Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Sure I'll defend my family, country, and...food?!?

The book "In Defense of Food" by Michael Pollen truly is a must read for anyone who eats while living in the United States. Unlike "Eating Animals" by Jonathan Saffron Foer, there are no gory scenes or disgusting details (more on "Eating Animals" in a future post), but a few simple ideas that would help our population learn to balance what to eat, how to eat it, and with whom. The tagline, and major theme of the book is simple: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

What a novel concept! Notice it doesn't say "don't eat meat" or "become a farmer" or even "deprive yourself", it simply expands upon three reasonable, intuitive, and easy to follow rules. The first, "Eat food" sounds simple enough. After all, unless you're like my 11 month old son who is willing to eat paper, food is the only thing we DO eat. Except that's not true. Not according to the expanded (and truthfully realistic) definition Pollen describes. My favorite of his rules regarding eat food, are to not eat anything that has more than five ingredients in it, and don't eat anything with an ingredient you can't recognize. This doesn't mean you have to know specifically what a turnip looks like before you can consume it, it means if the ingredient sounds more like it was created in a lab than in a field, skip it. Some people may feel like this limits their diets, but in fact, it truly expands our diets, and our palates, by reintroducing a great number of foods that have fallen out of popularity in favor of "food science" created concoctions. This way of eating may even be a bit pricier (a pound of apples does in fact cost more than a pound of refined white sugar), but the environmental, physical, and societal implications save much more than money in the long run.

Some might argue that we need to be able to have convenience foods because of our fast paced society, and that plays directly into the "not too much" category. Pollen spends a good amount of time discussing our societal problems with food. And they are problems. The book explains that a majority of Americans consume well over 20% of their calories in the car. To be honest, I don't even know how that is possible, but I suppose the Starbucks' white mocha I had on my way to Whole Foods had double the amount of calories as my entire breakfast. He writes about the "French paradox" and how it really isn't a paradox at all. The French culture appreciates food. Dinner isn't consumed as quickly as humanly possible. TV isn't on in the background, and children eat with their parents. Dinner is an affair. A daily event. In our culture, that is the way it is supposed to be, children learning social norms, manners, and the art of conversation at the dinner table, teh family gathering for a beautiful meal. More often than not though, this isn't what we do, or if it is, we consume our dinner's so quickly there is no way to know when we are full. Pollen writes of a poll where people were asked how they know when they are done with their meals. The majority of French responders said "when I feel full" where as the majority of Americans said "when my food is gone." This is because it takes a full 20 minutes for fullness to register. If you've finished your entire meal in 10, how will you know you're full until you've eaten past that point already? Pollen encourages us to eat at a table (and "no, a desk is not a table"), and to eat thoughtfully and slowly. By eating food rather than commodities, we will be more able to eat slowly and appreciate the different tastes and how the food was prepared.

Finally, "mostly plants" may seem like a call for vegetarianism, but it is quite the opposite. He encourages us to eat meat, but the right types of meat. Instead of our meals comprising of 70% meat, Pollen says to, in the words of Jefferson "make meat a condiment to the rest of your meal". Pollen also calls us to know what we are purchasing, and when possible, purchase meat that is not factory farmed. Alongside of the less meat argument is the mostly plants argument. It is from different plants that we actually gain the most vitamins, nutrients (minor and macro as it turns out), and minerals from. If we eat too narrow of a diet, we will become deficient in many areas of our health. This can cause problems from feeling sluggish, to actual bone density loss.

After reading this book, I handed it over to my father, so he can read the information. It is a quick read, available in paperback so it is not too expensive, and well worth the hour or two that it takes to finish. I highly recommend this book to everyone. If the strategies listed are implimented, the reader will likely lose weight, become healthier, and enjoy dinner more. Off to read "Omnivore's Dilemma" next....

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