Michael Pollan and Real Food

Food - our basic sustenance, one of our most primal interfaces with the natural world - plays a crucial role in the ongoing creation of ourselves, and in the maintenance of the all-important "internal balance". So, when we begin to lose our balance with the food we consume, it is no wonder that "disease" sets in. And it is no wonder that these "diseases" are slow to progress, leaving us in a state of chronically deteriorating health.
So, to re-enliven the body, mind, and spirit, herbalists have always been strong advocates for an old-time, whole-food, plant-rich diet - with some extra punch now and again in the form of herbs and spices. I've read some excellent thoughts on this subject over at The Herbwife's Kitchen, and have become quite suspicious of any larger company (witness Kashi / General Mills) trying to sell me something in a box.
So it was with great pleasure that I listened for a little while to Michael Pollan, author of The Botany of Desire (one of my favorite modern descriptions of the human/plant bond). Amy Goodman interviewed him on Democracy Now! and his comments clearly articulate the perils of overthinking and overprocessing the food we eat. The wide-ranging interview discusses the history of the food-industrial complex in the USA; 'nutritionism'; chronic disease and its link with food; whole foods, local foods; biotechnology; and more. Some comments:
And, in fact, one of my tips is, don’t eat any food that’s incapable of rotting. If the food can’t rot eventually, there’s something wrong. (...)

And the last premise of nutritionism is that the whole point of eating is to advance your physical health and that that’s what we go to the store for, that’s what we’re buying. And that’s also a very dubious idea. If you go around the world, people eat for a great many reasons besides, you know, the medicinal reason. I mean, they eat for pleasure, they eat for community and family and identity and all these things. But we’ve put that aside with this obsession with nutrition. And I basically think it’s a pernicious ideology. I mean, I don’t think it’s really helping us. If there was a trade-off, if looking at food this way made us so much healthier, great. But in fact, since we’ve been looking at food this way, our health has gotten worse and worse. (...)

Cholesterol in the diet is actually only very mildly related to cholesterol in the blood. It was a—that was a scientific error, basically. We were sold a bill of goods. (...)

We learned how to grow food with lots of synthetic fertilizers made from natural gas, pesticides made from petroleum, and then started moving it around the world. So now we take about ten calories of fossil fuel to produce one calorie of food energy. Very unsustainable system. (...)

and, in conclusion:
Well, the interesting thing is that most traditional cuisines are very healthy, that people—that the human body has done very well on the Mediterranean diet, on the Japanese diet, on the peasant South American diet. It’s really interesting how many different foods we can do well on. The one diet we seem poorly adapted to happens to be the one we’re eating, the Western diet. So whatever traditional diet suits you—you like eating that way—you know, follow it. And that—you know, that’s a good rule of thumb.

There’s an enormous amount of wisdom contained in a cuisine. And, you know, we privilege scientific information and authority in this country, but, of course, there’s cultural authority and information, too. And whoever figured out that olive oil and tomatoes was a really great combination was actually, we’re now learning, onto something scientifically. If you want to use that nutrient vocabulary, the lycopene in the tomato, which we think is the good thing, is basically made available to your body through the olive oil. So there was a wisdom in those combinations. And you see it throughout.

No comments: