Michael Pollan wants Americans to get back to basics: Eating real food

Michael Pollan

Michael Pollan

Michael Pollan can’t make himself as ubiquitous as convenience stores or fast food ads, but it seems like he’s trying.The author is on a mission with his latest book, “In Defense of Food,” just out in paperback. He uses terms like “social movement” and “manifesto,” the latter in his book’s subtitle: “An Eater’s Manifesto.”

Pollan explains the thesis that Americans stopped eating actual food years ago and, through no fault of their own, replaced it with food-industry food. Long-term, that’s making us overweight and sick, he said.

Processed, packaged and refined foods, the products of food science, should be rejected, Pollan said, a choice made possible only in recent years because of the resurgence of farmers markets and a new emphasis on such old-school ideas as pastured poultry and organic produce.

“One of the most exciting social movements in the country right now is the movement to reform the food system,” he said. “People are beginning to see they can vote with their forks.”

Emphasis on “beginning.” Pollan is working on that.

In his 2006 book, “An Omnivore’s Dilemma,” Pollan explored the food-production system. The message in this follow-up book is simple: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”

Simple message, but Pollan knows the implementation can seem difficult. For one thing, shopping at farmers markets — and on the periphery of the grocery store where the fresh, raw stuff is — means more meal preparation time.

Pollan doesn’t apologize for that.

“I think people have to look at where they’re spending their time,” he said. “We’ve found two hours a day for the Internet in the last 10 years. The day didn’t get any longer. We just decided that was important to us.”

Americans spend 27 minutes a day preparing food and about an hour eating. Adding another half-hour for cooking and 15 minutes for eating would make a huge difference, he said.

“I’m just saying try it and see. See if your family is healthier and happier, and by having a meal together, family life is better,” Pollan said. “Move food closer to the center of your definition of a well-lived life. Cooking is a big part of it.”

Pollan is buoyed by the recent boom in home gardening, which predates the recession but may be getting an extra boost from it. And supermarkets are reporting higher raw ingredient sales, although some fast food sales also are up.

He’s less than thrilled by the food industry’s responses to the concerns of folks like him. For instance, he and others have suggested avoiding food products with more than five ingredients. Now Haagen-Dazs ice cream touts a product “crafted with only five ingredients.”

Food companies are replacing high fructose corn syrup with cane sugar, which is still sugar and adds calories. Then there’s the oddity of omega-3 fatty acids getting pumped into all manner of products. Recall that in the past, Pollan said, scientists warned us off butter in favor of margarine.

“I don’t have a lot of faith in food science,” he said. “All this chatter about nutrition science is really obscuring the issues around food. And it’s not a happy or healthy way to look at food.”

Pollan grew up in suburban New York and started gardening as a youngster. He picked it up again later as an adult and, having settled in Connecticut, started writing about his experiences growing food. His interests expanded to natural history and food production.

“I really learned a lot from being around farmers,” said Pollan, 54, who teaches at the University of California-Berkeley journalism school. He is married to painter Judith Belzer, and they have a 16-year-old son, Isaac.

Pollan, an editor and journalist most of his career, answers the “who are you to tell me what to eat?” question by saying that he speaks mostly on the authority of tradition and common sense. He might add that he has also done a little research.

To those who will see him as the “food police,” Pollan said, they should recognize that consumers are receiving food directives constantly. Food industry marketers spend $32 billion a year pushing their choices.

“It’s a marketplace of ideas, and I have a different idea from General Mills and Monsanto,” Pollan said. “When they stop advertising, I’ll stop talking.”

Source: Kansas City Star

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