What are you eating?
In Defense of Food: an Eater’s Manifesto, written by Michael Pollan (Penguin Press 2008).
What is your relationship to food (I know this is a loaded question)? How often do you make the time to sit with friends or family over a meal? Are you rushing to the next task? Do you find yourself eating alone? Do you prepare food for you family individually like a restaurant (serving each person a different meal)?
Michael Pollan has written about food in his last two books, “In Defense of Food” and “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.” In his latest, Defense of Food, he questions the underlying nutritional science and the food industry since the 1940’s. He examines how our country embraces the reductionist model of breaking food down into components such as vitamins or minerals. Subsequently, food producers isolate those parts that have been found to prolong life and placed them in other food products or a bad component is removed. Everyone has seen these “healthy claims” on the packaging of food: whole grain, no trans fats, vitamin C, beta carotene, no high fructose corn syrup, antioxidants, low cholesterol, Omega 3s and the list goes on and on.
For example, you are probably aware of the whole grain trend. You think when you go to the grocery and pick up a loaf of bread that uses whole grain you are providing yourself with a healthy alternative to plain white bread. Think again. Here is what is in a loaf of “Healthy Multi-Grain Bread”: Wheat flour, malted barley flour, reduced iron, niacin, thiamin mononitrate (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2), folic acid, water, whole wheat flour, honey, sugar, yellow corn grits, oats, buttermilk, wheat bran, wheat gluten, brown rice, yeast, sesame seeds, soybean oil, brown sugar, salt, pea fiber, calcium carbonate, monoglycerides, calcium sulfate, grain vinegar, poppy seeds, abcorbic acid, acesulfame potassium, soy lecithin and finally azodicabonamide. This product is available nationwide and has fewer additives and preservatives than most brands of bread. Still my spell checker did not have 5 of the incredients.
Our Relationship to food:
In 1985 Americans spent 16% of our income on food and 8% on health care. Today we spend less than 10% on food and 15% on health care. Do you think there is a correlation? Having a Walmart mentality in regard to food purchasing has had an impact with a result that may be slowly killing us all.
Western diseases such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, strokes, hypertension were non-existent in isolated populations (think native diets) in the early 19th century.
Pollan even suggests that dental decay can be traced to lower amounts of vitamins A, D and K in food citing research done by the controversial Weston A. Price. Price found isolated populations in the 1930s that had remarkable few indications of tooth decay.
In an Australian study in 1982 by Kerin O’Day, Pollan points out what the elimination of the western diet did for 10 aborigines. They agreed to return to their old ways of gathering and hunting for food. After 7 weeks health indicators of diabetes, levels of omega 3s and blood pressure drop. Is this another example of how our diet slowly killing us?
Anyone can point to problems and what makes this book is the suggestions for change. Here is a list of what changes can be made to address some of the western diseases:
- Buy local food – farm stands, farmers market, CSA
- Buy soil rich food – support farmers who rotates crops and minimize the use of fertilizers
- Shop the outside isles in the grocery stores - Pollan suggests limiting the number of ingredients to 5 in any one item
- Reduce your portion size
- Cut down on snacking – I remember my mother telling no snacking before dinner, what happened?
- Reduce consumption of meat – think, the world livestock produces more green house gases than our entire transportation industry
- Eat slowly and enjoy your food
Pollan’s suggestions create a level of food elitism. Most people cannot afford to buy only organic, grass-fed local meat or rely on the nearest farmer for most of their food. Change will come at a price. One alternative to expensive vegetables is to start your own garden. Pollan recommends we spend more and eat less. He sums up his book up nicely on the cover, “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” Read the book and be the change.
For more insight into Michael Pollan, check out Bill Moyer's interview on YouTube: