How Michael Pollan Gets it Right

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Last year, a guy named Kip Andersen released a documentary on Netflix titled What the Health. As the plight of the creators unfolded on the screen, it was evident that these gentlemen were pushing a decidedly vegan agenda. While many of their points were valid, it was difficult to take the process at face value. The directors used many different tactics to procure the evidence to back up their claims, including, but not limited to, harassing different non-profit organizations about the types of contributions they were accepting from the food industry. It was just so over the top. So when Netflix then suggested that In Defense of Food be the next documentary to watch related to What the Health, it was the perfect reaction to the extreme message of Andersen and Kuhn.

My adventures with the food industry started in 2007 when I had four impacted wisdom teeth removed. I could not eat or talk for about a week, and that was a great time for me to sit down and read the new book that I had bought - The Kind Diet by Alicia Silverstone. In this book, Silverstone discussed (in detail) the horrors of the food industry. It was enough for me to “go vegan” for the next few years, until my hair started falling out in clumps and my doctor insisted that I need some animal protein back in my diet.

When I watched What the Health ten years later, I was concerned that veganism was about to come back in vogue. My friends called me on the phone to ask me what in the world they could feed their children if everything in the food industry was tainted, and how they could ever afford to buy all organic fruits and vegetables. I found myself explaining to them that this film creator clearly had an agenda that he was pushing, and to take what he said with a grain of salt. I urged them to educate themselves before cleaning out their cupboards and declaring themselves (and their children) brand new vegans.

However, when I saw In Defense of Food up next on the queue on Netflix, I was intrigued. I watched Pollan unfold his theory of, “Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants” as I wrapped Christmas presents and it was in that moment that my own eating practice became clear to me. I am an omnivore. What Pollan said about people being hunters and gatherers made sense. The fact that humans used to eat meat in celebratory times because they had hunted that meat and it was hard work made sense. The fact that I could ditch the vegan guilt and just EAT FOOD felt like freedom to me.

When I saw this book on the syllabus for my Graduate Topics in Nutrition class, I was pumped. I had received a copy from my mother from Christmas (purchased off of my wish list) and had already started reading it. I had read Food Rules by Pollan years ago, and so I was already familiar with Pollan’s straight talking when it came to food. I also really appreciated how well-researched he was when it came to the Western diet. Besides Pollan, researchers have found that “Inflammation is a major contributor to the development and progression of the most prevalent chronic, degenerative diseases in the United States, and diet is the major contributor to inflammation” (Neustadt, 2011). Pollan states in the book version of In Defense of Food that “our high-calorie, low-nutrient diet is responsible for many chronic diseases, including cancer” (Pollan, 2009). This in and of itself was enough to make me start changing my eating habits.

Today, we shop at farms and farmers’ markets as often as possible. Eating locally grown produce is important because we can talk to the farmers and hear about every single plant that was grown on their farms and how. Pollan says that “Plants can live on this fast-food diet of chemicals, but it leaves them more vulnerable to pests and diseases and appears to diminish their nutritional quality” (Pollan, 2009). Understanding this about American agriculture drives me even deeper into the local farms. At least there I know that the farmers are not feeding the plants that we are eating fast foods. Because of Pollan’s influence, we stay away from fast food joints now. I try to find ways to introduce more meatless dinners into the cooking repertoire of our household. My children will eat their vegetables before they eat anything else on their plates. We talk freely and openly about what different foods can do for our bodies: protein gives us energy, carbohydrates help our bodies do all of the different things that it has to do, fruits and vegetables help our bones, teeth, hair, and organs get and stay strong.

I often find myself chanting Pollan’s mantra to myself as I’m planning our family’s meals for the week: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” It reminds me what is important as I am shopping. It reminds me not to overthink it. It reminds me that eating can really be as simple as just EATING. Pollan has been pivotal in my breaking up with my food expectations, and going back to my roots. To OUR roots.

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