Friday, July 24, 2009

In Defense of Food

The title of Michael Pollan's latest book, In Defense of Food, might make a lot of people scratch their heads and ask why food needs to be defended. Pollan quickly makes the case that food does need to be defended, and he makes a great champion. Basically, since corporations have taken over food production, they've been selling us more and more edible food-like substances and less real food. (Don't believe me? Check out McDonald's website and see how many ingredients you recognize as food.) We need to eat real food. Actually, Pollan sums it up in seven words:
Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

In multiple interviews, Pollan has said that usually when you start researching something, it gets complicated. In the case of food, however, it got really simple. We don't need to be following a diet that's low fat or low carb or one that has lots of oat bran or the proper omega fats. We don't need to talk to dietitians and nutritionists. We just need to "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

We don't need to read the nutrition labels on packages. If it has a label with lots of nutrition claims, it's probably not real food. When reading this book, I couldn't help but think of how much an average supermarket has grown since I was a child. As a little girl in the 1970s, I remember going to the two grocery stores in our small Texas town. They were only six or seven aisles, and the produce section made up about a fifth of each one. After you add the meat and dairy sections, only about half the store was left for processed foods. About 40 miles down the road in a small city, the Safeway was more than twice as big. And as I grew up, grocery stores turned into supermarkets and got bigger and bigger.

The sad thing is that they did not get bigger by offering us a dozen varieties of heirloom tomatoes or pork from several different breeds of pig. They grew because they had to keep up with the growing number of processed foods that were being developed. And as Pollan points out, our bodies don't know what to do with things that are hydrogenated and ethoxylated, because humans have never eaten such things -- not until the last 30 to 60 years, which is a tiny blip on the radar of human existence. And now we have rising numbers of diet-related diseases like heart disease, stroke, and cancer.

It was kind of fun as I neared the end of Pollan's book and discovered I was a subversive. Huh? Yeah! Who'd have thought that cooking would be subversive? He makes a very good point --
To reclaim this much control over one's food, to take it back from industry and science, is no small thing; indeed, in our time cooking from scratch and growing any of your own food qualify as subversive acts.

And what these acts subvert is nutritionism: the belief that food is foremost about nutrition and nutrition is so complex that only experts and industry can possibly supply it.

After reading a good chunk of diet books over the past two decades, I had already come to the same conclusion as Pollan. Our great grandmothers probably knew more about healthy eating than today's most learned scientists. Eat a variety of fresh foods while sitting around the dinner table with your family and friends. Take time to chew while listening to your loved ones. They're more important that whatever is on television right now. And since you're not supposed to talk with your mouth full, you'll be a better listener.

Stop worrying about nutrition and start enjoying food.

1 comment:

Zarah said...

GREAT post! I especially like the last bit!! ♥


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