Obesity. It’s a problem, in the U.S, and becoming more and more of one in the Western world. Of course that can be debated, but take a look around you. Portion size? Trans fat? Exercise? Processed foods? Vitamins? Why are we so fat?
Michael Pollan has written a thoughtful and balanced article, "Unhappy Meals", in yesterdays New York Times. Its long, it offers no magic bullets, but it does make you think about how we eat. Its worth taking the time to read it if you’ve ever been worried about your health, and what you put into your mouth.
Its human nature to seek out and find opinions that match your own, but I had an awful lot of “Uh-huh. I told you so” reactions to many of Mr. Pollan’s points.
*That food and meals are not just about fuel, that pleasure and socializing, play a positive role in keeping us healthy.
* That in late 1980’s there was an effort made to re-engineer food, and to fortify or add nutrients to existing foods. Mr. Pollan refers to 1988 as the “The Year of Eating Oat Bran”. Oat bran found its way into all sorts of food products, and the manufacturers let you know that eating! Eating! Eating! their product would make you healthy. Sadly, the apple, the carrot, and the parsnip couldn’t go for a make over and come out all full of oat bran. They were just a plain old apple whose only claim to fame would be to keep a doctor away, a carrot that needed peeling and a forgotten parsnip, all sitting there without a label, or a slogan or a marketing director.
* Nutrition supplements are probably worthless. I always did worry about that…I mean the only side effects I’ve ever noticed was an occasional upset stomach. Did anyone you know remember more after eating gingko? Sometimes I remember to eat my calcium tablets, but I think I’ll do better just by carrying around some heavy stuff, on a regular basis.
* We know very little about nutrition, and diet. Our most cherished beliefs, such as the value of the “Mediterranean Diet” are based on studies of people in the Isle of Crete in the 1950’s. I guess the “Cretin Diet” just didn’t have such a good ring to it….
Here’s something else to wrap your brain around: “Today, a mere four crops account for two-thirds of the calories humans eat.” Go back a few days, to the article about corn futures, and manipulating prices and you have the basis for a Michael Moore expose’: McDonalds is secretly owned by the drug company that makes Lipitor and they all belong to a secret corn cartel. I’m kidding. I’m kidding. Really I am. But, the point Mr. Pollan is making, is that we have chosen to concentrate on only 4 crops out a potential 80,000 edible species. And I’m belly aching that parsnips are under loved??
Mr. Pollan gives us some rays of hope, some beacon of light in all this darkness.
1) “Eat food.” Eat food that your great-great-grandmother would recognize as food. Easier said than done.
2) “Avoid even those food products that come bearing health claims.”
3) “Especially avoid food products containing ingredients that are a) unfamiliar (I don’t buy this…I don’t know every ingredient out there) b) unpronounceable c) more than five in number or that contain high-fructose corn syrup.”
4) “Get out of the supermarket whenever possible.” Meaning, avoid the temptation and the assault of all those food products screaming for attention.
5) “Pay more, eat less.” He’s saying that we should pay more for better quality, and that better quality will satisfy more quickly. I have trouble accepting that the poorer you are, the more you are stuck with food poor choices. It’s certainly not ‘fair’, and it doesn’t address the people who would benefit the most from eating well. The stereotypical person would be a food stamp person, who can’t afford health insurance, and is buying non-dairy creamer and Oreos. Right? I’m guessing, but I wonder how far off the mark I am. Are we robbing Peter at the expense of Paul if we don’t address food costs?
6) “Eat mostly plants, especially leaves.” He talks about meat, he talks about seeds, but what about roots?? You know I’m all about the roots.
7) & 8) These are variations on the same theme: escape from the clutches of fast food culture by eating like the French, or the Italians, cook at home, and plant a garden.
9) Eat like an omnivore. Sounds good to me, I’m always on the look out for something new.
There is plenty to discuss and debate here; the implications would completely alter our culture, Wall St. profits, our waistline, health care research… But, wait a minute! What are we talking about here….Paul Newman gives money to charity when I buy his popcorn! “ ‘Tis a tangled web we weave.”
And take a last look at this. First Brazil goes all oil-independent with their ethanol. Now Venezuela goes all eco-groovy with profitable vegetable gardens in the heart of Caracas. What’s a Super-sized Super-power supposed to do??