In this past weekend’s New York Times Magazine, Michael Pollan lays out a fascinating and moving case for changing our relationship with food. This is a must-read article. He writes in part:
But what about the elephant in the room — the Western diet? It might be useful, in the midst of our deepening confusion about nutrition, to review what we do know about diet and health. What we know is that people who eat the way we do in America today suffer much higher rates of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and obesity than people eating more traditional diets. (Four of the 10 leading killers in America are linked to diet.) Further, we know that simply by moving to America, people from nations with low rates of these “diseases of affluence” will quickly acquire them. Nutritionism by and large takes the Western diet as a given, seeking to moderate its most deleterious effects by isolating the bad nutrients in it — things like fat, sugar, salt — and encouraging the public and the food industry to limit them. But after several decades of nutrient-based health advice, rates of cancer and heart disease in the U.S. have declined only slightly (mortality from heart disease is down since the ’50s, but this is mainly because of improved treatment), and rates of obesity and diabetes have soared.
No one likes to admit that his or her best efforts at understanding and solving a problem have actually made the problem worse, but that’s exactly what has happened in the case of nutritionism. Scientists operating with the best of intentions, using the best tools at their disposal, have taught us to look at food in a way that has diminished our pleasure in eating it while doing little or nothing to improve our health.
As a (more or less) vegetarian from birth, I’ve looked at nutrition through the lens of “Is this way of eating I adopted from my parents a good one?” Again and again, scientific discoveries and studies in nutrition tended to support that my diet was, in fact, pretty healthy. Whole grains, organic vegetables, a little fish, not much refined sugar. The Atkins craze was a notable exception — never could place that one successfully in my worldview.
Pollan helped me see nutrition through a new lens. He delves into the politics, the causes the interplay of science and lobbyists and capitalism that shaped the way America has thought about food for the three decades I’ve been alive. It is a great eyeopener and I hope it will be for others as well.
In one part of the article, Pollan talks about the symbiotic, profitable relationship between Fast Food and Big Pharma. One sells cheap food that give people diseases, the other sells them meds to keep them alive anyway. The real financial loser is our nation with $200 billion in health care costs. I would love to see a health care policy from our next president that includes a Pollan-esque dietary reform!
“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”