West Chester University Nutrition in Defense of Food Discussion
West Chester University Nutrition in Defense of Food Discussion
1. In chapter 2 of the third section, called Eat Food: Food Defined (pp. 147-161), the author presents four main ideas (see the subheadings) for eating “real” food. Chose one of these to write about and suggest how to apply it in life.
2. Which of Pollan’s recommendations (in general, throughout the book) would you be least likely to accept, and why?
3. Overall, what did you think of this book? What did you agree with or disagree with? Have you made any changes in the way you eat because of it? Are you considering making any changes in the way you eat because of it? If so, please explain how you might change.
4. Pollan also shows a number of instances in which government policies have apparently worsened the crisis in our food culture. What do you think should be the proper role of government in deciding how we grow, process, and eat our food?
5. Talk about specific passages (can be anything in the book, not just section 3) that struck you as significant—or interesting, profound, amusing, illuminating, disturbing, sad…? What was memorable?
If Michael Pollan were coming to your place for dinner, what would you serve him and why?
Research a specific culture or religion and discuss their health beliefs and concerns, a typical day’s menu, and any nutrition related health issues/chronic diseases specific to this population. How might what you learned alter your approach when encountering someone from this population?
Post 1 :
Approximately 13% of African Americans, 10% of Hispanics, and 16.3% of American Indians and Alaska Natives have diabetes, compared to 8.7% of non-Hispanic whites (Goody, 2009).
According to the classic Campinha-Bacote Model, cultural competence means recognizing and forming one’s attitudes, beliefs, skills, values, and levels of awareness to provide culturally appropriate, respectful, and relevant care and education
In order to better direct and advise patients on healthier food choices and habits to improve health outcomes, we must first understand their beliefs and lifestyle choices.
A Latin American diet is typically filled with whole grain corn, vegetables, fruits, beans, rice, herbs and spices. Diet culture revolves around social gatherings and spending time with families. This culture often consumes one large meal with their families (Oldways, 2021).
Hispanics tend to eat more rice, but less pasta and ready-to-eat cereals, than non-Hispanic whites. With the exception of tomatoes, Hispanics are also less likely to consume vegetables, but have a slightly higher consumption of fruits. Compared to non-Hispanic whites, Hispanics are more than twice as likely to drink whole milk, but much less likely to drink low-fat or skim milk. Hispanics are also more likely to eat beef, but less likely to eat processed meats such as hot dogs, sausage, and lunch meats. Hispanics are more likely to eat eggs and legumes than non-Hispanic whites, and less likely to consume fats and oils or sugars and candy. Hispanics, especially Mexican Americans, have a lower intake of total fat and a higher intake of dietary fiber compared to non-Hispanic whites, with much of the dietary fiber coming from legumes. In general, Mexican Americans and other Hispanic subgroups are low in many of the same micronutrients as the general population, with intakes of vitamin E, calcium, and zinc falling below Recommended Daily Allowances (Mitchell, 2021).
As Latin Americans adopt a more Westernized lifestyle, they are said to be at greater risk for chronic diseases and a death rate almost one and a half times higher than for non-Hispanic whites (Oldways, 2021). Much of the increased risk of diabetes experienced by Hispanic Americans is believed to be attributable to the changing lifestyle that accompanies the acculturation process, including the changing quality of the Hispanic diet and the adoption of a more sedentary lifestyle (Mitchell, 2021).
After reading about the Latin diet, it sounds like it works. It is apparent that this population is at higher risk for chronic diseases when they adopt the Western diet which is filled with more processed foods in conjunction with their more sedentary lifestyle. I would recommend smaller portions, rather than 1 large meal full of whole foods, low fat milk, less rice and more fruits and vegetables to meet their vitamin requirements.
The development of interventions that are sensitive to traditional values and prevalent health attitudes in diverse groups would provide better awareness of the ways in which healthy eating is perceived, incorporating the preferences and perspectives of the target population.
In India, traditional knowledge regarding food preparation, preservation procedures, and medicinal benefits has been passed down through the centuries. Food systems may provide a variety of biological services to the human body via dietary components.
In terms of tradition, Indian cuisine is divided into three main groups. Satvika meals, which include cooked vegetables, milk, fresh fruits, and honey, are digestible and are regarded as superior to other categories. Tamasika foods The rude qualities of human behavior include wine and meat, spices, and even garlic. Rajsika foods include all grains and pulses, as well as oils and fats that provide enough energy to carry out daily tasks. Indian cuisine is characterized by its focus on vegetarian meals. Both Hinduism and Islam, India’s two major religions, urge their followers to refrain from consuming beef and pork, respectively.
Traditional health foods in India are so diverse because regional health foods have evolved in a given location based on the environment, culture, and cultivation techniques. In addition, foods in certain areas are becoming more and more popular. For example, lactose intolerance in Bengal has led to the popularity of lactose-free dairy products. In India, a national research project to document the health advantages of traditional health food in diverse areas scientifically is proposed for the creation of a database to conserve the knowledge of treating, preserving, and dieting traditional food in both Indian and international interests.
In order to successfully resolve these differences and inequalities, it is necessary to work with stakeholders to adopt a multi-pronged approach to address the social determinants of upstream health problems and increase the chances of obtaining healthier food. There are several promising practices and strategies to consider, including improving existing food programs, expanding locally grown foods, promoting breastfeeding and child nutrition, taxing unhealthy foods, and subsidizing healthier options.
Future research may look at topics that aren’t generally covered in nutrition education programs in a variety of young demographics and incorporate the results into the development of nutrition education programs. Understanding different people’s perspectives on what makes a healthy diet might help design create culturally appropriate behavior change interventions.
IN D E F E N S E OF F O O D AN E A T E R ‘ S M A N I F E S T O MICHAEL A U THE 1 II O POLLAN R O M N I V O R E ‘ S O I D I L E M M A CANADA $26.50 u.s. $21.95 Food. There’s plenty of it around, and we all love to eat it. So w h y should anyone need to defend it? Because most of what we’re consuming today is not food, and how we’re consuming it—in the car, in front of the T V , and increasingly alone—is not really eating. Instead of food, we’re consuming “edible foodlike substances”— no longer the products of nature but of food science. M a n y of them come packaged with health claims that should be our first clue they are anything but healthy. In the so-called Western diet, food has been replaced by nutrients, and c o m m o n sense by confusion. T h e result is what Michael Pollan calls the A m e r i c a n paradox: T h e more we w o r r y about nutrition, the less healthy we seem to become. But if real food—the sort of food our great grandmothers would recognize as food—stands in need of a defense, from w h o m does it need defending? F r o m the food industry on one side and nutritional science on the other. B o t h stand to gain m u c h from widespread confusion about w h a t to eat, a question that for most of human history people have been able to answer w i t h o u t expert help. Yet the professionalization o f eating has failed to make Americans healthier. T h i r t y years of official nutritional advice has only made us sicker and fatter while ruining countless numbers of meals. Pollan proposes a new (and very old) answer to the ques tion o f w h a t w e should eat that comes d o w n to seven simple but liberating w o r d s : Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. By urging us to once again eat food, he chal lenges the prevailing nutrient-by-nutrient approach—what he calls nutritionism—and proposes an alternative way of eating that is informed by the traditions and ecology (continued on back flap) 0 10 8 (continued from front flap) of real, well-grown, and unprocessed food. O u r personal health, he argues, cannot be divorced from the health of the food chains of which we are part. In Defense of Food shows us how, despite the d a u n t i n g dietary landscape Americans confront in the modern super market, we can escape the Western diet and, by doing so, most of the chronic diseases that diet causes. We can relearn which foods are healthy, develop simple ways to moderate our appetites, and return eating to its proper context—out of the car and back to the table. Michael Pollan’s bracing and eloquent manifesto shows us how w e can start mak ing thoughtful food choices that will enrich our lives, enlarge our sense of what it means to be healthy, and bring pleasure back to eating. Pollan’s last book, The Omnivores Dilemma, launched a national conversation about the American way of eating; n o w In Defense of Food shows us h o w to change it, one meal at a time. M I C H A E L P O L L A N is the author o f four previous books, including The vores Dilemma Omni and The Botany of Desire, both New York Times bestsellers. A longtime con tributor to The New York Times Magazine, he is also the Knight Professor of Journalism at Berkeley. To read more of his work, go to www.michaelpollan.com The Penguin Press A member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc 375 Hudson Street, New York, N.Y. 10014 www.penguin.com | Printed in U.S.A. PRAISE THE f OR OMNIVORE’S DILEMMA “Thoughtful, engrossing . . . you’re not likely to get a better explanation of exactly where your food comes from.” – T H E NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW “An eater’s manifesto . . . [Pollan’s] cause is just, his thinking is clear, and his writing is compelling. Be careful of your dinner!” – T H E WASHINGTON POST “Outstanding . . . a wide-ranging invitation to think through the moral ramifications of our eating habits.” —THE NEW YORKER “A brilliant, eye-opening account o f h o w we produce, market and agonize over what we eat. If y o u ever thought ‘What’s for dinner?’ was a simple question, you’ll change your mind after reading Pollan’s searing indictment of today’s food industry.” – T H E SEATTLE TIMES “I have tried on countless occasions to convey to m y friends how incredible this book is. I have gone on endlessly about Pollan’s brilliance in finding a w a y to write about food—but it’s not really about food, it’s about everything. . . . Well the point is, I have tried and failed to explain it, so I just end up giving them a copy, and sooner or later they call to say, ‘You were right, it’s fantastic.” – N o r a Ephron, THE NEW ISBN 978-1-59420-145-5 52195 781594″201455’ YORK TIMES IN DEFENSE of F O O D A L S O BY M I C H A E L POLLAN Second Nature A Place of My Own The Botany of Desire The Omnivores Dilemma IN DEFENSE of F O O D AN EATER’S M A N I F E S T O MICHAEL POLLAN THE P E N G U I N PRESS NewYoik « 2008 THE P E N G U I N PRESS Published by the Penguin Group Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A. – Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4P 2Y3 (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.) Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R ORL, England • Penguin Ireland, 25 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd) * Penguin Books Australia Ltd, 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty Ltd) « Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd, 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi – 110 017, India ° Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, North Shore 0632, New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd) « Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd, 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R ORL, England First published in 2008 by The Penguin Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. Copyright © Michael Pollan, 2008 All rights reserved A portion of this book first appeared in The NewYoikTimes Magazine under the title “Unhappy Meals.” LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING IN PUBLICATION DATA Pollan, Michael. In defense of food : an eater’s manifesto / Michael Pollan. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN: 978-1-59420-145-5 1. Nutrition. 2. Food habits. I.Title. RA784.P643 2008 613—dc22 2007037552 Printed in the United States of America 1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2 Designed by Marysarah Quinn Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copy right owner and the above publisher of this book. The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrightable materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated. FOR ANN AND GERRY, With gratitude for your loyal friendship and inspired editing CONTENTS An Eater’s Manifesto l INTRODUCTION I THE AGE O F N U T R I T I O N I S M 17 ONE – From Foods to Nutrients 19 TWO – Nutritionism Defined 27 –Nutritionism THREE –Food FOUR –The FIVE Comes to Market Science’s Golden Age 32 36 Melting of the Lipid Hypothesis 40 six –Eat Right, Get Fatter 50 SEVEN EIGHT NINE TEN –Beyond –The –Bad the Pleasure Principle S3 Proof in the Low-Fat Pudding Science 58 61 –Nutritionism’s Children 78 I I THE W E S T E R N D I E T A N D T H E D I S E A S E S O F C I V I L I Z A T I O N 83 ONE – The Aborigine in All of Us 85 TWO – The Elephant in the Room 89 THREE – The Industrialization of Eating : What We Do Know 101 1 ) From Whole Foods to Refined 106 2 ) From Complexity to Simplicity 114 3 ) From Quality to Quantity 118 4 ) From Leaves to Seeds 124 5 ) From Food Culture to Food Science 132 III G E T T I N G O V E R N U T R I T I O N I S M 137 ONE – Escape from the Western Diet 139 TWO – Eat Food: Food Defined 147 THREE FOUR – Mostly Plants : What to Eat 161 – Not Too Much: How to Eat 182 ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 202 SOURCES 206 RESOURCES 229 INDEX 231 IN DEFENSE of F O O D INTRODUCTION « AN E A T E R ‘ S M A N I F E S T O E at food. Not too much. Mostly plants. That, more or less, is the short answer to the suppos edly incredibly complicated and confusing question o f what we humans should eat in order to be maximally healthy. I hate to give the game away right here at the beginning o f a whole book devoted to the subject, and I’m tempted to complicate matters in the interest o f keeping things going for a couple hundred more pages or so. I’ll try to resist, but will go ahead and add a few more details to flesh out the recom mendations. Like, eating a little meat isn’t going to kill you, though it might be better approached as a side dish than as a main. And you’re better off eating whole fresh foods rather than processed food products. That’s what I mean by the rec ommendation to “eat food,” which is not quite as simple as it sounds. For while it used to be that food was all you could eat, today there are thousands o f other edible foodlike substances in the supermarket. These novel products o f food science often 2 « IN DEFENSE OF FOOD c o m e in packages elaborately festooned with health claims, which brings me to another, somewhat counterintuitive, piece o f advice: I f you’re concerned about your health, you should probably avoid products that make health claims. Why? Be cause a health claim on a food product is a strong indication it’s not really food, and food is what you want to eat. You can see how quickly things can get complicated. I started on this quest to identify a few simple rules about eating after publishing The Omnivores Dilemma in 2 0 0 6 . Questions o f personal health did not take center stage in that book, which was more concerned with the ecological and ethical dimen sions o f our eating choices. (Though I’ve found that, in most but not all cases, the best ethical and environmental choices also happen to be the best choices for our health—very good news indeed.) But many readers wanted to know, after they’d spent a few hundred pages following me following the food chains that feed us, “Okay, but what should I eat? And now that you’ve been to the feedlots, the food-processing plants, the organic factory farms, and the local farms and ranches, what do you eat?” Fair questions, though it does seem to me a symptom o f our present confusion about food that people would feel the need to consult a journalist, or for that matter a nutritionist or doctor or government food pyramid, on so basic a question about the conduct o f our everyday lives as humans. I mean, what other animal needs professional help in deciding what it should eat? True, as omnivores—creatures that can eat just about anything nature has to offer and that in fact need to eat a wide variety o f different things in order to be healthy—the AN EATER’S MANIFESTO “What to eat” question is somewhat more complicated for us than it is for, say, cows. Yet for most o f human history, humans have navigated the question without expert advice. To guide us we had, instead, Culture, which, at least when it comes to food, is really just a fancy word for your mother. What to eat, how much o f it to eat, what order in which to eat it, with what and when and with whom have for most o f human history been a set o f questions long setded and passed down from parents to children without a lot o f controversy or fuss. But over the last several decades, m o m lost much o f her authority over the dinner menu, ceding it to scientists and food marketers (often an unhealthy alliance o f the two) and, to a lesser extent, to the government, with its ever-shifting di etary guidelines, food-labeling rules, and perplexing pyramids. Think about it: Most o f us no longer eat what our mothers ate as children or, for that matter, what our mothers fed us as chil dren. This is, historically speaking, an unusual state o f affairs. My own mother grew up in the 1 9 3 0 s and 1 9 4 0 s eating a lot o f traditional Jewish-American fare, typical o f families who recently emigrated from Russia or Eastern Europe: stuffed cab bage, organ meats, cheese blintzes, kreplach, knishes stuffed with potato or chicken liver, and vegetables that often were cooked in rendered chicken or duck fat. I never ate any o f that stuff as a kid, except when I visited my grandparents. My mother, an excellent and adventurous cook whose own menus were shaped by the cosmopolitan food trends o f New York in the 1960s (her influences would have included the 1 9 6 4 World’s Fair; Julia Child and Craig Claiborne; Manhattan res taurant menus o f the time; and o f course the rising drumbeat 3 4 « IN DEFENSE OF FOOD o f food marketing) served us a rotating menu that each week completed a culinary world tour: beouf bourguignon or beef Stroganoff on Monday; coq au vin or oven-fried chicken (in a Kellogg’s Cornflakes crust) on Tuesday; meat loaf or Chinese pepper steak on Wednesday (yes, there was a lot o f beef); spa ghetti pomodoro with Italian sausages on Thursday; and on her weekend nights off, a Swanson’sTV dinner or Chinese takeout. She cooked with Crisco or Wesson oil rather than chicken or duck fat and used margarine rather than butter because she’d absorbed the nutritional orthodoxy o f the time, which held that these more up-to-date fats were better for our health. (Oops.) Nowadays I don’t eat any o f that stuff—and neither does my mother, who has moved on too. Her parents wouldn’t rec ognize the foods we put on the table, except maybe the butter, which is back. Today in America the culture o f food is chang ing more than once a generation, which is historically unprec edented—and dizzying. What is driving such relentless change in the American diet? One force is a thirty-two-billion-dollar food-marketing machine that thrives on change for its own sake. Another is the constantly shifting ground o f nutrition science that, depending on your point o f view, is steadily advancing the frontiers o f our knowledge about diet and health or is just changing its mind a lot because it is a flawed science that knows much less than it cares to admit. Part o f what drove my grandparents’ food culture from the American table was officiai scientific opinion, which, beginning in the 1960s, decided that animal fat was a deadly substance. And then there were the food manufacturers, AN EATER’S MANIFESTO which stood to make very little money from my grandmother’s cooking, because she was doing so much o f it from scratch— up to and including rendering her own cooking fats. Amplify ing the “latest science,” they managed to sell her daughter on the virtues o f hydrogenated vegetable oils, the ones that we’re now learning may be, well, deadly substances. Sooner or later, everything solid we’ve been told about the links between our diet and our health seems to get blown away in the gust o f the most recent study. Consider the latest find ings. In 2 0 0 6 came news that a low-fat diet, long believed to protect against cancer, may do no such thing—this from the massive, federally funded Women’s Health Initiative, which has also failed to find a link between a low-fat diet and the risk o f coronary heart disease. Indeed, the whole nutritional orthodoxy around dietary fat appears to be crumbling, as we will see. In 2 0 0 5 we learned that dietary fiber might not, as we’d been confidently told for years, help prevent colorectal cancers and heart disease. And then, in the fall o f 2 0 0 6 , two prestigious studies on omega-3 fats published at the same time came to strikingly different conclusions. While the Institute of Medicine at the National Academy o f Sciences found little conclusive evidence that eating fish would do your heart much good (and might hurt your brain, because so much fish is con taminated with mercury), a Harvard study brought the hope ful piece o f news that simply by eating a couple o f servings o f fish each week (or by downing enough fish oil tablets) you could cut your risk o f dying from a heart attack by more than a third. It’s no wonder that omega-3 fatty acids are poised to become the oat bran o f our time as food scientists rush to mi- > 7 8 « IN DEFENSE OF FOOD the grip o f a Nutritional Industrial Complex—comprised o f well-meaning, i f error-prone, scientists and food marketers only too eager to exploit every shift in the nutritional con sensus. Together, and with some crucial help from the gov ernment, they have constructed an ideology o f nutritionism that, among other things, has convinced us o f three pernicious myths: that what matters most is not the food but the “nutri ent”; that because nutrients are invisible and incomprehensible to everyone but scientists, we need expert help in deciding what to eat; and that the purpose o f eating is to promote a narrow concept o f physical health. Because food in this view is foremost a matter o f biology, it follows that we must try to eat “scientifically”—by the nutrient and the number and under the guidance o f experts. If such an approach to food doesn’t strike you as the least bit strange, that is probably because nutritionist thinking has become so pervasive as to be invisible. We forget that, histori cally, people have eaten for a great many reasons other than biological necessity. Food is also about pleasure, about com munity, about family and spirituality, about our relationship to the natural world, and about expressing our identity. As long as humans have been taking meals together, eating has been as much about culture as it has been about biology. That eating should be foremost about bodily health is a relatively new and, I think, destructive idea—destructive not just o f the pleasure o f eating, which would be bad enough, but paradoxically o f our health as well. Indeed, no people on earth worry more about the health consequences o f their food choices than we Americans do—and no people suffer from AN EATER’S MANIFESTO as many diet-related health problems. We are becoming a na tion o f orthorexics: people with an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating.* The scientists haven’t tested the hypothesis yet, but I’m willing to bet that when they do they’ll find an inverse cor relation between the amount o f time people spend worrying about nutrition and their overall health and happiness. This is, after all, the implicit lesson o f the French paradox, so-called not by the French (Quel paradoxe?) but by American nutritionists, who can’t fathom how a people w h o enjoy their food as much as the French do, and blithely eat so many nutrients deemed toxic by nutritionists, could have substantially lower rates o f heart disease than we do on our elaborately engineered low-fat diets. Maybe it’s time we confronted the American paradox: a notably unhealthy population preoccupied with nutrition and diet and the idea o f eating healthily. I don’t mean to suggest that all would be well i f we could just stop worrying about food or the state o f our dietary health: Let them eat Twinkies! There are in fact some very good reasons to worry. The rise o f nutritionism reflects legitimate concerns that the American diet, which is well on its way to becom ing the world’s diet, has changed in ways that are making us •Orthorexia—from the Greek “ortho-” (right and correct) + “exia” (appetite) = right appetite. The term was first proposed in 1 9 9 6 by the American physician Steven Bratman. Though orthorexia is not yet an eating disorder recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, academic investigation is under way. «» 9 10 Oi IN DEFENSE OF FOOD increasingly sick and fat. Four o f the top ten causes o f death today are chronic diseases with well-established links to diet: coronary heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and cancer.Yes, the rise to prominence o f these chronic diseases is partly due to the fact that we’re not dying earlier in life o f infectious diseases, but only partly: Even after adjusting for age, many o f the socalled diseases o f civilization were far less common a century ago—and they remain rare in places where people don’t eat the way we do. I’m speaking, o f course, o f the elephant in the room when ever we discuss diet and health: “the Western diet.” This is the subject o f the second part o f the book, in which I follow the story o f the most radical change to the way humans eat since the discovery o f agriculture. All o f our uncertainties about nu trition should not obscure the plain fact that the chronic dis eases that now kill most o f us can be traced directly to the industrialization o f our food: the rise o f highly processed foods and refined grains; the use o f chemicals to raise plants and animals in huge monocultures; the superabundance o f cheap calories o f sugar and fat produced by modern agriculture; and the narrowing o f the biological diversity o f the human diet to a tiny handful o f staple crops, notably wheat, corn, and soy. These changes have given us the Western diet that we take for granted: lots o f processed foods and meat, lots o f added fat and sugar, lots o f everything—except vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. That such a diet makes people sick and fat we have known for a long time. Early in the twentieth century, an intrepid group o f doctors and medical workers stationed overseas observed that AN EATER’S MANIFESTO OI wherever in the world people gave up their traditional way o f eating and adopted the Western diet, there soon followed a pre dictable series o f Western diseases, including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer. They called these the West ern diseases and, though the precise causal mechanisms were (and remain) uncertain, these observers had litde doubt these chronic diseases shared a common etiology: the Western diet. What’s more, the traditional diets that the new Western foods displaced were strikingly diverse: Various populations thrived on diets that were what we’d call high fat, low fat, or high carb; all meat or all plant; indeed, there have been tradi tional diets based on just about any kind o f whole food you can imagine. What this suggests is that the human animal is well adapted to a great many different diets. The Western diet, however, is not one o f them. Here, then, is a simple but crucial fact about diet and health, yet, curiously, it is a fact that nutritionism cannot see, probably because it developed in tandem with the industrial ization o f our food and so takes it for granted. Nutritionism prefers to tinker with the Western diet, adjusting the various nutrients (lowering the fat, boosting the protein) and fortify ing processed foods rather than questioning their value in the first place. Nutritionism is, in a sense, the official ideology o f the Western diet and so cannot be expected to raise radical or searching questions about it. But we can. By gaining a firmer grasp on the nature o f the Western diet—trying to understand it not only physiologically but also historically and ecologically—we can begin to develop 11 12 *» IN DEFENSE OF FOOD a different way o f thinking about food that might point a path out o f our predicament. In doing so we have two sturdy—and strikingly hopeful—facts to guide us: first, that humans his torically have been healthy eating a great many different diets; and second, that, as we’ll see, most o f the damage to our food and health caused by the industrialization o f our eating can be reversed. Put simply, we can escape the Western diet and its consequences. This is the burden o f the third and last section o f In Defense of Food: to propose a couple dozen personal rules o f eating that are conducive not only to better health but also to greater pleasure in eating, two goals that turn out to be mutually reinforcing. These recommendations are a little different from the di etary guidelines you’re probably accustomed to. They are not, for example, narrowly prescriptive. I’m not interested in telling you what to have for dinner. No, these suggestions are more like eating algorithms, mental devices for thinking through our food choices. Because there is no single answer to the question o f what to eat, these guidelines will produce as many different menus as there are people using them. These rules o f thumb are also not framed in the vocabulary o f nutrition science. This is not because nutrition science has nothing important to teach us—it does, at least when it avoids the pitfalls o f reductionism and overconfidence—but because I believe we have as much, i f not more, to learn about eating from history and culture and tradition. We are accustomed in all matters having to do with health to assuming science should have the last word, but in the case o f eating, other sources AN EATER’S MANIFESTO IN DEFENSE OF FOOD understand.” This reductionist way o f thinking about food had been pointed out and criticized before (notably by the Cana dian historian Harvey Levenstein, the British nutritionist Geof frey Cannon, and the American nutritionists Joan Gussow and Marion Nestle), but it had never before been given a proper name: “nutritionism.” Proper names have a way o f making vis ible things we don’t easily see or simply take for granted. The first thing to understand about nutritionism is that it is not the same thing as nutrition. As the “-ism” suggests, it is not a scientific subject but an ideology. Ideologies are ways o f organizing large swaths o f life and experience under a set o f shared but unexamined assumptions. This quality makes an ideology particularly hard to see, at least while it’s still exerting its hold on your culture. A reigning ideology is a little like the weather—all pervasive and so virtually impossible to escape. Still, we can try. In the case o f nutritionism, the widely shared but unex amined assumption is that the key to understanding food is indeed the nutrient. Put another way: Foods are essentially the sum o f their nutrient parts. From this basic premise flow sev eral others. Since nutrients, as compared with foods, are invisible and therefore slightly mysterious, it falls to the scientists (and to the journalists through w h o m the scientists reach the public) to explain the hidden reality o f foods to us. In form this is a quasireligious idea, suggesting the visible world is not the one that really matters, which implies the need for a priesthood. For to enter a world where your dietary salvation depends on unseen nutrients, you need plenty o f expert help. NUTRITIONISM DEFINED IN DEFENSE OF FOOD influence over how we ate and thought about eating to sci ence. Or what passes for science in dietary matters; nutrition ism would be a more accurate term. “Premature or not,” The New York Times’ Jane Brody wrote in 1 9 8 1 , “the Dietary Goals are beginning to reshape the nutritional philosophy, i f not yet the eating habits, o f most Americans.” s i x « EAT RIGHT, GET FATTER I n fact, we did change our eating habits in the wake o f the new guidelines, endeavoring to replace the evil fats at the top o f the food pyramid with the good carbs spread out at the bot tom. The whole o f the industrial food supply was reformulated to reflect the new nutritional wisdom, giving us low-fat pork, low-fat Snackwell’s, and all the low-fat pasta and high-fructose (yet low-fat!) corn syrup we could consume. W h i c h turned out to be quite a lot. Oddly, Americans got really fat on their new low-fat diet—indeed, many date the current epidemic o f obesity and diabetes to the late 1970s, when Americans began bingeing on carbohydrates, ostensibly as a way to avoid the evils o f fat. But the story is slightly more complicated than that. For while it is true that Americans p o s t – 1 9 7 7 did shift the bal ance in their diets from fats to carbs so that fat as a percentage of total calories in the diet declined (from 4 2 percent in 1977 to EAT RIGHT, GET FATTER 3 4 percent in 1 9 9 5 ) , we never did in fact cut down on our total consumption o f fat; we just ate more o f other things. We did reduce our consumption o f saturated fats, replacing them, as directed, with polyunsaturated fats and trans fats. Meat consumption actually held steady, though we did, again as in structed, shift from red meat to white to reduce our saturated fat intake. Basically what we did was heap a bunch more carbs onto our plate, obscuring but by no means replacing the ex panding chunk o f (now skinless white) animal protein still sitting there in the middle. How did that happen? I would submit that the ideology o f nutritionism deserves as much o f the blame as the carbo hydrates themselves do—that and human nature. By framing dietary advice in terms o f good and bad nutrients, and by burying the recommendation that we should eat less o f any particular actual food, it was easy for the take-home message o f the 1977 and 1 9 8 2 dietary guidelines to be simplified as follows: Eat more low-fat foods. And that is precisely what we did. We’re always happy to receive a dispensation to eat more o f something (with the possible exception o f oat bran), and one o f the things nutritionism reliably gives us is some such dis pensation: low-fat cookies then, low-carb beer now. It’s hard to imagine the low-fat/high-carb craze taking off as it did or our collective health deteriorating to the extent that it has i f McGovern’s original food-based recommendation had stood: Eat less meat and fewer dairy products. For how do you get from that stark counsel to the idea that another carton o f Snackwell’s is just what the doctor ordered? You begin to see how attractive nutritionism is for all par- SI 52 Oi IN DEFENSE OF FOOD ties concerned, consumers as well as producers, not to mention the nutrition scientists and journalists it renders indispensable. The ideology offers a respectable rationale for creating and marketing all manner o f new processed foods and permission for people to eat them. Plus, every course correction in nutri tionist advice gives reason to write new diet books and articles, manufacture a new line o f products, and eat a whole bunch o f even more healthy new food products. And i f a product is healthy by design and official sanction, then eating Jots o f it must be healthy too—maybe even more so. Nutritionism might be the best thing ever to happen to the food industry, which historically has labored under the limits to growth imposed by a population o f eaters that isn’t expand ing nearly as fast as the food makers need it to i f they are to satisfy the expectations o f Wall Street. Nutritionism solves the problem o f the fixed stomach, as it used to be called in the business: the fact that compared to other consumer products, demand for food has in the past been fairly inelastic. People could eat only so much, and because tradition and habit ruled their choices, they tended to eat the same old things. Not any more! Not only does nutritionism favor ever more novel kinds o f highly processed foods (which are by far the most profitable kind to make), it actually enlists the medical establishment and the government in the promotion o f those products. Play your cards right and you can even get the American Heart Associa tion to endorse your new breakfast cereal as “heart healthy.” As I write, the FDA has just signed off on a new health claim for Frito-Lay chips on the grounds that eating chips fried in BEYOND THE PLEASURE PRINCIPLE « polyunsaturated fats can help you reduce your consumption o f saturated fats, thereby conferring blessings on your cardiovas cular system. So can a notorious junk food pass through the needle eye o f nutritionist logic and come out the other side looking like a health food. SEVEN * B E Y O N D THE P L E A S U R E PRINCIPLE W e eaters, alas, don’t reap nearly as much benefit from nutritionism as food producers. Beyond providing a license to eat more o f the latest approved foodlike substance, which we surely do appreciate, nutritionism tends to foster a great deal o f anxiety around the experience o f shopping for food and eating it. To do it right, you’ve got to be up on the latest scientific research, study ever-longer and more confusing ingredients labels,* sift through increasingly dubious health claims, and then attempt to enjoy foods that have been engi neered with many other objectives in view than simply tasting good. To think o f some o f the most delicious components o f *Geoffrey Cannon points out that nutrition labels, which have become the single most ubiquitous medium o f chemical information in our lives, “are advertisements for the chemical principle o f nutrition.” 53 54 Oi IN DEFENSE OF FOOD food as toxins, as nutritionism has taught us to do in the case o f fat, does little for our happiness as eaters. Americans have embraced a “nutritional philosophy,” to borrow Jane Brody’s words, that, regardless o f whether that philosophy does any thing for our health, surely takes much o f the pleasure out o f eating. But why do we even need a nutritional philosophy in the first place? Perhaps because we Americans have always had a problem taking pleasure in eating. We certainly have gone to unusual lengths to avoid it. Harvey Levenstein, who has written two illuminating histories o f American food culture, suggests that the sheer abundance o f food in America has bred “a vague indifference to food, manifested in a tendency to eat and run, rather than to dine and savor.” To savor food, to conceive o f a meal as an aesthetic experience, has been regarded as evidence o f effeteness, a form o f foreign foppery. (Few things have been more likely to get an American political candidate in hot water than a taste for fine food, as Martin Van Buren discovered during his failed 1 8 4 0 reelection campaign. Van Buren had brought a French chef to the White House, a blunder seized on by his op ponent, William Henry Harrison, who made much o f the fact that he subsisted on “raw beef and salt.” George H. W Bush’s predilection for pork rinds and Bill Clinton’s for Big Macs were politically astute tastes to show off.) It could well be that, as Levenstein contends, the sheer abundance o f food in America has fostered a culture o f care less, perfunctory eating. But our Puritan roots also impeded a sensual or aesthetic enjoyment o f food. Like sex, the need to BEYOND THE PLEASURE PRINCIPLE «1 eat links us to the animals, and historically a great deal o f Prot estant energy has gone into helping us keep all such animal appetites under strict control. To the Christian social reform ers o f the nineteenth century, “The naked act o f eating was little more than unavoidable . . . and was not to be considered a pleasure except with great discretion.” I ‘ m quoting from Laura Shapiro’s Perfection Salad, which recounts the campaign o f these domestic reformers to convince Americans, in the words o f one, “that eating is something more than animal indul gence, and that cooking has a nobler purpose than the grati fication o f appetite and the sense o f taste.” And what might that nobler purpose be? Sound nutrition and good sanitation. By elevating those scientific principles and “disdaining the proof o f the palate,” Shapiro writes, “they made it possible for American cooking to accept a flood o f damaging innova tions for years to come”—low-fat processed food products prominent among them. So scientific eating is an old and venerable tradition in America. Here’s how Harvey Levenstein sums up the quasiscientific beliefs that have shaped American attitudes toward food for more than a century: “that taste is not a true guide to what should be eaten; that one should not simply eat what one en joys; that the important components o f foods cannot be seen or tasted, but are discernible only in scientific laboratories; and that experimental science has produced rules o f nutrition which will prevent illness and encourage longevity.” Levenstein could be describing the main tenets o f nutritionism. Perhaps the most notorious flowering o f pseudoscientific 55 56 Oi IN DEFENSE OF FOOD eating (and protonutritionism) came in the early years o f the twentieth century, when John Harvey Kellogg and Horace Fletcher persuaded thousands o f Americans to trade all plea sure in eating for health-promoting dietary regimens o f truly breathtaking rigor and perversity. The two diet gurus were united in their contempt for animal protein, the consump tion o f which Dr. Kellogg, a Seventh-Day Adventist who bore a striking resemblance to KFC’s Colonel Sanders, firmly be lieved promoted both masturbation and the proliferation o f toxic bacteria in the colon. During this, the first golden age o f American food faddism, protein performed much the same role that fat would perform during the next. At Kellogg’s Battle Creek sanitarium, patients (who included John D. Rockefeller and Theodore Roosevelt) paid a small fortune to be subjected to such “scientific” practices as hourly yogurt enemas (to undo the damage that protein supposedly wreaked on the colon); electrical stimulation and “massive vibration” o f the abdomen; diets consisting o f nothing but grapes (ten to fourteen pounds o f them a day); and at every meal, “Fletcherizing,” the prac tice o f chewing each bite o f food approximately one hundred times. (Often to the rousing accompaniment o f special chew ing songs.) The theory was that thorough mastication would reduce protein intake (this seems certain) and thereby improve “subjective and objective well-being.” Horace Fletcher (aka “the great masticator”) had no scientific credentials whatso ever, but the example o f his own extraordinary fitness—at fifty he could bound up and down the Washington Monument’s 8 9 8 steps without pausing to catch his breath—while existing on a daily regimen o f only 4 5 well-chewed grams o f protein BEYOND THE PLEASURE PRINCIPLE was all the proof his adherents needed.* The brothers Henry 1 and William James both became enthusiastic “chewers.”” ” Whatever their biological efficacy, all these dietary exer tions had the effect o f removing eating from social life and pleasure from eating; compulsive chewing (much less hourly enema breaks) is not exactly conducive to the pleasures o f the table. Also, Fletcherizing would have forcibly drained food o f the very last glimmer o f flavor long before the hundredth con traction o f the jaw had been counted. Kellogg himself was out spoken in his hostility to the pleasures o f eating: “The decline o f a nation commences when gourmandizing begins.” If that is so, America had little reason to worry. America s early attraction to various forms o f scientific eat ing may also have reflected discomfort about the way other people eat: the weird, messy, smelly, and mixed-up eating habits o f immigrants.* How a people eats is one o f the most powerful * According to Levenstein, scientists seeking the secret o f Fletcher’s exemplary health scrupulously monitored his ingestions and excretions, “noting with regard to the latter, as all observers did, the remarkable absence of odor” (Levenstein, Revolution of the Table, p. 8 9 ) . ^William James wrote of Fletcher that “if his observations on diet, confirmed already on a limited scale, should prove true on a universal scale, it is impossible to overestimate their revolutionary import.” Fletcher returned the favor, assuring the philosopher that Fletcherism was “advancing the same cause as Pragmatism” (Levenstein, Revolution of the Table, p. 9 2 ) . * Americans were particularly disturbed by the way many immigrant groups mixed their foods in stews and such, in contrast to the Anglo-American practice of keeping foods separate on the plate, the culinary format anthropologist Mary Douglas calls ” 1A plus 2B”—one chunk o f animal protein plus two vegetables or starches. Perhaps the disdain for mixing foods reflected anxieties about other kinds of mixing. 57 58 *>> IN DEFENSE OF FOOD ways they have to express, and preserve, their cultural identity, which is exactly what you don’t want in a society dedicated to the ideal o f “Americanization.” To make food choices more scientific is to empty them o f their ethnic content and history; in theory, at least, nutritionism proposes a neutral, modernist, forward-looking, and potentially unifying answer to the ques tion o f what it might mean to eat like an American. It is also a way to moralize about other people’s choices without seem ing to. In this, nutritionism is a little like the institution o f the American front lawn, an unobjectionable, i f bland, way to pave over our differences and Americanize the landscape. O f course in both …
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