Food is more than nutrients – much more, as Michael Pollan told me and 7,000 other eager listeners at the UW-Madison Kohl Center, (See my post In Defense of Food and Books) where huge crowds gather to cheer and jeer at basketball and hockey games. Last night they were all cheering.
My husband and I biked over and joined the throng siphoning through the doors. We started up the stairs, and who should we see walking down the same flight but Michael Pollan himself. I was so excited. I gave him the thumbs up, and he smiled and said, “How’re you doing?” It was a magic moment. But the best part was hearing him speak to us all.
The study of nutrients can be useful, Pollan acknowledged but viewing food as only the sum of its nutrient parts is making us and the whole world sick.
Food Science can be wrong.
“We still don’t know what is going on in the soul of a carrot,” Pollan said. He noted that we have identified 15 carotenes in the carrot, but carotene pills do not replicate the health benefits of munching on actual carrots. “ It’s a wilderness in that carrot!”
Nourishment is complex stuff, he added, saying that there are as many neurons in our digestive system as there are in our spinal column.
Food Science is a young science, Pollan said. It’s about where surgery was in 1650 –really promising, but are you ready to get on the table?
Most scientific information on healthy diets that we see in the media comes from studies using the Food Frequency Questionaire (FFQ) This is the most common dietary assessment tool used in large studies of diet and health. It’s self administered and covers the last three months. How accurate would your information be in this context? Take a look at it here. Try to fill it out. Then decide for yourself how much you trust conclusions based on this info.
The study of nutrients mainly nourishes agribusiness, which uses food science to earn a healthy lable for Fruit Loops. (Check the box, it’s true!)
Pollan went on to obseve that humans can live healthily on many diets. Traditional diets around the world include one mainly comprised of cow’s milk and blood, and one of simple, unprocessed corn and beans, and even one mainly of seal blubber.
Yet, the only diet that consistently makes its eaters sick is the American diet of highly processed foods and lots of meat, which since its introduction about 100 years ago.
Cardiovascular diseases, obeisity and Type 2 Diabetis – These are the Preventable Chronic Diseases linked to what we eat. You can read his editorial on Big Food vs. Big Insurance here
Pollan said we have two choices:
- ADAPT to this diet and live with the consequences. There is a huge amount of money to be made in this scenario. Check out magazines that are popping up, like Diabetic Living and just think about our thriving pharmaceutical industry.
- CHANGE WHAT WE EAT
Not just what we eat, (skip the Edible Foodlike Substances) but HOW we eat. Eat together. Eat at tables. Eat until you don’t feel hungry – not until you feel full.
Eating this way would be good in so many ways.
- Roll back our health problems.
- By selecting real food, not agribusiness products we will make it possible for famers to change and farm in a way that is healthy for the soil.
Health is about wholeness and involves not just our own bodies, but our society and our soil. If consumers demand varied locally-grown food, farming can move away from the government subsidized monoculture trap they are caught in.
Finally, Pollan put in a pitch for farmers markets, saying
Where we buy food is as important as what we buy.
We cannot get healthy in isolation. Plug into your local farmers market. They are playing music there. People are politicking. It’s our new public square. Give your food dollars to people in your neighborhood and build your community.
Pollan ended with this quote from Wendell Berry,
We must never forget “that our land passes in and out of our bodies, just as our bodies pass in and out of our land; that as we and our land are a part of one another, so are all who are living as neighbors here, human, plant and animal, are a part of one another, so cannot possibly flourish alone.”
I couldn’t agree more.
When you go to your farmer’s market every week for your good, you get much more than nutrients — you plug into a community. Last week, one of my favorite farmers (where I get my locally grown, fresh-ground whole wheat flour, eggs, garlic and greens) invited me to a potluck for the customers he has grown close to. I am honored. I am excited.
I feel I have inched a little closer to understanding the soul of a carrot.