One. Reading Questions:
1. Contrary to the complicated edicts of nutritionism, what simple edict of eating should we follow? 1: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” This has become a famous mantra. The problem is what constitutes “food.” Not so simple in this age of nutritionism. This evil force wants to make food complicated and then "help" us.
2. Why should you avoid products that make health claims? 2. For 3 reasons: The claims are most likely false. The cost of any such food product is inflated. The product is more of a product than it is food.
3. On page 3, Pollan says there was an eating cultural shift that was to our detriment. What was this shift? Two big shifts: Mother was no longer the cook. She lost her authority to the scientists who have intruded upon our eating with nutritionism. The second shift, related to nutritionism, is the Big Lie of nutrition, which is that a low-fat diet is essential to a healthy heart and overall good health. Americans actually gained weight while incorporating this lie because in the absence of fat, they bulked up on sugar, processed starch, and carbohydrates, which convert into fat and triglycerides, which cause obesity and heart disease. Also see page 7. The low-fat trend was unhealthy.
4. What is driving such relentless change in our eating? See page 4. The 32-billion-dollar food marketing business constantly must mix things up, have new things, just like Apple has to launch a new iPhone or iMac every year or so. You must peddle new stuff, make the old stuff seem obsolete, so you create the need for new food science, most of which is bogus. These processed foods based on phony food science have a higher profit margin than real food like a potato or a banana.
5. How flawed has science been in influencing our diet? See pages 4-5. New studies keep coming out that contradict the previous studies. Fiber is better, but then it’s not. Low-fat is better, but then it’s not. All of these contradictions, confusions, and anxieties are linked to Nutritionism.
6. What is the Dark Age of Nutritionism? It’s a sick cocktail of the greedy food industry, fake nutrition science, and lousy, mainstream journalism. Let’s call this cocktail the Conspiracy of Scientific Complexity. Nutrients won out over foods. See page 26.
7. What is Pollan’s central aim? 7 To reclaim our health and happiness as eaters. And to do this we must extirpate ourselves from Nutritionism, which is both unwittingly and deliberately confusing and focus on real food again.
8. Pollan writes that a lot of food we eat is not food at all. Explain. We eat Pringles instead of potatoes. We eat banana chips instead of bananas. We eat processed soybean oil instead of butter.
9. How have we become a culture that “eats” to a culture that “feeds”? 7. We’ve lost the joy of eating real food. In real food’s place, we eat processed food that is measured by some phony barometer of nutritional value, which is soon to be contradicted by the nutritionists. We eat and celebrate real food. We feed on nutritional components. Some people’s diet is a series of nutritional components, but as we shall see these isolated components do not interact with the body for optimum health.
10. How is eating “scientifically” a sham that degrades the human spirit and body? 8 We’ve become a nation of orthorexics, obsessed with the myth of food purity and extra strength nutrition through supplements and processed foods. Such obsessions, always worrying about nutrition, the author speculates (and I agree) retard our happiness and make us slaves to the Industrial Food Complex. One worry we should have is the Western Diet, full of cheap processed carbs and sugars, which kills.
11. Contrast the French paradox with the American paradox. 9. The French enjoy moderate portions of fat-rich food and don’t get fat. They don’t obsess over what they eat. In contrast, Americans obsess over their nutrition and binge and purge and eat in all sorts of extreme ways, including crash diets, and they are fatter and unhappier than the French.
Part Two. The Characteristics of Nutritionism
1. We switch from eating food to eating nutrients. This kills the joy of eating and we become feeders, not eaters.
2. Nutritionism promoted the lipid hypothesis in 1977 and it made us follow the wrong path. The theory is that a diet high in saturated animal fat leads to heart disease. It became the unquestioned dogma (belief system) embraced by the American Heart Association. The theory is only partly right. This high animal-fat diet is dangerous when it’s part of the Western processed diet lacking in vegetables. But as Weston Price discovered, cultures who eat animals are very healthy, but their diet is Paleo or hunter oriented.
3. Nutritionism is not a science. It is an ideology that joylessly places nutrients ahead of food. It is, Pollan argues, a flawed and dangerous ideology.
4. Nutritionism offers a way of life through unexamined assumptions. (Reminds me of Mother Culture in the novel Ishmael). The ideology is to break food down into is parts or nutrients. The “priesthood” who can interpret these nutrients are the scientists and nutritionists. Nutritionism fanatically reduces eating to “promoting health” to the exclusion of pleasure and culture. In the context of the French paradox, nutritionism isn’t even good for you.
5. The Good/Bad Theory of Nutritionism: For every good nutrient is a bad one. As a result macronutrients are always at war. Protein vs. carbs, for example. Or refined carbs vs. fiber. Another huge flaw: Nutritionists focus too much on nutrients while forgetting how to judge the foods themselves. Baby formula and margarine are putrid examples of the failure of nutritionism.
6. Nutritionism is the official ideology of the Food and Drug Administration and the American Heart Association. Pathetic.
7. Nutritionism is beholden to the various food industries. For example, politicians cannot focus on telling people to eat less meat, just less nutrients. Therefore, nutritionism if focused on nutrients, not food. See page 24.
8. Nutritionism embraced chemicals, not food. So the language of Nutritionism is chemical-based: polyunsaturated, beta-carotene, antioxidants, probiotics, etc. This emphasized processed food and food companies could “fortify” these chemicals into the processed food and charge us more money and make higher profits even though these processed foods make us LESS healthy because our bodies don’t interact with fortified processed foods and isolated chemicals. We interact healthily with whole food, real foods.
9. Nutritionists, blinded by their ideology, make the woeful and egregious mistake of reducing food into nutrients rather than looking at foods as a whole entity.
10. The joyless puritanical Nutritionists ignore and disdain the role of pleasure in eating. We digest and assimilate food better when we ENJOY it. Hello.
11. One salient example of the arrogance and failure of Nutritionism: their production of “baby formula,” which is an inferior substitute for breast milk. See page 32.
12. One of the most enduring, inferior products of Nutritionism: Margarine.
13. Why did Americans grow fatter during the Era of Fake Low-Fat or Fake Nonfat Products? We overate our “whole-grain” Cocoa Puffs, Lucky Charms and other crap. 35-40.
14. What was the Coming Out Party for nutritionists? Oat bran, 1988. See 37. Now new studies show that all those oat bran claims were exaggerated and outright false.
15. How were animals affected by nutritionism? See 37: leaner, often unhealthier versions.
16. How did the Atkins diet affect carb foods in terms of processing? 38
17. Why have pomegranates, avocadoes, and bananas, to name a few foods, been spared processing and tinkering by the nutritionists? 38, 39. You can’t stick a health claim on a piece of fruit like you can a tub of margarine or a box of cereal.
Part Three. Some Real Food You Should Include in Your Diet, Sometimes Called “Super Foods” (not a complete list):
9. Oats (steel cut)
12. Dark greens
14. Hot peppers
Essay 1 for 190 points
In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan: Critiquing the Pathologies of Nutritionism
In a 1,000 word essay, develop a thesis that critiques nutritionism, exposing its fallacies and mythologies and revealing the way nutritionism deludes and cripples the average consumer. Use no fewer than 2 sources.
Thesis is analytical or argumentative in emphasis and often has mapping components, the causes, effects, distinguishing characteristics (in analysis) or reasons (in argumentation) that map out your essay's body paragraphs.
Example of argumentative thesis showing reasons: You should not eat fructose or high-fructose corn syrup because it can not be metabolized in the liver, it spikes your insulin, it creates metabolic syndrome, it stimulates obesity, and it causes diabetes.
Example of an analytical thesis showing causes: The dramatic rise in obesity since the 1970s can be attributed to cheap, ubiquitous corn syrup, low-fat diets which encourage high sugar consumption, the replacement of real food with processed food, and sedentary lifestyles.
Example of an analytical thesis showing causes: Americans eat less real food and more processed food because of learned helplessness which makes us get "punk fed" by the convenience food industry, addiction to high content of sugar, fat, and salt, ignorance of the difference between real and processed food, and brainwashing to the tenets of Nutritionism.
Example of analytical thesis showing effects: The typical American high-sugar, high-fructose diet results in metabolic syndrome, diabetes, increased appetite, and erratic energy levels.
Example of analytical thesis showing distinguishing characteristics: The Chronic Fast Food Eater is someone who is addicted to fat, salt, and sugar; someone who is over-reliant on convenience; someone who suffers from learned helplessness and therefore cannot make his own healthy meals; and someone who is egregiously ignorant of the crucial differences between real food and processed food byproducts.
Thesis Structure Examples for Essay 1
Nutritionism is a _________comprised of ___________, _________,____________, and _____________.
Nutritionism is a
an industrial sham
contrived web of lies
insidious marketing invention
dishonest business model
pretentious business fraud
Putting all the parts together into a thesis showing distinguishing characteristics:
Nutritionism is a pretentious business fraud comprised of the promotion of nutrients and chemicals over whole foods; the promotion of the false gospel of the low-fat diet; the promotion itself as a science when in reality it is a pseudo-science and an ideology based on false assumptions; the promotion of elevating itself with specialized, scientific-sounding language that only the Nutritionist Priesthood can understand; and the promotion of itself as a champion of the people when in reality Nutritionists champion the food industry's interests.
Introducing Your Essay: Get Your Reader's Attention
You could profile someone you know (yourself?) who is a slave to Nutritionism or fast food or food byproducts and describe the person's problems that result from their ignorance.
You could show the influence Michael Pollan's idea of Nutritionism has had on our culture.
You could show the origins of the term Nutritionism.
You could begin by showing how Pollan uses examples of Nutritionism during his lectures.
You could begin with a general discussion of learned helplessness and its connection to being unable to change and transition to a specific discussion about how people are helpless to the cruel god of Nutritionism.
You could begin, as this article does, by showing the conflict between Nutritionism and common sense.