Friday, June 17, 2011

In Defense of Food

Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food is a follow up to his book The Omnivore's Dilemma in more than just chronology.  In Dilemma, Pollan discusses how food to gets to your plate, the nature of the food industry in 21st century America, and how changing your buying habits of food can make positive change in your health, your local economy and America itself. In Defense, Pollan looks at food in another way, focusing on what we eat specifically instead of where it comes from generally.  

Much of Defense is dedicated to a critical look at nutirionism, or the increasingly popular "science" of looking at foods as component parts and how those component parts are or are not healthy.  Nutrionism, Pollan contends, is unhelpful and potentialy dangerous to eaters because it focuses on nutrients (fat, carbohydrates, protein) that may or may not be good for us instead of looking at whole foods as healthy or unhealthy.  Scientists are increasingly breaking down traditional foods into their component part and making new "foods" that contain more or less of whatever nutrient is good or bad at the present time (think about the anti-carb craze of the late 1990's or the anti-saturated fat craze of, well, right now).

Unlike Dilemma, Pollan attempts in Defense to give readers more specific guidelines of what we should eat. In fact, his eating motto is proudly displayed on the cover of the book: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. Simple enough, right? But think about some of the things we get from the grocery store (a habit, by the way, that he says we should all get out of). TV dinners are my favorite example because they're basically food-like chemicals and materials rearranged to look like food. Salisbury steak? There's nothing steak-like about a salisbury steak other than it's color. Mashed "potatoes"? How much actual potato material is actually in those things? Pollan says that the only real food left in grocery stores can be found on the outer rows (produce, meat, dairy) and even those areas are suspect because of the artificial additives, pesticides and other non-food ingredients we've started adding to these items (Go-Gurt is not yogurt!).

Back to his rules though: the second half of his book includes rules that food consumers should consider as they buy or order food. My favorite two are "if your great-great grandmother wouldn't recognize it as food, it's not food" and "mimic traditional diets like those of the French, Greek, Italian or Asian cultures". These rules are meant to make consumers more aware of the values of whole food regimens and the way we enjoy food as a way to eat healthier. They highlight that claims like "low fat," "low carb," and "whole wheat" have become misleading because they focus on nutrients instead of the wholistic benefits of whole foods.

So what does this mean for locavores like me (and probably you)? Every word of Pollan's book reinforces the value of going to your local farmers market or CSA and not only getting to know your food but getting to know your farmer. Only through a relationship with the man or woman who produced your food can us non-farmers truly get a complete understanding of what it takes to produce food and thus enjoy and appreciate that food more. Short of actually growing your food, shaking the hand that does grow it brings you closer to what you eat.

It doesn't hurt that one of his final pieces of advice is to drink a glass of wine with each meal. Look for an overview of local Charlotte wineries and vineyards in the coming weeks!

No comments:

Post a Comment