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Snowzilla 2016 Musings: Is Michael Pollan’s Advice That Useful?

In the words of my spouse who once said, “You have to eat EVERY day!” I thought this recent post from Moderately Charmed Beginnings was spot-on and raises a number of questions about access to food and the amount of energy it takes to plan and cook your meals.

Moderately Charmed Beginnings

IMG_0720.JPG The view of our street after the storm ended.

A few weeks ago, the Obama administration released its updated dietary guidelines. The guidelines directed Americans to consume more fiber and vegetables and reduce added sugar. I read many articles on the guidelines, and most of the articles concluded that the guidelines were somewhat vague and abstract, and therefore unhelpful and confusing. As usual, it seems most Americans would be better off if they followed Michael Pollan’s dietary maxim: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”

Food, as Mr. Pollan defines it, is the fresh food you find in the perimeter of the grocery store–vegetables, whole grains, beans, fruits, fish–the kind of food that eventually rots. Generally speaking, it’s not the food you find in boxes and bags. Eating “mostly plants” means that the majority of your daily food consumption comes from vegetables, pulses, fruits, and whole grains. His advice is more nuanced than that, but…

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Food Control

Food addiction seems like a weird concept, doesn’t it?  Humans have to eat to put energy into our body machines, and no amount of evolution has changed this simple fact. Now we conspiracy theorists can put this into our Cuisinarts and press pulse…

The agro-industrial complex has been working us over for the last 40 years to addict us to salt, sugar and fat.  Turns out this isn’t as difficult as it might appear because humans like the taste of those three components very much.  We are hard-wired to eat as much sweet and salty stuff as we can since back in old-timey dinosaur days we didn’t have that trinity of sin foods in great supply.   All that hunting, gathering and slaying the occasional wild boar were our version of standing in front of the open refrigerator and whining that “there’s nothing good to eat in this house.”  So nobody could get too fat on the  prehistoric incarnation of a Cinnabon.

There’s a new book out by journalist Michael Moss titled Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us.  I don’t think there’s anything in these pages that thinking consumers haven’t already considered, but it is chilling to think the profits of these giant companies were made at the expense of the health of our youth.  If you grew up on the 60’s and 70’s your eyeballs were fair game every Saturday morning to the marketing of sugary cereal and eventually products like “Lunchables.”   For anybody who doesn’t come into contact with kids or doesn’t spend too much time in the packaged good section of the dairy case, these are “lunches” made mostly of sugar/salt/fat and chemical preservatives packed cleverly into a box Mom can quickly stow in your backpack so you can be the coolest kid in the cafeteria.  I know we’re time-starved multi-taskers, but does slapping together a PB&J and tossing an apple into a bag really take all that long?  At the opposite extreme we have Japanese moms creating elaborate bento box lunches for their kids.  Certainly there is a happy medium ~ including the option of the child making his/her own lunch.

Back in the 70’s my parents, known in these pages as Boris and Natasha, realized the direction the food industry was turning and went outside the mainstream themselves to can their own peaches, tomatoes, pickles.  Natasha started to bake her own bread.  In suburban NJ this was quite a hipster thing to do.  It wasn’t hard but it was a lot of work.  (plus I had an irrational fear of botulism that kept me from truly enjoying their bounty)  I can’t recall anybody teasing me about my lunch.  I guess the whole point of their exercise was that THEY decided what they wanted to eat and to feed their kids.  Yes, we still ate our share of junk food, but it wasn’t the norm. And there weren’t that many dizzying options of chips, Fritos, Doritos, pretzels, Bugles, Fun-Yuns, and Tostitos.

Take a look at your local grocery store in 2013.  What isn’t processed?  The perimeter of the store is usually produce, meat, dairy but check out the most valuable real-estate.  How much of the store is devoted to soda, snacks, prepared foods?  Even within the freezer the “plain” fruits/veggies are outgunned by the fries, SmartOnes, TV Dinners, Eggos, cakes, pies, ice cream treats and  Cool Whip.  Now don’t even get me started on the “food deserts,”  neighborhoods where there are few choices except fast food or over-priced bodegas.  In some under-served neighborhoods you’ll discover both outdated products on the shelves and higher prices because there is little or no competition and their patrons can’t travel far from home because they rely on mass-transit.  Try lugging home 3 bags of groceries on a bus ~ that takes some real energy.

Now I’d like to compare this to the outcry over NYC mayor Bloomberg and his failed ban on “Big Gulps,” or sodas larger than 16 oz.  Folks were all up in arms over the “nanny state” and how adults should be able to decide how much soda they want to drink.  Well, all I say to that is we are way outgunned by the food industry who controls far more of what we put into our mouths than “nanny” (and billionaire)  Mike Bloomberg.   It comes back to the power of the consumer: choose to buy food your grandmother would recognize, eat foods made out of food (as my pal Bunny always says), enjoy eating with intent, support local food producers, and advocate for all communities to have access to the same.    I’m no student of organic chemistry but last I checked we humans aren’t evolving any faster to use alternate chemical food sources yet.