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in defense of food

March 23, 2010

After a trip to San Francisco that was inspired by all the food reading I’ve done the last 6 months, I thought I’d have wanted to take a break from continuing to read about the subject.  But, alas, I am back in it already with another book by Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food. This one focuses on how the dining experience in America has become less about enjoying quality, slow food with people you know and love, and more about consuming nutrients to give your body the perfect mix that modern science says we all need.  Over the last 40 years, products in the supermarket have moved away from packaging that boasts the farm a particular food came from in favor of proclaiming health benefits: Lower your cholesterol!; Free of Trans-Fat; Rich in Vitamin C!  As a general rule, it’s a good idea to avoid any food making health claims, for the “real” foods that have been around forever – fruits, vegetables, grains, poultry, meat, fish – need not proclaim such things.  And perhaps he has a point; after all, in the 40 years since the American food system has become increasingly monolithic, less diverse, and has replaced real foods with edible food-like products, rates of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and stroke have all increased significantly.  “Most of the nutritional advice we’ve received over the last half century (and in particular the advice to replace the fats in our diet with carbohydrates) has actually made us less healthy and considerably fatter,” Pollan writes.

We often hear nutritionists talk about the French paradox – the unexplainable way that the French enjoy food as much as they do, and eat so many fats, cheeses, creams and meats deemed toxic by nutritionists, and yet retain lower rates of the chronic diseases mentioned above, as well as strikingly smaller waistlines.  “Maybe it’s time we confronted the American paradox: a notably unhealthy population preoccupied with nutrition and diet and the idea of being healthy.”

In this vein, I came across an inspiring article in the Chicago Tribune this morning.  A group of 20 Chicago high school students plan to speak out at the Chicago Board of Education meeting at the end of March, in order to voice their preference for healthy, quality food in school cafeterias as opposed to the mess of nachos, pizza and other processed foods they have to choose from today.  The contract for food service to the district is up at the end of this year, and these students are hoping to push the $58 million a year deal to a more healthful provider.

No. 287: 3/22/2010

No. 288: 3/21/2010

All cities are mad:  but the madness is gallant.  All cities are
beautiful:  but the beauty is grim.

– Christopher Morley, Where the Blue Begins

No. 289: 3/20/2010

It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and
the wind blows cold:  when it is summer in the light, and winter
in the shade.

– Charles Dickens

No. 290: 3/19/2010

Many nights he lay there, dreaming awake secret cafes in Montmartre
where ivory women delved in romantic mysteries with diplomats and
soldiers of fortune, while orchestras played Hungarian waltzes and the
air was thick and exotic with intrigue and moonlight and adventure.

– F Scott Fitzgerald, This Side of Paradise

One Comment leave one →
  1. March 23, 2010 3:33 pm

    I am currently reading The Omnivores Dilemma and In Defense of Food is on my list. I am so interested in our countries food culture and making changes in my life to consume my whole, local and “real” food. I will have to find the suntimes article, thats inspiring that kids are taking a stand against the awful food which is being served in schools.

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