in defense of food-michael pollan

so, my latest theory is that a little bit of junk food is what keeps us alive. hear me out: everyone knows someone who smokes and drinks for 900 years, eats shit food, has a horrible disposition in general, and outlasts his/her partner and long-suffering family. as our world gets increasingly toxic, we are devolving like rats. one day, we will die when placed in compost, too. thus, if we generally eat well, one little mcdonald’s breakfast every now and again is good for the immune system. now, i’m not a nutritionist, but the following is something that i am certain of, and have to explain at least three times a week, to grown, incredulous people:

“Organic Oreos are not a health food. When Coca-Cola begins selling organic Coke, as it surely will, the company will have struck a blow for the environment perhaps, but not for our health. Most consumers automatically assume that the word “organic” is synonymous with health, but it makes no difference to your insulin metabolism if the high-fructose corn syrup in your soda is organic.” (170)


3 thoughts on “in defense of food-michael pollan

  1. processed food:

    “Having cracked the mystery of human nutrition, Liebig went on to develop a meat extract-Liebig’s Extractum Carnis-that has come down to us as bouillon and concocted the first baby formula, consisting of cow’s milk, wheat flour, malted flour, and potassium bicarbonate.” (20)

    “The good news is that, to the carrot eater, it doesn’t matter. That’s the great thing about eating foods as compared with nutrients: You don’t need to fathom a carrot’s complexity in order to reap its benefits.” (66)

    “In much the same way, human bodies that can cope with chewing coca leaves-a longstanding relationship between native people and the coca plant in parts of South America-cannot cope with cocaine or crack, even though the same active ingredients are present in all three. Reductionism as a way of understanding food or drugs may be harmless, even necessary, but reductionism in practice-reducing food or drug plants to their most salient chemical compounds-can lead to problems.” (105)

    “Why corn and soy? Because these two plants are among nature’s most efficient transformers of sunlight and chemical fertilizer into carbohydrate energy (in the case of corn) and fat and protein (in the case of soy)-if you want to extract the maximum amount of macronutrients from the American farm belt, corn and soy are the crops to plant. (It helps that the government pays farmers to grow corn and soy, subsidizing every bushel they produce.) Most of the corn and soy crop winds up in the feed of our food animals (simplifying /their/ diets in unhealthy ways, as we’ll see), but much of the rest goes into processed foods. The business model of the food industry is organized around “adding value” to cheap raw materials; its genius has been to figure out how to break these two big seeds down into their chemical building blocks and then reassemble them in myriad packaged food products. With the result that today corn contributes 554 calories a day to America’s per capita food supply and soy another 257. Add wheat (768 calories) and rice (91) and you can see there isn’t a whole lot of room left in the American stomach for any other foods.” (117)

    “But the industrialization of our food that we call the Western diet is systematically and deliberately undermining traditional food cultures everywhere. This may be as destructive of our health as any nutritional deficiency.” (133)

    “Meat offers a good proof of the proposition that the healthfulness of a food cannot be divorced from the health of soil, plant, animal, and eater are all connected, for better or worse.” (167)

  2. mind control:

    “Is it just a coincidence that as the portion of our income spent on food has declined, spending on health care has soared? In 1960 Americans spent 17.5 percent of their income on food and 5.2 percent of national income on health care. Since then, those numbers have flipped: Spending on food has fallen to 9.9 percent, while spending on health care has climbed to 16 percent of national income. I have to think that by spending a little more on healthier food we could reduce the amount we have to spend on health care.” (187-8)

    “A diet based on quantity rather than quality has ushered a new creature onto the world stage: the human being who manages to be both overfed and undernourished, two characteristics seldom found in the same body in the long natural history of our species. In most traditional diets, when calories are adequate, nutrient intake will usually be adequate as well. Indeed, many traditional diets are nutrient rich and, at least compared to ours, calorie poor. The Western diet has turned that relationship upside down.” (122)

    “So this is what putting science, and scientism, in charge of the American diet has gotten us: anxiety and confusion about even the most basic questions of food and health, and a steadily diminishing ability to enjoy one of the great pleasures of life without guilt and neurosis.” (80)

    “The first thing to understand about nutritionism is that it is not the same thing as nutrition. As the ‘-ism’ suggests, it is not a scientific subject but an ideology. Ideologies are ways of organizing large swaths of life and experience under a set of shared but unexamined assumptions. This quality makes an ideology particularly hard to see, at least while it’s still exerting its hold on your culture. A reigning ideology is a little like the weather-all pervasive and so virtually impossible to escape. Still, we can try.” (28)

    “To make food choices more scientific is to empty them of their ethnic content and history; in theory, at least, nutritionism proposes a neutral, modernist, forward-looking, and potentially unifying answer to the question of what it might mean to eat like an American. It is also a way to moralize about other people’s choices without seeming to. In this, nutritionism is a little like the institution of the American front lawn, an unobjectionable, if bland, way to pave over our differences and Americanize the landscape. Of course, in both cases unity comes at the price of aesthetic diversity and sensory pleasure. Which may be precisely the point.” (58)

    “Maybe it’s time we confronted the American paradox: a notably unhealthy population preoccupied with nutrition and diet and the idea of eating healthy.” (9)

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