In Defense of Food, Part 2

pollan-21I just love Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto- I return to it constantly. There are so many great ideas here, so much that inspires and aggravates me. Chapter One, From Foods to Nutrients, is an example of the latter. The chapter tracks food scientists and marketers from the 1950s to today, describing in riveting detail exactly how we got to where we are.

And where are we? In a place where we can't tell whether we should eat oranges or milk fortified with vitamin C. A place where we eschew hot dogs for their fat content without understanding or feeding our need for protein. A place where we will spend crazy amounts of money for crackers injected with potassium instead of reaching for that banana. Or where we would never eat a piece of chocolate cake, but instead reach for fat-free, chemical filled cookies. Or where we choose diets that promise big-time weight loss, as long as we trade in the evil carbs in fruit (sweet fruit!) for the glorious protein of bacon. I'm as guilty as the next guy, but I know it ain't smart. In this short excerpt from In Defense of Food, Pollan points to a specific, critical study in 1977:defesne-of-food

In 1977, the [Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs] issued a fairly straight-forward set of dietary guidelines, calling on Americans to cut down on their consumption of red meat and dairy products. Within weeks a firestorm of criticism, emanating chiefly from the red meat and dairy industries, engulfed the committee [... and] the committee's recommendations were hastily rewritten. Plain talk about actual foodstuffs - the committee had advised Americans to "reduce consumption of meat" - was replaced by artful compromise: "choose meats, poultry, and fish that will reduce saturated fat intake."

Just like that, red meat was turned into saturated fat, and a lifetime (many lifetimes) of confusion was born. This confusion, Pollan points out, is fantastic for food marketers, who have found new ways to feed us additional calories. But as it turns out, it's not so good for the rest of us. I've heard these kinds of stories before, in all different industries. Politics is run by lobbyists, I know, I know. Somehow, when it comes to food, it all seems especially distasteful.