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In Defense of Food: The Omnivore’s Solution

Oct 27, 2011 06:35PM ● By Anonymous

The author of bestsellers such as “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto” and “The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meal,” Pollan spoke at the Strathmore Music Center in Bethesda, Md., on Wednesday night in effort to “provide clarity on the perplexing subject, which no other species struggles with—what to eat,” he said.

Pollan began his 8 p.m. lecture with a two bags full of groceries that he had recently purchased at a local Giant Supermarket. He rifled through them, pulling out products with health claims splashed across their containers. Dannon yogurt with probiotics, he pointed out, has 25 grams of sugar per 6 ounces, as compared to an 8-ounce serving of Coca-Cola that has 27 grams of sugar. He moved on to a 2-liter bottle of diet ginger ale with green tea and antioxidants, “the lowest of the low,” he said, along with cereal bars containing synthetic milk and “whole grain” Reeses Peanut Butter Cup cereal. Even dog treats claimed to be 97 percent fat-free. These foods, he said, should be labeled as “edible food-like substances, for both cultural and legal reasons.”

The point of all this, Pollan said, was the ideology of “nutritionism,” which says that the key to all foods is the nutrients contained within. Therefore, it gives consumers an excuse to drink soda if they desire because it contains healthy nutrients, such as antioxidants. It also divides the world into good and evil nutrients, and problems occur when the gun is pointed at one in particular. In the years of the low-fat campaign, men gained 17 pounds on average, while women gained 19 pounds.

“How did we get fat on a low-fat campaign?” Pollan asked. It seems, he said, that the science was wrong. The science of nutrition is both young and hard to do, with the results of studies sometimes between 20 and 30 percent off, he said.

“Take all nutrition advice with a grain of something much healthier than salt,” he said. For that matter, the government throws some curveballs our way, too. When the first government dietary goals were issued in the late 1970s, it contained a clear message: “Eat less red meat.” The cattle industry revolted, and the message was rewritten to something much less clear: “Choose meat, fish, and poultry that will reduce saturated fat intake.” Instead of an “eat less” recommendation, the government was now supporting an “eat more” proclamation.

So if the government can’t tell us what to eat, the nutrition scientists can’t tell us what to eat, and Michael Pollan can’t tell us what to eat, then who will tell us what to eat? “People knew how to eat well before anyone knew what an antioxidant was,” Pollan said. In fact, “you don’t have to think about any of this stuff you’re cooking. No matter how much butter you put in it, it’s not as bad as that stuff. You start with real food.”

Part of the lecture was spent discussing Pollan’s soon-to-be-published book, an expanded and illustrated version of “Food Rules,” the first of which was an immediate bestseller. The book offers easy-to-understand suggestions for eating healthy. New rules include, “If you’re not hungry enough to eat an apple, you’re not really hungry,” and “Eat until you’re four-fifths full.”

Pollan ended the evening with 10 minutes of questions from the audience, when he was asked what he eats on a typical day. Oatmeal for breakfast, he said, a lot of grilling, and meat only twice a week. When asked about how to make healthy, whole foods accessible to the general population, he admitted that it was a serious problem, as rational behavior involves eating badly to save money. The solution is not to subsidize production; it’s to subsidize consumption.

“To make food more sustainable,” he concluded, “it’s going to make it more expensive. Michael Pollan’s newest book, “Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual,” the illustration version, will be available November 1st. For more information or to purchase his books, visit