How to eat

Michael Pollan has a new article in the New York Times Magazine. It’s long, but important reading. Here’s how it begins:

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

That, more or less, is the short answer to the supposedly incredibly complicated and confusing question of what we humans should eat in order to be maximally healthy. I hate to give away the game right here at the beginning of a long essay, and I confess that I’m tempted to complicate matters in the interest of keeping things going for a few thousand more words. I’ll try to resist but will go ahead and add a couple more details to flesh out the advice. Like: A little meat won’t kill you, though it’s better approached as a side dish than as a main. And you’re much better off eating whole fresh foods than processed food products. That’s what I mean by the recommendation to eat “food.” Once, food was all you could eat, but today there are lots of other edible foodlike substances in the supermarket. These novel products of food science often come in packages festooned with health claims, which brings me to a related rule of thumb: if you’re concerned about your health, you should probably avoid food products that make health claims. Why? Because a health claim on a food product is a good indication that it’s not really food, and food is what you want to eat.

Uh-oh. Things are suddenly sounding a little more complicated, aren’t they? Sorry. But that’s how it goes as soon as you try to get to the bottom of the whole vexing question of food and health. Before long, a dense cloud bank of confusion moves in. Sooner or later, everything solid you thought you knew about the links between diet and health gets blown away in the gust of the latest study.


4 thoughts on “How to eat

  1. How about a good definition of “food”?

    It seems obvious to me that when a chemist creates a “food-like substance” in his laboratory it isn’t food, but when a housewife makes cheese or sauerkraut in her home it is.

  2. Kelly,

    Pollan talks about this a little bit. He prefers guidelines to formal definitions, and here are two:

    (1) It shouldn’t have more than five ingredients.

    (2) It should be something that your great-grandmother would recognize as food.

    Not exact, easy to quibble about, but I think they are both more useful and more thought-provoking than any formal definition could be.

  3. I am reading a book entitled Real Food – What to Eat and Why by Nina Planck. It has been a good read so far, although her history is very evolutionary/old earth.

    But my main interest in reading the book is that she details the differences between what she calls “real food” and industrilized foods – foods that have been highly processed, fats that are turned rancid through production, animal mistreatment and feeding practices which result in the need for antibiotics, produce being transfered thousands of miles, soil depletion, etc…

    Her definition of real foods are foods that are old, those we’ve been eating for thousands of years, and foods that are traditional, prepared in the old ways.

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