Anne and I had the opportunity to go see Michael Pollan speak about his latest book, In Defense of Food this week. I have been a fan for quite sometime after reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma. I was very excited and very nervous. We thought it would make for a great first she said. she said discussion.
Jen: I’m so glad you were able to come with me to see my beloved Michael. I know you’ve never read any of his books, so what was your impression of him? Did you have any major take-aways or a-ha’s afterwards?
Anne: You’re right; I’d pretty much never heard of him before. I did know that Pat was in the middle of reading one of his books though. And as you know, I always jump at the chance to get out of my house for an evening, so the idea of a book reading was intriguing. I found Pollan to be a talented speaker, and he had a lot of interesting things to say about the Western diet. Basically the jist of his talk was that Americans are killing themselves because of what they’re eating. Which I happen to agree with.
Jen: As someone who raises money for people with chronic illness, I can get pretty worked up about the Western diet….the only diet that has been proven to cause chronic illness. Aren’t we suppose to be super smart in this country? How did we miss the boat on that?
As I’m typing my response, I’m watching a commercial for “I can’t believe it’s not butter”. They talk about how much healthier it is than regular butter. This reminds me of one of Pollan’s ideas that food should not have a long ingredient list and/or have things in it that we can’t pronounce or our grandmother wouldn’t recognize. [Here is the list of ingredients for ” I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” : Vegetable oil blend (liquid soybean oil, hydrogenated soybean oil, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, liquid canola oil), water, sweet cream buttermilk, salt, soy lecithin, vegetable mono and diglycerides (potassium sorbate, calcium disodium EDTA), used to protect quality citric acid, natural and artificial flavors, vitamin A (palmitate), beta carotene (for color).]
I love Pollan’s guidelines for what to eat. Do I always follow them? No, not perfect on that yet, but I make a very big effort. My grandmother always used to say “you can either spend your money at the grocery store or the Dr.’s office”. I’m pretty sure she never said “spend your money on parially hydrogenated soybean oil because it’s better than the all natural butter”.
Anne: Grandmothers were wise. I can’t believe that when I was young and my grandma would whip up cream to top a dessert, I would turn up my nose and beg for Cool Whip instead. A wise man once told me that Cool Whip and licorice are two of the worst possible foods a person can eat…
Back to the subject of the western diet…Pollan spoke of the fact that the U.S. is basically the only country that processes and creates and concocts and changes its food. Other cultures around the globe eat what is available to them- they eat what they were MEANT to eat as they evolved and resided in various geographic locations. I found it very interesting when Pollan cited specific examples of cultures whose diets consist of only one or two things (eg. a native Alaskan group that ate nothing but whale blubber) and are found to be extremely healthy. I guess this goes to show that what Mother Nature provides for a culture is going to be the “right” and “healthy” thing for them to eat. Take the Spaniards as another example. The terrain in their country is very conducive to growing olives, raising pigs and sheep, and growing grapes. So they eat a lot of olives/olive oil, aged ham, sheep’s milk cheese, and they drink a lot of wine. Of course they also have processed foods that are available for purchase, but the staples of the Spanish diet consist of foods that are available and easily grown in the terrain of their country.
Jen: So maybe the answer is we permanently move to Spain and eat what they eat? :) I could get talked into that.
I think a large population of people are stuck on convenience food and cheap processed items. Although eating more local and real food is not hard, it is hardER than taking something out of box and putting it in the microwave. However, I’d gladly spend 5 minutes making a salad with colorful veggies, cheese and a fried egg on top (which is what I had for lunch) than waiting 5 minutes for my Lean Cuisine. I think there is an obvious movement that more people are eating this way, but it is still a very small percentage of the population.
Anne: Yeah, and then there is the misconception that a Lean Cuisine is all healthy! and good for you! because it announces it’s lean and fat-free or whatever. Check out the ingredients list and see what unable-to-be-pronounced ingredients are going into that quick and easy “healthy” meal. Blech. (In my humble opinion, of course.)
I think it is hard to eat well. Americans lead busy lives, with busy schedules. It takes a LOT of time and effort and motivation to plan and prepare healthy meals. I think it can be done though little by little, and over time it becomes less and less of a challenge. I’m not saying to cut out all fast food, all goodies, all fatty, corn-syrup laden treats from your diet. But if the majority of a diet can be healthy and natural and fresh, then the occasional highly processed Ho-Ho or Twinkie (and Pollan had a GREAT story about Twinkies!) is not going to impact your overall health. Everything in moderation I say, everthing in moderation.
Jen: Right on my friend. Right on.
So, I haven’t read the actual book (In Defense of Food), but it’s next up on my list. When I’m done, I know Anne will be clammering to read it next and I imagine it will bring up more things to talk about. In the meantime, I think we have to own up to being more responsible for the food we are putting into our bodies. Whether it is an egg sandwich, grilled chicken, or a ho-ho, we are in charge of what we eat. I have rarely seen anyone physically force anyone to eat. So that is my challenge to you. Be in charge of what you are fueling your body with and enjoy – whatever it is.