Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Pollan Advises: Eat Food

Constance mentioned an article by Michael Pollan (author of The Omnivore's Dilemma) which appeared in last Sunday's New York Times Magazine:

Unhappy Meals

More after I eat some food...

Back. Food was good. If nothing I am about good food, which was why I was eager to sink my teeth into Pollan's foody essay, and why I was surprised to hear him ultimately disparage scientists, educators, journalists, politicians, food manufacturers ... just about everyone associated with what you eat, everyone except for your mother, he venerated your mother.

I had a few things I was going to say but Melinda and Sans Fromage said them so eloquently and succinctly in the comments that I'll keep my views to a minimum.

Science is Good

I have an infinitely more optimistic view of science than Mr. Pollan. Where he sees science, particularly nutritional science, as "bad" and complicit in all manner of present day ailments, "cancer, heart disease, diabetes, obesity", I see it as good.

If not for nutritional science:
  • We wouldn't know that vitamin C could prevent scurvy.
  • We wouldn't know that iodine could prevent goiter.
  • We wouldn't know that vitamin D could prevent rickets.
  • We wouldn't know that thiamin could prevent beriberi.
  • And if not for nutritional science, I suspect Mr. Pollan's essay would be considerably shorter than 10,000 words, owing to its abundance of scientific references.

Education is Good

I have a decidedly more optimistic view of education than Mr. Pollan. Where he sees cultivating knowledge of "new terms like 'fiber' and 'cholesterol' and 'saturated fat' " as deleterious because they "push food aside in the popular imagination of what it means to eat", I see understanding of these terms as a colossal aid in making informed and healthful meal choices.

It is soooo much easier to counsel a person with diabetes about foods that raise blood sugar when they know what a carbohydrate is, and when they can read a food label. If an understanding of the meaning of "terms like polyunsaturated, cholesterol, monounsaturated, carbohydrate, fiber, etc." form the basis for what Pollan refers to as "The Age of Nutritionism", then I endorse it.

He, on the other hand opposes it. He states that encouraging the public to limit nutrients in food, "things like fat, sugar, and salt" has "actually made the problem [of chronic diseases] worse." And that we are "better off with ... traditional authorities ["parents and grandparents and great grandparents"] ... than new authorities."

I believe in science; I believe in education. And I believe wholeheartedly in eating real, good, delicious food. I don't believe those concepts have to be mutually exclusive. And I certainly don't believe that science and education are to blame for Americans' health problems.

Illustration provided by simplifiedsigns.org, developers of signing images for hearing, but non-speaking, persons and their caregivers.

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