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Monday, February 16, 2009

In Defense of Food Discussion

Let's just dive in.

I loved this book. I think it makes a lot of sense. I even began wondering about all kinds of other repercussions that may be from industrialized farming and the 'nutritional' approach to diet. For instance, I wondered about the mysterious bee problems. Gordo would probably have in depth info on that. And I don't know much except that it exists. But I thought, if soils are being depleted of the variety of nutrients they need, and plants are putting out less nutrients, then isn't it possible that nature's creatures would be suffering in some form or other? Of course, I suppose beekeepers are more likely to have wild to organic fields for their bees. In any case, I do believe that what Michael Pollen is presenting has widespread effect.

I hadn't realized how much the idea of nutritionist diet had pervaded even my life, until I noticed myself checking the percentages and daily allowances on things habitually. I do that with almost everything I buy, I just hadn't paid attention to myself doing it before. I found myself thinking that as long as I buy wheat bread, I'm choosing the healthy option. Or, wow that new cereal is high in fiber and it has folic acid! That's when I knew that the 'science' of nutrition had duped me too. Sure there is sense to eating diets that are healthier, but I loved that he pointed out that nutritionists don't really know what that is. Truly, given the examples of margarine vs. butter and that of eggs, we can see that the opinion on healthy eating changes frequently. And often they find they were tragically wrong. That is sad.

I find it sad also that consumerism/mega capitalism has been working against our good for so long because heaven forbid we damage in any way the products of an industry. I'm not against capitalism. In fact, I believe in it. I think every person should have the opportunity to use their skill, knowledge and passion to make something for themselves, and money to boot. But, if we really look at today's system, that kind of capitalism is rare. Ok, back to food.

I learned new things from him too. Like, free range grass fed meats (poultry, cows etc) are better because they are getting the nutrients they need, which we need too. I hadn't really known the reason these were better products, or how the non free range animals were being fed, which is just sick. Now I know. And farmers who use these methods are more likely to have ecological farms which also replenish soil. I like that.

I thought the information he gave on cultures who eat appallingly according to our nutritionists and yet are very healthy was interesting. I've often wondered why French people get away with eating how they do. I love the idea that eating cannot be broken down into small nutrients and vitamins. The body needs the natural foods these things come in to break those down properly and actually use them right. So sensible and yet why have we let them tell us differently for so long?

I agree that it is ridiculous how packaged food screams how healthy it is, like cereals laced with sugar. I had no idea that our diet was so prevalently corn and soy. And here for so long I thought soy = super healthy. Apparently mainly only tofu soy. Makes sense once again.

Lastly, I love his approach. That eating should be a whole culture. A part of how we live. Gathering together, using meals to commune, converse and generally support each other. I have for a long time believed in the family meal. We do this every night. But I think we eat too fast. I want meals to be about talking and enjoying instead of about, gobble it down, chit chat, now let's go do something else. That's me. I think it does promote healthier food habits, because there would be less snacking and bad foods that way. Eating becomes a digestible exercise this way. And for goodness sakes, it's just more fun.

Tell me what you think.


meno said...

As i mentioned previously, i just saw him speak in Seattle.

He was really a great speaker, very funny and engaging. What he says makes so much sense that it has changed the way we eat in our house.

Not so much changed it actually, just shifted it more towards fresh food and vegetables.

Maggie said...

De wanted me to post her thoughts as she will be offline for the week. She said she'd jump back in when she returns so feel free to direct comments to her.

I enjoyed reading this book and I believe in what Michael Pollan is telling us. Without realizing that it was originally a magazine article, I did remark to someone that I thought there was enough material here for a great article, but it didn't need to be a book. Although I found the first section a little boring to read, I do wish I knew more about how the food industry works. I read with interest (and apprehension) the information about soil deficiencies, changes animal feed, treatment of farmed animals, reduction in biodiversity, decline of nutrients, and the simplification of the food chain - it's frightening stuff. Pollan's tone is somewhat cynical (which makes dry material more engaging), but I feel hopelessly naive. Like with the tobacco industry, I find it unfathomable that people would perpetrate such wrongs against each other once they realize they're doing it. I don't feel that changing my own family's diet is enough; I'd like to take more action. How do we consumers get the manufacturers to reverse directions?

For a while, I considered becoming a dietician as a second career (except that most of the jobs available are in nursing homes, which is not my idea of a good time), but this book definitely put that idea to rest - at least for the time being. Unless I can find a legitimate place to study that would not teach nutritionism.

I completed a food survey one time and realized after the fact that I was responding more with what I know I should be doing, or what I did when I was my healthiest, rather than what I really eat, so the section on how food studies cannot be trusted resonated with me. I already do shop the supermarket peripheries, only going into the aisles for canned/dried beans and rice. I never buy any produce without smelling it. Yes, I get some strange looks, but I was surprised most when someone actually asked me why I was smelling the fruit. Um, if it doesn't smell good to eat, then I don't buy it. Do you? The biggest problem our family has is bread products. You really have to search high and low to find bread without HFCS - but I did find it. I haven't been successful making my own sandwich bread, but I think we can get away from sandwiches a bit, especially if i put my foot down and outlaw white bread. As a melting-pot-American in my early forties, I am of the generation who has never known anything BUT the "Western Diet." I don't have a traditional diet to hearken back to.

I wonder if any of you have heard of the syndicated columnist Dr. Peter Gott. He has a no-flour, no-sugar diet that, I now realize, conforms well to the guidelines Michael Pollan has given in this book. It's very simple (in theory, quite difficult in practice): eat nothing with the ingredient "flour" and nothing with added sugar in any form. As a weight-loss diet, it would certainly be effective, though rather hard to never enjoy any foods that have flour and/or sugar.

Because of my family history of cancer, I have attended a few conferences on the subject. One specifically addressed genetic connections and the biggest thing I took away from that one was that the likelihood of getting cancer through a genetic link is MUCH smaller than the likelihood of getting it though preventable means such as diet and exercise habits. I can't think of a better motivator, although it is helpful to have it reinforced with stimulating books such as Michael Pollan's.

Since reading this book, I've been more selective at the store, yet have increased the variety of items purchased. The family has been receptive. I have also renewed my search for a CSA in this area. It's getting late in the year already; the best ones are full. There really are none that are close by (i.e., about a 60 mile round-trip drive), but there are more farmer's markets than ever before. Last summer I was not too impressed by the produce at the two I visited, but perhaps I just don't get there early enough. Surprisingly, I also found an all-meat (pastured) CSA which everyone I mentioned it to was interested in, though one friend said that she found the taste of the meat something she'd "have to get used to." I will have a garden, but I am notoriously bad at growing things.

Gordo said...

Yep, I loved it too. It pissed me off, but I love it for the sense he pours all over the madness that we've been inexorably drawn into over out lifetimes.

Of course whole and un-processed foods are the key to better health and nutrition. It should be a no-brainer, but who's going to make money from that?

The real eye-opener came reading about the McGovern hearings from 1977 and how their sensible recommendations (eat less red meat and dairy) were bowdlerized by special-interest groups. It shouldn't have surprised me, but it did.

As Pollan describes food science, it's no surprise that research hasn't helped either: the idea of studying the effects of a diverse collection of foods that vary in nutrients from season to season on a group of people is literally impossible. Where do you start? How do you set up a control group? What about placebo?

I do most of the cooking in our house and I've been doing some hard thinking about our dietary choices. It's insidious how much of this crap has made it into our cupboards.

Maggie, the jury's still out on the bees. There are a faction of us that lay a large portion of the blame on the commercial beekeeping industry, especially what's called migratory beekeeping: trucking large number of bees from crop to crop, area to area across the country. What you get are worn down, stressed bees that are more susceptible to disease. SOP may be taking a terrible risk with our very survival.

de said...

A few years ago I was interested in giving my sister & her husband a hive as a wedding present, but I did not because it seemed worse than giving a chick for Easter. Can you direct me to an information resource for beginner beekeepers?