The Ins and Outs of an Ordinary Life

Monday, January 29, 2007

If You Build it They Will Come

This is a great article written by Michael Pollan, the author of The Omnivore's Dilemma. Nutritionism and food science has taken a very simple question-- what should you eat-- and cloaked the answer in clouds of confusion and marketing. He begins the article by answering this question, and then goes onto explain why there is so much confusion surrounding the relationship between food and health. So here is the answer:

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

He then goes onto describe 4 rapid and far reaching changes in food culture and relationships (from soil to table) that have a profound effect on the western diet and therefore on health.
  1. From whole foods to refined-- the rise of white foods (refined flour and white rice); corn becomes corn syrup. These foods deliver glucose much more quickly and overwhelm the body's ability to produce insulin. Result-----> Type II diabetes
  2. From complexity to simplicity-- the rise of chemical fertilizers simplify the production of food, but decrease its nutritional quality. Four crops -- wheat, corn, soybeans, and rice -- account for 2/3 of the calories we eat (I find this astonishing).
  3. From leaves to seeds-- grains are easy to store, and easily and economically transformed into processed foods and animal protein. Replacing vegetables with grains means less nutrients, phytochemicals, fiber. The implications are barely understood.
  4. From food culture to food science-- science, journalism and marketing have replaced "mom" in determining what we eat.
Pollan does offer some advice on how to escape from these trends and their deleterious effects on health.
  1. Eat food. Stay away from anything that your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food.
  2. Avoid food products that come bearing health claims. They are apt to be heavily processed. Bananas and yams may be silent, but that doesn't mean they don't have anything to do with your health.
  3. Avoid products with ingredients that are unrecognizable, unpronounceable, more than 5 in number, and/or includes high fructose corn syrup.
  4. Get out of the supermarket if you can. Farmer's markets sell food.
  5. Eat less and pay more. Good quality food costs more, but it is a good investment in your health, and the health of the planet.
  6. Eat mostly plants, especially leaves. Vegetarians and near vegetarians are healthier than carnivores. Plants are good for you!
  7. Eat more like the French, or the Italians, or the Greeks, or the Japanese. Adopt the principles of a food culture, not food science.
  8. Cook. Take part in the process of providing sustenance and communion. Escape the culture of cheap fast food.
  9. Eat like an omnivore. Add diversity to your diet.
Sundays is usually a food prep/cooking day. I work late on Mondays, so I usually make sure there is enough food for Sunday dinner, and Monday lunch and dinner. I cleaned out the frig. I was away for 2 days and there were all these mysterious things wrapped in aluminum foil and take out containers in there. Son #1 is a pizza delivery boy. The recycling bin was filled with pizza boxes! Then I cooked-- string beans and chickpeas in peanut sauce, pumpkin-corn muffins, and a roast chicken. There was leftover salad. Sometimes it's hard to get everyone on the same page, but "if you build it, they will come." I sure hope they come, because there's an awful big tub of string beans with chickpeas in peanut sauce!


Laurie said...

Very interesting article. Nutrition and diet is so confusing in this country. It seems that it should become simpler with all of the science but it has not.

Audrey said...

Wow. This post drives home to me how nutrition needs can be so person-specific. If I ate half of this stuff I would truly be sick! I used to eat like this (all healthy) for the past few years and I just made my GI symptoms worse. The typical healthy diet everyone is promoting just is not healthy for me!!! I'm sure I'm missing nutrients, but it's a trade-off I have to make to keep my stomach happy. I'm glad you found a balance that works for you though!