I like to think of myself as a generally healthy person. From when I was young, my mom made sure we ate our vegetables and drank our milk. I was lucky enough to grow up in a household that I considered nourishing and well-rounded. However, after indulging in the work of Michael Pollan - specifically his book In Defense of Food - I have become so much more aware of the fact that just because a package says “organic” or “reduced fat” that by no means signifies it is good for us. Just recently, I started paying more attention to the ingredients on the items I pick up while shopping at the grocery store. Not because I am on some crazy diet plan, as even I would have previously assumed, but because I am becoming more educated on what exactly it is that the current food industry is trying to feed us. Though it may take an extra few minutes at the store, looking at what exactly you are purchasing is an important step that many, including myself, have not been taking.
Pollan’s book starts off by providing some startling statistics. He notes that: 60% of Americans’ diets are made up of processed foods, 4 of the top 10 diseases that can kill you are directly linked to diet (think type 2 diabetes), and that we are consuming 1000% more sugar per day than we did 200 years ago. It’s hard to even fathom these numbers along with the enormous amount of industrialization that has taken place with our food. Long ago were the days when our ancestors foraged to survive, learning ways to use what nature had to offer through hunting and gathering. Not only were they much simpler times, but healthier as well! These days we are constantly bombarded by new studies on food and words that scream out to us on menus and as we walk through the grocery store like: “fat-free,” “no added sugars” and “all natural.” Pollan has observed: “Most consumers automatically assume that the word “organic” is synonymous with health, but it makes no difference to your insulin metabolism if the high-fructose corn syrup in your soda is organic.” Paying closer attention to what we are consuming and where it is coming from is becoming ever more important.
A large aspect of what Pollan finds is contributing to the food industry’s takeover on our every day lives is that we have lost our will to eat food deliberately and with pleasure. He notes that: “Americans spend less than 10 percent of their income on food; they also spend less than a half hour a day preparing meals and little more than an hour enjoying them…Most of what we’re consuming today is no longer, strictly speaking, food at all, and how we’re consuming it - in the car, in front of the TV, and, increasingly, alone - is not really eating, at least in the sense that civilizations has long understood the term.” This alarming statistic shows the effect of our modern culture today, and what is being sacrificed in return. Food and sitting down to eat a meal has meant many different things to people of various cultural backgrounds and traditions in the past, and that is sadly disappearing.
Pollan raises so many important questions and I highly suggest looking into his work for yourself in order to grasp all of his knowledge on food. Working to incorporate his primary ideaology - eat food, not too much, mostly plants - into your daily life is a good place to start. Realizing real food is the sum of its nutrient parts. One of my favorite quotes Pollan shares in his book is as follows:
“Eating with the fullest pleasure - pleasure, that is, that does not depend on ignorance - is perhaps the profoundest enactment of our connection with the world. In this pleasure we experience and celebrate our dependence and our gratitude, for we are living from mystery, from creatures we did not make and powers we cannot comprehend.” -Wendell Berry
We need to remember that we have the power with our food, not the food industry or the nutrition science that can overwhelm our outlook. My hope is that you will start learning to play defense when it comes to what you’re putting into your body just as I am.