In Defense of Food

On our flight to Malaysia last weekend, I gobbled up Micahel Pollan’s book, In Defense of Food.  It may be my favorite food book yet.  In it, Pollan does not argue for vegetarianism, low-fat, high fat, low carb, or any other specific diet for the matter.  He simply argues that we should be eating food.  He tells his readers to “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”   But don’t we all eat food?  Pollan elegantly states what I’ve been trying to put words to for a while.  He says,

  “…I contend that most of what we are consuming today is no longer, strictly speaking, food at all and how we’re consuming it—in the car, in front of the T.V. and increasingly alone—is not really eating, at least not in the sense that civilization has long understood the term.”

Humans have proved to be remarkably adaptable to different traditional diets—all plant, all meat, all sea food…but our bodies are not adapting to this modern western diet that is now infiltrating non-western cultures. This new diet is full of processed, refined, preservative full food imitators. Its not that we just aren’t adapting to this modern industrial way of eating, but it’s killing us!  Soon after western foods are introduced into a society, people start getting sick. To me, this seems like a giant red flag–  like our bodies are screaming, “YOU NEED TO STOP!”

Pollan goes on to explain the kind of “science” and politics that have gotten us into this sticky situation in which 2/3 of Americans are overweight or obese and Type 2 Diabetes and other diet related diseases are becoming the norm. Long gone are the days when we instinctively knew what to eat.  Mom/Culture is losing the battle to food science and politics.  Scientifically created food products have left little room in our kitchen and tummies for actual food.  Our grocery stores’ shelves are filled with products with long lists of unpronounceable ingredients and flashy health claims that change with eating trends—Low Fat, Low Carb, High Fiber, No High Fructose Corn Syrup!

These trends shift as food scientist and government “discover” the effects of specific nutrients on the human body.   We usually find these “discoveries” to be quite flawed later down the road.  Nutritionism, which is the dominant and generally accepted way of thinking about food, views food as the sum of its parts.  Food science takes these parts, rips them away from their community (the rest of the nutrients in the whole food and the human body) and then tries to analyze how it effects our health.  The problem with this is that whole foods, such as an apple, are intricate networks of nutrients that work together with each other and our bodies to do their job.

Nutritionism organizes its energies around the imperial nutrient of its time.  The 20th century was all about fat. Low fat diet became a huge deal.  “Fat is making us fat! Let’s stop eating fat.”  The food industry went to the labs and remade its products to be lower in fat. Wallah—low fat cookies.  In the 21st century we became obsessed with carbs.  Dr. Attkins told us all to shove our faces full of meat and skip out on the bananas.  The food industry went to the lab again and modified their products to be low carb.  Inject some vitamin D here and a little calcium there and BAM!  We’ve got ourselves a super food….or do we?

So, here we are living in a world where a box of scientifically processed who knows what can claim to be healthier than an orange. After all, it is low fat, low carb, vitamin C enriched.  The FDA, who many Americans trust to provide them with food guidelines recently signed Frito-Lay chips on the grounds that eating chips fried in polyunsaturated fats will help you reduce your consumption of saturated fats, thereby being “healthy” for your cardiovascular system.  Um, is the FDA being run by junior high boys?

Woo…I’m getting fired up. The dude next to me on the airplane probably thinks I’m writing a raging letter to an ex-lover of something.   Nope, just food.

If the majority of the stuff we’re finding in the grocery store isn’t really food, where can we find real food?  Well, there are scatterings of it at most large shops.  Its typically located around the edges.  It’s the things that grow from the ground.  It’s the animals that eat the things that grow from the ground. Pollan, and myself, are advocating for a way of eating that involves real food—whether it be all plants, or just mostly plants.  He recommends avoiding grocery stores as much as possible and sticking mostly to farmers markets, your own garden, and the sorts.

Food, real food, is lovely in that it already has what we need.  When was the last time you saw a banana or a carrot with added vitamins or an apple injected with extra fiber?  Its all there, in nature.

As I was reading the book, I kept thinking, “Ah!  I should share this..oh!  I should share that!”  You really should just read the book—its well written and full of great information that’s easy to digest (hehe).

Let’s take back our bodies and our health! Let’s not let the FDA dupe us into believing the Frito’s are good for our cardiovascular system.  Let’s not be fooled by the flashy advertising and health claims of processed food imitators!  Let’s eat REAL FOOD!


4 thoughts on “In Defense of Food

  1. This is really an educational trip for you on all levels. His next book was called, Food Rules. My favorite rule is – Eat food, mostly plants. Easy don’t ya think? When I was teaching a cooking class on the Hilltop of Tacoma, I said, shoot for 5 veggies and fruits a day. Easy. Hard though if you are on limited income. Time for a change. Make food important again.

  2. mjorgey

    I love his rules. He lists them in the back of In Defense of Food. The income thing is so true. We really need to push for change in the kinds of food our government subsidizes. At the same time, I think so many Americans have the money they just don’t want to put it towards their food. Why buy organic strawberries when you can get strawberry swirl cupcakes for half the price?? This mindset permeates our culture in most areas though I think—quantity over quality.

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