Sunday, January 28, 2007

Missing: real food in America

Today's NYT Magazine has a superb article by Michael Pollan, "Unhappy Meals" (which reminds me that I STILL haven't read the Omnivore's Dilemma).

Main points:

1) Beware of diet recommendations, for they have a tendency to be proven wrong. Examples: increased intake of dietary fiber was thought to protect against colon cancer, low-fat diets were supposed to reduce women's risk of heart disease, and so on. Both claims (and many more) have recently been invalidated.

2) Food has been taken over in many supermarkets by "food products," which bear little resemblance (nutritionally or otherwise) to what they replaced.

3) Nutritionism has become such an ideology of "get more of nutrient X!" or, in some cases, "cut out nutrient/food group Y!" that we can't see the forest for the trees. We are so concerned about nutrients that we've lost sight of actual food, and we've come to think of what we eat simply as a delivery system for nutrients.

4) At the same time, how our bodies process nutrients, especially in combination with other nutrients, remains largely mysterious. Example: a nutrient that is thought to provide benefits in a carrot has little or no effect (or even an adverse effect) when taken in the form of a supplement.

5) "Food" has been oversimplified, in both the crops that make up most of industrial food today and the larger context (or absence thereof) of a given diet or eater.

6) We are using the food industry and medical advances to treat the problems that our modern food culture has created. Example: bariatric surgery (need I say more?).

Much of the food industry disturbs me greatly and makes me want to go live on a farm where I raise the crops and animals myself and make all my food from scratch. Toward the end of the article, Pollan makes a recommendation that I love; though in the interest of being realistic, I'll modify it: "base your diet on things your great-great-grandmother would recognize as food." He also encourages eating diverse foods and those that have been raised with care (even if they're not organic), which benefits us, the eaters, as well as the plants and animals themselves.

But anyway, go read. And then go out and eat some real food.