Part One. Reviewing the 4 Major Fallacies of Nutritionism:
1. Food is a delivery system for nutrients. Eating vegetables makes us healthier, but isolating their nutrients does not because we don’t absorb the isolated nutrients, such as beta-carotene. A lot of anti-oxidants, taken in supplement form, cause MORE cancer. We still don’t understand human digestion: How it breaks down complex chemicals into simpler nutrients. There’s a fundamental mystery and nutritionists who claim to understand it are deluded or lying or both. Pollan wants to continue science, but the reductive science thus far is young and unreliable and we cannot rest any dogmas or “certainties” on it.
2. If you can’t see or taste or smell a nutrient, then you need experts to tell you what to eat. We need scientists to tell us how to eat. Nutrition is an invisible deity so the “priesthood,” the scientists tell us how to eat. These “priests” were wrong about the low-fat diet. This has been the prevailing ideology since World War II. Since then, we’ve become fatter. Fat can’t be demonized. Seventy percent of our brain cells are fat. There are different kinds of fat. But in our low-fat craze, we gorged on low-fat, high-sugar, high-carbohydrates foods and got fat. The average American is 12 pounds heavier than the average American from 1980. Pollan blames the low-fat campaign. Pollan wants an apology from the health community. Another bad fat: The way we make vegetable oil for margarine creates trans fats, which are lethal. Pollan says over 100,000 heart-disease-related deaths are related to trans fat. Butter is healthier for you than margarine. Nutritionism undermines our instincts. Pollan’s mother instinctively knew this margarine stick was unhealthy long before the data came out to show this to be the case.
3. Nutrition divides the world into good and evil. There is a satanic nutrient we’re trying to drive away from the food supply. Today it’s the trans fat. Ten years ago it was the saturated fat. One hundred years ago, the evil nutrient was protein. Kellogg created breakfast cereal in place of protein. So there was a marketing angle. The good nutrient today is the Omega 3 fatty acid. Protein is coming back. Carbohydrates are coming out. Fiber has been “blessed” for the last 30 years.
4. The weirdest is that the whole point of eating is health, not pleasure or community or culture. This is a uniquely American idea. Other cultures eat for family, pleasure, community, socializing, ritual. Every food culture eats to express identity. But America reduces eating to “health” and “nutrition.” We have a single-minded obsession with health. We reduce the rich experience of eating to something so obsessive makes us UNHEALTHIER. This, according to Pollan, is the “American Paradox.” We are Orthorexics. We have an unhealthy obsession with eating. Pollan says he’d accept this nutritionism if it worked, but all the evidence shows that it does not. Nutritionism has had power over us since the 1970s. But the “science” is bad. It doesn’t work.
Part Two. Culture Teaches How to Eat, Not Nutritionism
1. If we look at hunter-gatherer cultures, they give us food wisdom. We stay away from the “death cap,” toadstools, which are different from mushrooms. This is culture giving foods a name. Language teaches us.
2. Cultures instinctively knew to combine rice and beans or corn and beans to make protein complete for proper assimilation.
3. Tradition in food is the wisdom of the tribe.
4. Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.
5. Don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food. Pringles. Gogurt portable yogurt tubes. It has 20 chemicals listed as ingredients on the tube. Honey Nut cereal bar glazed over with synthetic milk so you don’t have to pour milk over it.
6. Shop the parameter of the grocery store where the food has been least tampered with. Fresh produce, meat and dairy products. All the processed stuff is in the middle. Real food rots eventually so it’s near the walls and the loading docks and the cold boxes. But the processed stuff in the middle lasts forever. A Twinkie stays cuddly soft for 500 years. Mold won’t even attack a Twinkie. Mold knows what’s good for it.
7. Don’t eat foods with more than 5 ingredients.
8. High-fructose corn syrup is a marker of a highly processed food.
9. Shop at the farmer’s market and get real food.
10. It’s just not the content of our diet, but the manner or form of our eating. You eat less by eating, not feeding. You eat less when you have a life. Many cultures, like the French, encourage small portions. There’s a French taboo on snacking and eating in the car. In Okinawa they say hara hachi bu: eat until you’re 80% full.
11. Americans are the fastest eaters on the planet and it takes 20 minutes for the brain cells in the gut to tell the brain you’re full.
12. Eating socially slows us down but if we’re lonely solitary Americans we “feed” like animals.
13. Don’t buy food at the gas station. Gas stations are processed corn stations, ethanol for your car and corn products inside the store.
14. Take control from the corporations. Don’t let The Man prepare your food. He does a lousy job.
15. We need to rediscover cooking. You can’t microwave farmer’s market food. Pollan says you don’t have to cook like a TV chef. It pays to learn how to cook dishes that you really like. Most Americans spend at least 2 hours a day on the Internet but we should “give back” some of this time to cooking. Meals are too important for “outsourcing.”
Part Three. The Top Ten Things I Learned from Studying the Vegetarian Debate and the Western Diet
I’ve read a lot of books about the food industry and nutrition, partly for personal reasons and partly for teaching about the subject in my critical thinking class. I’ve read Michael Pollan, Nina Planck, Gary Taubes, Lierre Keith, Matthew Scully, and Jonathan Safran Foer, Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, Peter Singer, and others. Here are the top ten things I learned:
1. Tribal societies that could be described as hunter-gatherer and ate meat were healthier and had more lean muscle mass that herbivorous tribal societies who ate a largely vegetarian diet. They were fatter and more disease-prone.
2. While there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all diet, most people don’t respond well to a diet that consists largely of refined carbs.
3. While many vegetarians and vegans promote their diet as optimum health, for some their diet is a disaster, resulting in overeating, depression, and malnutrition.
4. The practices of factory farming, treating livestock like commodities, is a moral abomination that results in unspeakable cruelty.
5. The moral abomination of factory farming is in conflict human nutritional needs: The research from Weston A. Price, Gary Taubes, Michael Pollan, Nina Planck, Lierre Keith, and others shows a “Caveman Diet,” based on meats, vegetables, and occasional fruits and starches, promotes optimum health. Again, some people can thrive on vegan diets, but they seem to be the exception, not the rule.
6. Most of us cannot metabolize refined carbs in a healthy way. These carbs spike our insulin and act like a drug, making us more and more hungry, resulting in obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. As I said to my brother-in-law last night as the Christmas dinner as he scooped his mound of scalloped potatoes with an oversized honey roll: “Right now, your brain is marinating in insulin and insulin is a drug.” He looked at me with a crazed smile, laughed in agreement, and continued to shovel his honey roll into his mound of starch.
7. A vegetarian diet can make me fat. I found myself loading up on peanut butter and bagel sandwiches, rice and beans, hummus and pita bread, pasta, cheese pizza and other fattening foods.
8. A modified vegetarian diet, absent the foods mentioned above, could result in weight loss if I eliminated refined carbs and added sardines, tuna, eggs, and yogurt to my vegetarian meals. But vegetarian or not, I cannot eat pie, bagels, pasta, bread, and pizza and expect to get my weight down. This is rather obvious and should have not required some dramatic 2009 pronouncement to face this fact. But in 2009 I learned the ninth important thing about me and food:
9. I’m a slow learner and often times don’t want to face the obvious as I prefer to be conveniently ignorant.
10. Unlatching your greedy mouth Mamma Carb, brought to you by the Food Industry, is going to be difficult for social reasons (you’re ostracized when you don’t eat what your tribe eats), economic reasons (it’s expensive to eat local, sustainable, organic, healthy foods), and emotional reasons (you feel helpless and crippled in your dependence on Mamma Carb).
Part Four. Journal Entry:
Write down the Top 5 Things you want to change in your eating habits since studying food for this class.
Part Five. Your Essay Assignment
your first 1.5 pages, define “Nutritionism” and evaluate its dangers and
fallacies. Then in another 1.5 pages, define and evaluate the dangers and
fallacies of the Western Diet. In
another page, define the idea of “food literacy.” Then in two pages, critique
your eating habits in the context of Michael Pollan’s “manifesto” and what it
means to be “food literate.” In your final page, describe a meal you make for
yourself that you can defend based on the criteria prescribed in Pollan’s
“Eater’s Manifesto.” You
will need a Works Cited page that cites Pollan, my blog, any recipes you may
have to consult for your “defended meal,” and any other source material.
Remember: Give your essay a catchy, salient, memorable title.
In your first 1.5 pages, define “Nutritionism” and evaluate its dangers and fallacies. Then in another 1.5 pages, define and evaluate the dangers and fallacies of the Western Diet. In another page, define the idea of “food literacy.” Then in two pages, critique your eating habits in the context of Michael Pollan’s “manifesto” and what it means to be “food literate.” In your final page, describe a meal you make for yourself that you can defend based on the criteria prescribed in Pollan’s “Eater’s Manifesto.”
You will need a Works Cited page that cites Pollan, my blog, any recipes you may have to consult for your “defended meal,” and any other source material. Remember: Give your essay a catchy, salient, memorable title.