The food, the whole food, and nothing but the food; except less of it
Michael Pollan’s hard-hitting, witty and possibly life-saving look at food – specifically the shambolic disgrace that is the ‘Western Diet’, sets its premise out right at the start – we need to:
Eat food. Not too much. Eat more plants.
That first statement might raise a few eyebrows. Surely anything we eat, by definition, is food? Not so. As Pollan shockingly shows, we stopped eating food in the West several decades ago, and began to eat ‘nutrients’ instead. As part of an ongoing ‘reductionism’ which gets applied to almost everything. our foods have been picked apart to analyse specific ingredients (in isolation) which are said to harm us or to help us. Politics, big business, whether the food ‘industry’ – which it has become as most of our food is now manufactured rather than, well, allowed to grow, graze or roam – or the ‘health industry’ have all benefitted from the ‘un’ food revolution. The individual consumer pays the price in terms of soaring rates of heart disease, cancer, obesity, type 2 diabetes and more. The planet and future generations pay the price in terms of depleted soil, the rapid fall in biodiversity and an unsustainable way of life. Our non-food is another way we are killing the planet. And ourselves.
Pollan’s book shows elegantly and easily how much our food has changed. He urges us not to follow faddy diets which all look at food through single nutrient zealotry – eg ‘the Atkins Diet’ ‘the GI’ diet ‘the Omega 3 diet’. Look at the labels on any ‘packaged’ food. A loaf of bread rarely contains the ingredients your great grandmother would have recognised. Not only are there a whole host of ‘enriching’ additives and ‘nutrients’ – designed to replace those which should have been naturally within the original foodstuff but which modern farming techniques and agri-breeding for yield rather than anything else has stripped away – but the food will have been subjected to processes further depleting it of its goodness.
We literally consume more of our ‘food’ because it is giving us less in the way of ‘nutrients’, as Pollan says, the ‘Western diet’ manages an unheard of own goal – obesity coupled with malnourishment or deficiency!Throw out the faddy diet books, throw out the supplements, throw out the ‘science’ – often bad science – eg margarine being ‘better for you than butter’ – eat food you can recognise which is simply grown or reared. The food we have evolved to eat over millenia. And recognise that food has always been about more than nutrients – its about our connection to the earth and to each other – food is a part of our culture, cementing and connecting social bonds. As Pollen engagingly shows, food loving cultures such as Italy and France celebrate and enjoy food, as part of life’s pleasures,; they don’t eat nutrients! And they tend to be healthier. Or at least they were, till ‘the Western Diet’ (ie McDiet) began its parasitic onslaught into every corner of the globe
In Defence of Food