Watching Food, Inc made me realize that although I thought I understood the problems, there is a vast amount that I do not know or comprehend about the food industry. So as is my way I turned to books, and have been borrowing from the library.
I started with Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, and I would like to tell you a little about the book and why I think everyone should read it.
‘Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants’ – this is his solution to the question of what we should eat to be healthy. Sounds simple? Well really it is if you believe in common sense. In this book he challenges the prevailing ‘nutritionism’ approach and proposes an ‘alternative’ way of eating based on tradition and ecology.
The key here is “you’re better off eating whole fresh foods rather than processed food products” and importantly he writes that he has found that the choices that are best for our health, tend to be the best ethical and environmental choices.
He explains how ‘nutritionism’ has us eating processed food products based on health claims and the particular nutrient that happens to be the current fashionable super-hero. Pollan would have us remember that “food is also about pleasure, about community, about family and spirituality, about our relationship to the natural world, and about expressing our identity”. The healthier nations are the ones that still remember their food culture, that enjoy their food, that don’t treat eating as an obligation to be dealt with as quickly and simply as possible.
“The human animal is adapted to, and apparently can thrive on, an extraordinary range of different diets, but the Western diet, however you define it, does not seem to be one of them.”
Here are some rules of thumb offered to help us determine what we should eat:
- Don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food
- Avoid food products containing ingredients that are a) unfamiliar, b) unpronounceable, c) more than five in number, or that include d) high-fructose corn syrup
- Avoid food products that make health claims
- Shop the peripheries of the supermarket and stay out of the middle
- Get out of the supermarket whenever possible
- Don’t eat anything incapable of rotting
As someone fighting depression, something I learnt from this book that really struck me personally is that strong correlations have been found between the falling levels of omega-3 in the diet and rising rates of depression, suicide, and even homicide.
Omega-3 fatty acids come from green plants; most people, me included, associate omega-3s with fish, but fish get them originally from green plants – specifically algae. The Western diet not only has us eating less green plants ourselves, but industrial agriculture has taken our food animals off their accustomed diet of green plants, with a result being a marked decline in the amount of omega-3s in modern meat, dairy products and eggs. And now they are even feeding corn rather than algae to fish in commercial fish farms.
It is up to all of us to stand up for ourselves and our health and let big industry know that we want better options. As Pollan points out “the more eaters who vote with their forks for a different kind of food, the more commonplace and accessible such food will become”.
Don’t forget today is Fight Back Friday, so why don’t you head over and check out some of the other shared wisdom.