These three (seemingly obvious) phrases are the premise and the thesis behind the whole book, In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan. I don’t want this post to turn into a book review but I do want to share what I’ve learned from reading it, as it really has been informative and makes me want to learn more about food. (Another interesting piece was the film “Food Inc.”)
“Oddly, Americans got really fat on their new low-fat diet,” Pollan writes of one food fad originating in the 70’s. We think we can determine what is healthy for us by a food’s scientific components. Unfortunately for all the “advances” we’ve made in nutrition science, the Western diet seems to have backfired, causing more disease and obesity than ever before. The truth is, foods are extremely complex and our scientific understanding of them is limited. Perhaps the best way to stay healthy is stick to what has kept us surviving for thousands of years: eating real, whole food. Not the refined, chemically-altered, supplemented imitations of food that stocks much of our grocery stores. Often confused with real food, I learned they’re actually “food products.”
“We have known for a century now that there is a complex of so-called Western diseases- including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and a specific set of diet-related cancers- that begin almost invariably to appear soon after a people abandons its traditional diet and way of life.” Did you know that isolated peoples, no matter what kind of traditional diet they eat- from seafood, dairy, meat, or vegetarian- have absolutely no need of a dentist? “The human animal is adapted to, and apparently can thrive on, an extraordinary range of different diets, but the Western diet, however you define it, does not seem to be one of them.” I just find it fascinating that we’ve tried so hard to manufacture better food when, all along, nature was doing its job just fine. When a fruit is ripe, it smells and looks its best and it has reached its highest nutrition content. With artificial colors, flavors, and synthetic sweeteners- “the senses we rely on to assess new foods and prepare our bodies to deal with them” are not getting the right information. It’s no wonder “thirty years of nutritional advice have left us fatter, sicker, and more poorly nourished.” According to the book, gaps in science, media and marketing pressures, and even hasty government regulations have all played a role in the complex web of reasons why we’ve gotten so off track with our food.
It seems backwards, but the traditional diets of our past- before technology or industrialized food production came into the picture- were actually better for us. Before, we didn’t need nutrition experts- we just ate what, how, and when our culture dictated us to eat. And we ate what was available to us- in season. These days, even innocent apples have wax applied or are stored in gas chambers for up to a year. It’s kind of shocking what we have started to put into our bodies without knowing it.
So Jedd and I have been talking about doing another challenge, and we want to invite our friends and families who are up for it. We want to try to eat whole, minimally processed food for one month. Yes, it may cost a little more. But the author actually mentions that if you spend more of your paycheck on food and more effort preparing it, you are less likely to over-eat. The French are a great example of this. (“How often would you eat french fries if you had to peel, wash, cut and fry them yourself- and then clean up the mess?”)
Suggestions from the book we would follow in our challenge are as follows (PS. We’ll be doing this in the summer for a higher success rate)… Avoid food products with ingredients that are a) unfamiliar, b) unpronounceable, c) more than five in number, or that include d) high fructose corn syrup. Avoid food products that make health claims (they’re probably from big food companies and altered in some way). Shop the peripheries of the supermarket and stay out of the middle. Shop at farmer’s markets. Eat meals. Do your eating at a table. Don’t get your fuel from the same place your car does. Try not to eat alone. Eat more slowly and know when you’re full. Cook food yourself. Grow what you can yourself. Eat wild foods when you can (plants and/or animals). Eat well-grown food from healthy soils (and only eat animals that eat healthy, unprocessed diets too).