My Omnivore’s Deliemma: I’m No Michael Pollan
Posted by cmh gourmand on February 2, 2015
One could summarize Michael Pollan’s writings into these seven words: Eat food, not too much, mostly plants. Following that philosophy, one could eat well, enjoy good health and avoid many of the maladies overeating and the Western diet create. There was a time (brief as it was) that I did live by that model and I miss it. Over the last several years I adapted an approach of: Eat Food, frequently, mostly carbohydrates. I can’t make any legitimate excuses for my current food lifestyle but I do feel the malaise that comes with it.
So when I was offered tickets to hear Michael Pollan speak, I was excited for an opportunity listen to one of my favorite food writers and infuse some inspiration to get back on track.
Pollan is a great public speaker, he mixes just enough facts with humor without being preachy, just pragmatic information that hopefully will make a difference. There was not much information in his presentation that would be news for anyone that has read his work, but he did offer a lot to think about. For those of you that did not get to attend and especially for those of you that have not read his books, I thought I would offer some of the information he shared that is good food for thought.
The first thing I wrote down in my notes (with an explanation point!) was the phrase “social delusion about gluten”. I mean no disrespect to those with true gluten issues, I know several people with celiac disease and other gluten based illnesses and those truly suck. Pollan meant no disrespect either but what he was referring to was this gluten epidemic that is out of proportion to true incidence of these diseases. There is a marketing technique that creates a fear and then gives the “buyer” a solution. An example that was used was Chex Cereal. It is now marketed as Gluten Free. Well here is a shocker, it never had gluten. And it is marketed as no High Fructose Corn Syrup which is nice and all, but the company replaced that with Fructose, which is worse for you. Gluten is bad for some people, but big food is using that fear of gluten to push products and deliver a message of no gluten to get the attention of everyone.
Another example. Wonder Bread went out of business but now is back as a 100% whole grain bread. However, Pollan wonders about the math skills of the manufacturers of the food, if it is 100% grain what about the 30 other ingredients in the product?
Milk is trending as a new “super food” with big soda getting to the milk business. For generations we have been oversold on milk as a health food. There is even a beverage called Muscle Milk (which in small text mentions….contains no milk). Yogurt falls into this category as well, when you look at a typical yogurt you will see if has more sugar that an 8 ounce Coke.
Deciding what to eat is becoming more and more confusing, that are over 10,000 items in a typical grocery store and each year more than 15,000 new food products come out. Most offer single size servings, or convenience (such as a straw made our of cereal to drink milk) and in the process of creating convenience more not food ingredients are added to make to foods….easy to consume.
What is referred to as the American Paradox continues to thwart us. While we live in a country obsessed with health and spend larger and larger amounts on “healthy” foods, exercise equipment, fitness clubs, and etc., as a society more of us are getting fat and those of us who were fat are getting fatter. The Western Diet is the one diet that consistently causes health issues and our approaches to address it have gone no where. One of the best / worse examples: for children born after 2000, over 1/3 will have Type 2 Diabetes, which could be avoided with modest changes in lifestyle and diet.
Pollan offered some food wisdom that was shared with him from readers.
“The whiter the bread, the sooner you will be dead”
“Eat foods that will eventually rot”
‘If you are not hungry enough to eat an apple, don’t eat”
The best question of the night and the least expected point to ponder came at the end, with a short discussion on the importance of health soil for healthy foods and the nutrients that good soil infuses into foods. Many of the trends of modern agriculture are taking the health out of the soil, not adding to it.
It was a fun evening and it was refreshing for me to think about eating better instead of just thinking about eating.