with food, there’s always something new

Archive for the ‘food as dogma’ Category

Your great-great-grandmother

Michael Pollan was a guest speaker on the Butler University campus Monday night.

Pollan’s book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals was a runaway hit. He struck a nerve with consumers nervous about the food supply.

Omnivore’s Dilema is a descriptive journal of four meals following the spectrum from an industrialized, processed, McDonald’s family outing devoured in a car, to a hunter/gatherers ritual tracking down a wild boar.

Now Pollan is on the lecture circuit to promote his new book, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto. Based on the article UnHappy Meals, it provides a roadmap for correct eating.

Detailing modern science’s influence and domination of the food chain, Pollan like Gary Taubes, debunks the low-fat diet mantra.  He tells readers to quit worrying about carbs and cholesterol and pay attention to portions. He advises us to live like the French, eat like anybody but us. Shop at farmer’s markets. Buy local.

I believe in all those things. I’ve been practicing them for the past several years, lost weight, feel better and eat well.

Other things that Michael Pollan says and believes are really stupid.

Take his advice, “don’t eat anything your great-great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.” By that he means, only eat food substances that were available pre-20th century. Avoid cereal bars and Go-Gurt.

If I ate what my ancestors ate, I’d never have French food, or Vietnamese, or Mexican or any of the cuisines I love. I’d eat no kalamata olives, feta cheese, pate, avocados, none of the foods that makes life meaningful.

I’d be stuck with noodles over mashed potatoes, cabbage and a lot of sweet pickles. And oatmeal.

My great-grandparents (great-great-grandparents to our family’s next generation) immigrated from Scotland to Saskatchewan to northern Indiana. They weren’t top of the heap rich, but they weren’t poor.

In a photo I have of them, you can tell they were happy, kind and fun loving. Although my great-grandmother’s head is tilted at an angle, her neck covered by a high, starched collar, you see a goiter.

A goiter caused by a lack of iodine. We’v’e eliminated them by putting iodine in salt. The science that Pollan derides could have helped my ancestor.

Pollan’s message is nutritionism is a dangerous ideology because

any qualitative distinctions between processed foods and whole foods disappear when your focus is on quantifying the nutrients they contain (or, more precisely, the known nutrients).

But what about Plumpy’nut?

Plumpy’nut is a processed, ready-to-eat food served in sterile foil packets. Developed by pediatric nutritionist, Andre Briend and manufactured by Nutriset, it’s made of peanuts, vegetable oil, powdered milk, powdered sugar, minerals and vitamins.

With a shelf life of two years, it’s not fresh, “real” food. According to Pollan, this is the food that’s the scourge of the modern world.

But Plumpy’nut is a  miracle food saving malnourished childrens’ lives.

Pollan tells us to spend more money on food. Cheap food is the culprit, it’s making us fat, giving us diabetes and heart disease. Pay more for better food, eat less of it and we’ll all feel better.

I agree with Pollan. I spend more on eggs, dairy products and meat.  I eat less meat, cook my own beans, bread and make sauces and vinaigrette. But I’m cooking for myself, know how to budget and shop, and how to cook.

What about a household of five, mom and dad, three children? Are they going to spend top dollar on milk when the kids are going through a gallon a day? What about the 16% of Marion County residents below the poverty line? Pay more doesn’t cut it for them.

Our abundant food supply produces waste, but it also feeds the hungry. Let’s say we live in Pollan’s perfect world where we’re eating the right amount, producing the right amount? What happens to the young, the sick, the old, the poor? What’s left to feed them?

Can we feed the world on local, sustainable food?

I asked local expert Greg Finch that question. Greg, former Indiana Deputy Commissioner of Agriculture and certified farm manager, now a management consultant and instructor at Indiana Weslayan, says “some cultures, you can do it. There are cultures practicing sustainable agriculture right now. Five billion consumers want and need industrialized agriculture, so probably not. It’s someplace in the middle.”

Pollan is a science writer. As Thomas Healy writes, ”

Part of Pollan’s appeal is his easy-to-digest writing style, which presents him as a hapless, well-intentioned, neighborly kind of guy rather than a strident, nagging, more-politically-correct-than-thou whiner. “I’m not an expert so I don’t preach or lecture”

Pollan takes the more detailed, thorough writings of Marian Nestle and Oprah-fies them. He doesn’t have Mark Bittman’s populist sensibility that translates the need for dietary changes into simple instructions.

Pollan is neither economist nor historian. As a person who’s never suffered want, he forgets John F. Kennedy’s words that “the war against hunger is truly mankind’s war of liberation.”

Wagging his finger at agricultural economists, he forgets that high prices lead to unstable prices. People who tell the unfed to “eat cake” lose their heads for such elitism.

[tags]Michael Pollan, sustainable[/tags]


Written by Susan Gillie

February 28, 2008 at 2:39 am

Posted in food as dogma