Michael Pollan, who wrote the excellent and eye-opening The Omnivore's Dilemma, has a new book out: In Defense of Food, and I can hardly wait to read it.
Pollan has famously summed up his advice on eating in seven words: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." Now he goes on to explore the question of just what food is in our food, or should that be "food"?
Here are his 12 Commandments on eating healthfully, courtesy of my Food First newsletter (so no link, alas):
- Don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food.
- Avoid foods containing ingredients you can't pronounce.
- Don't eat anything that won't eventually rot.
- Avoid food products that carry health claims.
- Shop the outside isles of the supermarket; stay out of the middle.
- Better yet, buy food somewhere else: the farmers' market or CSA.
- Pay more, eat less.
- Eat a wide variety of species.
- Eat food from animals that eat grass.
- Cook, and if you can, grow some of your own food.
- Eat meals, and eat them only at tables. And
- Eat deliberately, with other people whenever possible, and always with pleasure.
Now here's an eating plan I can get behind! I especially like commandments 1, 3, 9, 10, and 12.
We Americans are pitiable when it comes to food. We treat it as if it's not important, happy to have so much cheap "food" compared to other industrialized societies, ignorant of what we're doing to ourselves. As a people, we obsess over food, yet can't seem to find our way to eating a reasonable, health-promoting diet. We diet and then gain the weight back without ever deeply changing our eating habits and routines, only to go back to some fad diet or other.
And I think our disrespect for our food goes hand in hand with disrespect for the land we're also ruining with our huge factory farms. The two seem to me to be inseparable. We need to learn respect for the basics: soil, water, ecosystems, because those things need to be in good condition in order to grow the nutritional necessities of human beings. When we cavalierly buy our meat from CAFOs, we're guilty of contributing to some of the worst practices, the worst crimes that can be committed against land and water. And we're buying "food" that doesn't meet our human needs, whether it's grain-fed beef or vegetables and fruits grown in depleted soil that lacks nutrients. (In this regard, do read Freelearner's terrific post "A disease of malnutrition.")
I know that too many Americans cannot afford truly good food. But many can, yet they don't--or won't--pay the higher price for the better foods. Whether this is out of ignorance, miserliness, or lack of conviction that food really matters all that much, I don't know; I suspect all three are at play in the population as a whole. Making the situation worse is the lack of a national cuisine, I suppose, and the concomitant lack of the French or Italian citizen's reverence for food and food traditions.
In any case, if you yourself want to eat better, do keep in mind Michael Pollan's twelve commandments. You can't go wrong, and your body will thank you.