Wednesday, February 27, 2008

In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto by Michael Pollan

This book is fantastic. A little dry at times but a real eye opener. Many of the things we eat cannot be classified as food. The weight loss industry is a multi-billion dollar business but yet we are the fattest industrialized nation on the planet. Pollan's theory is that the rise of "nutritionism" has lead to us eating worse. Regular vitamins found in nature are being replaced by fake foods loaded with "nutrients". Remember how people were freaking out about eating butter so they switched to "I Can't Believe it's Not Butter" and other manufactured spreads? Turns out those spreads are a heck of a lot worse for you to eat. Plus they taste like crap. I haven't bought margarine in years and I refuse to eat it. If I want butter on my toast I will eat some, not some pretend butter. It's all about moderation.

I was reading a low-fat yogurt label and was shocked to see that it had high fructose corn syrup in it? WTF? It's dairy product. It seems corn syrup is in everything. My whole wheat bread...that is good for you right? The third ingredient? High fructose corn syrup. sigh.

Pollan also talks a little about how big agri-business has changed the way we eat. It's depressing. The typical American diet is responsible for many of the major health issues we have, esp. adult onset diabetes. Instead of addressing the root causes we stick Omega 3 into foods that don't have them naturally.

Some of his solutions are:

Pay more, eat less. We love big portions here. Quantity does not equal quality.
Eat meals. That seems like common sense but 1/5 of American adults eat in the car. We snack more and rarely sit down to eat a meal.
Try to eat foods that your grandparents would recognize. We are eating less variety now than two generations ago.
Shop at farmers markets/try to eat food that is in season

I want to read his other book "The Omnivore's Dilemma". Do you think American food culture will change for the better or the worse?


glamah16 said...

I was just in Borders today and almost got this. I decided to go with Eat, Pray,Love. Its a sign that I need to check this out.

Texas Espresso said...

I listened to him on NPR a couple of months ago and agreed with him on alot of it. It seems that more people are becoming more aware of what's in our food. Around Dallas, I have seen a trend towards organic & local food. There seem to be more farmer's markets and CSAs in the area too. So I can only hope that the food culture is changing.

I didn't totally agree with him on the nutrition thing because I think its good we are more aware of what food gives us what nutrient. but I don't think we need to be eating food where nutrients are added. However, it wasn't until I married my Italian husband almost 7 yrs ago that I actually started reading ingredients and became aware of the crap we eat. It's crazy! I hope the awareness keeps growing.

Tracie B. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tracie B. said...

(sorry about the delete, i had a shameful misspelling.)

until families start making time for eachother, it's only going to get worse.

and by the way, you see this choir? you, my dear, are a-preachin' to it.

Claudia said...

It makes sense...I remember as a kid in italy, I could eat platefuls of food and I was a skinny little kid. We moved to the US and I became a butterball within two years. Coincidence? doubtful.

homebody at heart said...

I don't know how it could get worse. We seem to be at an all time high (weightwise) and low (foodwise). Sometimes I think that we are killing ourselves as a nation in the name of cheap, low-cost food (although, cheap is a relative term since food has gotten expensive lately due to the ridiculous government subsidizing of biofuels and increased fuel costs).

I still remember an investigative report done on the premature onset of puberty in Puerto Rican children whose diet consisted of chicken. Chicken fed hormones to increase their growth rate and fatten more quickly reducing the farmers costs. But the chemical companies that develop and sell these products to farmers heavily subsidize "research" into the effects of the feed and use their influence via funding of research to determine that there are no harmful side effects to feed additives. (My niece recently graduated from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo with a degree in agriculture. My one sister who also graduated from same school and I have argued ourselves blue in the face about milk cows who are fed rbst to increase milk production. We gave up trying to talk to her as we think that she has just been brainwashed by her professors. And while you can buy milk that states it is rbst free, that doesn't mean food is not made with milk products containing rbst.

So, I think that even if prepare our own food, it is still not exactly "healthy" because of the way the animals are raised.

But, I think that once you move to Italy, you will lose weight much more easily because the Europeans are much more resistant to chemically improving their food. And, I probably am a broken record on this topic, too, as European food is less fattening and more fulfilling because it is flavored with natural flavorings while food here tends to be flavored with sugar and fats.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a good book. When something that used to be more "natural," or done on an individual level (like gathering food) gets standardized (agribusiness), there are always major cons that go with the supposed pros. Read "Ishmael" by Daniel Quinn. Talk about the fall of man! I'm not advocating that we all live in cabins in the woods, but people should BE MORE CONSCIOUS of their choices instead of blindly accepting the omnipresent marketing propaganda.
~Rose in Cali

Kataroma said...

Unfortunately, Italians are getting fatter too. I read somewhere that Italian kids are the fattest in Europe - and no wonder - they seem to eat a lot of junk for the merendina. There is no way I'm going to feed my daughter (due in July) those horrible kinder snacks and coca cola for the merenda like I see others doing. Poor thing will probably be the odd one out though.

I grew up in the US (NYC) and then Australia in a family that just didn't eat junk food. None of us watch our weight (we're all within the normal range) - it just never occurred to my parents to buy processed foods since they didn't grow up eating them. And we don't "exercise" - instead we just don't own cars and walk, bike or take public transport everywhere.

I thought everyone did this but then I lived in Texas for a year and my best friend was very overweight. She told me that growing up all she ate was fast food and they drove everywhere - they even have drive through bancomats in Texas. Amazing! No wonder she was a fat kid and a fat adult.

erin said...

i'm excited to add this to my "must-read" book list. I love books on this type of subject. It's just so interesting. Thanks for giving us a little preview :)

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

glamah16 - Eat, Pray, Love is good read (esp. the first third). I hope you enjoy the book.

texas espresso - When I lived in NYC I was very close to the Union Square Greenmarket. I loved that market. In Rome I will be close to Campo dei Fiori's market. Re: reading ingredients I will no longer assume that because something seems healthy (like yogurt) that is it.

tracie b - Pollan talks about that alot. We always ate dinnner together. There was no way I could eat my dinner in front of the TV while everyone esle was at the table or something. I can remember only one meal when we had fast food (I don't count pizza on Saturday night as fast food). The day we moved into our new house in the suburbs, my dad drove over to the next town and bought some food from Burger King since all our kitchen stuff was in boxes. As a kid I wished they would let us eat more junk but now I appreciate their eating habits.

Claudia - remember that book French Women Don't Get Fat? The author said when she came to the US as an exhange student, she gained something like 20lbs on her small frame. I always lose weight when I go to Italy despite eating pasta and gelato. I also dropped some weight when I was in Toronto for two months last year. I think it's a combo of walking everywhere and just eating less junk food (esp. candy). I tend to overeat when I'm stressed out or bored.

homebody - I completely agree. It cannot be good for us to be eating food with all these hormones. I noticed that when I back in the islands visiting my relatives how much tastier the food is. Okay part of it is you are in a beautiful place but there is something to be said for eating fish that is caught locally and not farmed raised from China.

Rose in cali - It is so hard to ignore all the advertising isn't it? I don't know how small farmers are able to survive. It is more expensive to buy things from your local growers but I am going to try. I could cut back on junk food and pay more to eat vegetables and fruits that actually taste good.

Katoroma - I saw that on the news when I was in Italy. The report also said teenagers where getting bigger because they are eating more fast food. It's funny in Pollan's book he suggets eating more like the French, Italian, Greeks and Asians because their diets have less meat and processed foods and smaller portions. We'll see that might be changing. Many of the big fast food places are expand in Europe, Asia and Africa. They have oversaturated the US market. re: Your overweight friend, it's a vicious cycle, people eat junk, get fat, join Jenny Craig, eat fake food for a month, lose weight for a couple of weeks, go back to the same eating habits gain the weight back. The fast food companies, diet centers and drug companies all make a profit.

erin -You're welcome. I like reading about your food adventures in Florence.

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

This is on my "must read" list. We try to live that way in any case, but like so many other things in this country, it's a matter of economics, too. We need to go back to family farms and the government should only be subsidizing those concerns, not the agribusiness megafarms.

We belong to a CSA and I try to put food up during the summer, etc. But it's this time of year when finding fresh, non-treated, local things gets hardest.

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

jen - I would imagine esp. where you live it is hard to find seasonal foods right now. You must be looking forward to spring. I know I am!

Joanne said...

I'm very interested in reading his books too. It seems to me that everytime I turn around I stumble across his name. I'm sorry to say that I don't think that things will change for the better any time soon. Mostly because the corporations behind processed and fast food have far too great an interest in people continuing to eat badly.
Even cultures where people have traditionally eaten healthy, wholesome foods are starting to be affected. There are more and more processed foods available everyday, would there be so many if people weren't buying them?
I agree with you about butter (and all other ingredients). Use the real thing, just use your common sense at the same time.

Island Chica said...

Another intersting book I found this weekend is "Twinkie, Deconstructed". Check it out on Amazon - the author wrote it after his daughter was reading the label on her ice cream and wanted to know what polysorbate 80 was. I saw "In Defense of Food" this weekend too but didn't get it. I'll check it out.

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

joanne - Pollan talks about how the western diet is starting to creep into other cultures and how it impacts their health. It's not good news.

island chica - thanks for the tip. I have heard of that book. It sounds interesting and I will add it to my list.