I just read a pretty interesting interview with Michael Pollan, who has a new book called In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto. The inverview is a bit scattered, and long, but I found it really interesting and well worth the read. The guy seems to really know his stuff regarding the problems with our industrialized system for producing and distributing food.
The point of the book is to give people some good rules of thumb when trying to eat healthy. He is suggesting, mainly, that we eat whole foods, and pay less atention to “nutritionism” which is the idea that everything you eat can be viewed as a collection of individual nutrients, and that some nutrients are good and some are bad. Here are some good quotes:
Nutrition science is where surgery was in about 1650, you know, really interesting and promising, but would you want to have them operate on you yet? I don’t think so. I don’t think we want to change our eating decisions based on nutritional science.
[policy makers can] talk about saturated fat … about antioxidants, but you cannot talk about whole foods. So that is the kind of official language in which we discuss nutrition.
Conveniently, it’s very confusing to the average consumer. Conveniently to the industry, they love talk about nutrients, because they can always — with processed foods, unlike whole foods, you can redesign it. You can just reduce the saturated fat, you know, up the antioxidants. You can jigger it in a way you can’t change broccoli. You know, broccoli is going to be broccoli. But a processed food can always have more of the good stuff and less of the bad stuff. So the industry loves nutritionism for that reason.
it’s a literary scientific experience now going shopping in the supermarket, because basically the food has gotten more complex. It’s — for the food industry — see, to understand the economics of the food industry, you can’t really make money selling things like, oh, oatmeal, you know, plain rolled oats. And if you go to the store, you can buy a pound of oats, organic oats, for 79 cents. There’s no money in that, because it doesn’t have any brand identification. It’s a commodity, and the prices of commodity are constantly falling over time.
So you make money by processing it, adding value to it.
people don’t really think about food in terms of climate change, but in fact the food system contributes about a fifth of greenhouse gases. It is as important as the transportation sector, in terms of contributing to greenhouse gas. It’s a very energy-intensive situation. What we did with the industrialization of food, essentially, is take food off of a solar system — it was basically based on photosynthesis and the sun — and put it on a fossil fuel system. We learned how to grow food with lots of synthetic fertilizers made from natural gas, pesticides made from petroleum, and then started moving it around the world. So now we take about ten calories of fossil fuel to produce one calorie of food energy. Very unsustainable system.
if you look at the layout of the average supermarket, the fresh whole foods are always on the edge. So you get produce and meat and fish and dairy products. And those are the foods that, you know, your grandmother would recognize as foods. They haven’t changed that much. All the processed foods, the really bad stuff that is going to get you in trouble with all the refined grain and the additives and the high-fructose corn syrup, those are all in the middle. And so, if you stay out of the middle and get most of your food on the edges, you’re going to do a lot better.