If you were to talk to Michael Pollan about food and its impact on modern day diets, he would tell you that “Nutritionism had become the official ideology of the Food and Drug Administration; for all practical purposes the government had redefined foods as nothing more than the sum of their recognized nutrients” (19). That sounds pretty harsh, right? Today’s foods that are sold in stores, supermarkets, vending machines, and farmers’ markets have to contain a nutrients table. How did that happen? That’s history, my dear Watson. In Pollan’s book, “In Defense of Food,” he states that food was what you eat in order to survive.
Over the years, food scientists began to tinker with the compounds of food. Discoveries of carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals within the food lead to the understanding that food can be altered and improved to fulfill our daily dose of required nutrients. This opened the door to other opportunities of food’s health benefits as well as the nutrition facts that every product must contain. Unfortunately, there was a downside to this discovery: The rise of chronic heart disease. Processed foods were suddenly dangerous to health, and “imitations” were required to be labeled. After more tinkering, failing, and tinkering again, scientists found that these fake foods can be improved with additives. Foods that were altered were now transfat free, low-carb, and low-in-fat also started a new diet trend called the Western Diet (59).
Unfortunately, this did more harm than good; People gained more weight than ever since saturated fats were being replaced with carbohydrates. Pollan’s answer? It is about the quality of the (more expensive) food, not the quantity. It is not about the processed foods that claim to be healthier with more fiber and less fat. It is about the fruits and vegetables that were neglected in the produce section of the supermarket, and it is about eating enough—Not eating supersized!—portions to sustain yourself in a healthy way.
Michael Pollan’s target audience was not only the health-conscious citizens of America, but also to the concerned citizens who were starting on their own health diets as well as the distraught citizens teetering on the edge of obesity. He intended to open the eyes of Western Dieters everywhere to be conscious of what they buy and be aware of what they put into their stomachs. He warned consumers to be wary of processed foods that were labeled “low-fat, no-cholesterol, and high-fiber, (21)” for they were dangerous to eat by itself all together (in large quantities), or suffer the consequences of obesity!
By allowing the public to know the fat-laden future that unhealthy foods can cause, Pollan made people aware of what they eat. He wanted them to know that the government was messing with their own nutrition. By allowing science to take over the food industry, many blunders—like the Lipid Hypothesis’s relationship between dietary fat and heart disease (22)—screwed up a lot of the public’s health. No one wanted to think for themselves, so it was easy for the FDA and other groups (along with the government) to take over and tell them what was good to eat and what was not good to eat.
“Pay more, eat less,” says Polland (62). The quality of the food (without health-claims and colorful boxes) is what matters more to one’s own diet, not the amount eaten. He doesn’t ask you to change your life, just change in little and gradual ways by investing your money in good food products by buying from local farmers instead of supermarkets, eat slower to eat less and feel full faster (don’t eat like a pig!), and encourages readers to start their own garden as a way to appreciate food (65), because food isn’t just nutrients; food is food.
Pollan, Michael. In Defense of Food: an Eater's Manifesto. New York: Penguin, 2008.