For my birthday I received In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan.Â The book covers how the American diet has changed over the last century, mostly due to influences from processed food companies. It is more than a little disturbing how much control these companies have gained over government health advice, and in turn, over our diets. Pollan argues that the food companies are increasingly trying to push processed foods into consumers’ shopping carts since they can be made more cheaply, and allow for a higher price markup, than regular food items. Pollan’s suggestions for a healthy diet make sense to me: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.
Sounds pretty straightforward, but of course it depends on your definition of food.Â Pollan calls most of what is sold in supermarkets “food like substances”, and he definitely does not consider them actual food.Â I’m inclined to agree, and I like his suggestion of shopping only from the outer edges of a supermarket – typically the areas which host fruits and vegetables, meat, and diary.Â The center of the supermarket is home to the much more questionable food-like substances largely composed of high fructose corn syrup and chemicals with unpronouncable names.
Not Too Much
Most people eat what is in front of them. Maybe this is good manners, but I think it’s mainly because we are gluttons and would eat more if it were readily available in front of us. Americans in particular eat a lot, and we also eat in unusual places (a large portion of our daily calories are eaten within our cars). Sit down meals are extremely uncommon, a phenomenon I’ve never quite understood having grown up in a family where we ate dinner together every night.Â By eliminating the social aspect of shared meals, we tend to eat more food, more quickly.
This one is a little hard for me, since I am generally a meat eater. However, I’ve increasingly found that my taste for meat is largely from habit and lack of experience with vegetarian cooking.Â I have Indian friends who rarely eat meat because they don’t know many ways to cook it and it doesn’t fit their stereotypical meal – I am just the opposite. I would like to reduce my meat in take, because I know there are delicious vegetarian or low-meat options that are often cheaper and healthier than what I’d eat otherwise. Towards this end, last night we made artichokes, a vegie I haven’t eaten in about a decade.
Grow Your Own
There is a lot of interesting material in the book, and he does a good job of making the healthy diet he suggests seem doable (ie affordable) for most people. Of course Pollan’s beliefs about food go deeper than just the nutrition it provides us — he is also very interested in the ecological impact of our food choices. The final section of the book is where this comes out most clearly where he makes a passionate speech on why everyone should have a garden to grow their own produce.Â I was inspired by it, and definitely at least want to start growing basic things like herbs. Who knows, maybe by this summer I’ll be ready for more advanced agricultural adventures.