First, he took a cheeseburger out of the paper bag. Then he pulled out a container full of oil and an eight ounce glass. He poured the oil into the glass until it was full. “But that’s not all,” he said. “You need another eight ounces.” He reached down under the table and picked up a second glass and filled it. Then he filled a third, and part of a forth. It was an incredibly graphic demonstration of just how much oil (26 ounces) it takes to produce one double cheeseburger.

cookies vs broccoli - snack and calories

Showing the audience the burger next to the crude oil used to produce it was a disturbing visual—one that the audience would almost certainly remember the next time they made food choices.

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