“Eat Food”

“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” – Michael Pollan

Michael Pollan writes a lot of really smart things.  Like the line above and this:  “Don’t eat anything your great-great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.”  Yes, I know you didn’t actually know your great-great grandmother, and you can’t consult with her while you’re standing in the aisle at the Publix.  You’re going to have to noodle some of this out on your own.

Both the Pollan quotations are from this (long) NYT piece published in 2007, which is a nice summation of his theories on food.  He’s written several books as well, including In Defense of Food, which I found particularly interesting.   His basic contention is that the epidemic of unhealthy bigness in America (which we’ve been kind enough to begin successfully exporting) is largely (pun intended) due to the strange relationship we developed with food over the course of the 20th century.  What we consume at mealtime (and the rest of the day) is, for the most part, so processed and twisted as to be unrecognizable as, you know, food.

Agribusiness, for a variety of really complicated reasons (political, industrial, financial, environmental, psychological, etc. in nature) doesn’t provide much our great-great grandparents would have understood how to prepare or consume.

I’m no scientist, but I feel comfortable writing that what our great-great grandparents did consume was the result of millennia of evolutionary adaptation.  What we consume is the result of strange and generally untested (on a long-term basis) experimentation.  I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t make me feel particularly comfortable.

I realize that weight loss, at it’s simplest level, is still all about the math:  Burn more calories than you take in.  But Pollan (and others) are onto something here.  Real food – the kind that grows out of the ground (or eats stuff that does) and gets processed (minimally) by you or somebody you know just before it gets to your kitchen – does good things for human bodies.  Stuff that has to find it’s way through multiple factories, over oceans and across continents and then waits in storage for weeks or months before it comes to your kitchen … might … be doing something to human bodies nobody really intended.  It might be that our bodies are just downright confused by all the strange things we’ve put into them.  Which is not an excuse, just something to think about.

It bears mentioning that local food (because it may be neighbor-to-neighbor) is often not subject to the same health requirements as what we get from agribusiness.  That could be a problem, and I don’t want to minimize the reality of food-borne illness.  Then again, agribusiness isn’t immune to that either.  Local food is also A LOT more expensive than the super-processed stuff, for a variety of reasons.  In our country food that’s bad for you tends to be cheap, and food that’s cheap tends to be bad for you.  Which is one of several reasons American poor people tend to be more obese than American rich people.

Please do go read Pollan and come to your own conclusions.


5 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Amy on June 9, 2011 at 4:07 pm

    There’s also something about processed food that makes you surpass being full and go right to stuffed, but not quite sated. And then an hour later you wonder how that happened. And it doesn’t feel good.


  2. Posted by hlward on June 9, 2011 at 8:54 pm

    Yes. Presaging a future post, you are.


  3. […] of Kessler’s points are the same  as the Michael Pollan ideas I discussed in a previous  post.  But the ideas in this book (or just in the articles linked above, if you really don’t have […]


  4. […] wife and our daughters’ pediatrician agree on a definition, and it’s essentially what I espouse here on this blog – the Michael Pollan “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants” […]


  5. […] They are also not my most important posts.  That would be this one and this one. […]


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