Michael Pollan Now!

Michael Pollan is a big deal. He’s one of the best food science journalists walking the earth and here’s a great interview with him from Democracy Now. Check it out:
MICHAEL POLLAN: Nutritionism is the prevailing ideology in the whole world of food. And it’s not a science. It is an ideology. And like most ideologies, it is a set of assumptions about how the world works that we’re totally unaware of. And nutritionism, there’s a few fundamental tenets to it. One is that food is a collection of nutrients, that basically the sum of—you know, food is the sum of the nutrients it contains. The other is that since the nutrient is the key unit and, as ordinary people, we can’t see or taste or feel nutrients, we need experts to help us design our foods and tell us how to eat.

Another assumption of nutritionism is that you can measure these nutrients and you know what they’re doing, that we know what cholesterol is and what it does in our body or what an antioxidant is. And that’s a dubious proposition.

And the last premise of nutritionism is that the whole point of eating is to advance your physical health and that that’s what we go to the store for, that’s what we’re buying. And that’s also a very dubious idea. If you go around the world, people eat for a great many reasons besides, you know, the medicinal reason. I mean, they eat for pleasure, they eat for community and family and identity and all these things. But we’ve put that aside with this obsession with nutrition.

And I basically think it’s a pernicious ideology. I mean, I don’t think it’s really helping us. If there was a trade-off, if looking at food this way made us so much healthier, great. But in fact, since we’ve been looking at food this way, our health has gotten worse and worse.
Nutritionism is a cool concept. Eat for nutrients. Dr. Fuhrman’s nutritarian lifestyle is very similar. Remember the equation? No! Okay, here it is again:
Health = Nutrition / Calories
The longer you eat a nutrient-dense vegetable-based diet, the more this equation becomes basic instinct—you know? Oh! And Dr. Fuhrman had some interesting comments about Michael Pollan and his work. Have a look:
Many of Michael Pollan’s points are interesting and valid, but some discourage people to look to science as motivation to direct healthier eating styles and lifestyles. It almost seems as if his statements support a false view that what you eat does not matter much, when in fact, we have tremendous control our health destiny via nutritional excellence. As I always say, “Nutrition is the prescription.” And Michael Pollen, I think, would support that high nutrient natural foods, not supplements is the key to good health.
Speaking of high nutrient natural foods, I just had a fantastic mango!
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Comments (4) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Jayson - February 15, 2008 8:36 AM

Was a terrific interview with Mr Pollan, Amy Goodmans show is always worth the watch. Glad to see she gave him some time to articulate at length. Thanks for posting Gerry !

don stewart - February 15, 2008 8:43 AM

Michael Pollan makes some good points and some not so good points. One good point is that we need the emotional and skin to skin connection with the people who grow our food. It's nice to get mangoes from the tropics in January, but it's even better to get collards from the farmer down the road. I do not believe that a 'supermarket culture' of food is ever going to be completely successful.

Some not so good points. Pollan thinks that we can simply pick a food culture, almost any culture, and substitute it for the Western diet and do fine. The problem with that is that many traditional cultures valued very highly substances which, in large quantity, are deadly. Look at how cultures all the way back to the stone age worshipped psychoactive drugs. Of course, they surrounded drug use with religious ritual and community rules. If you take that value system and put it in a world where psychoactive drugs can be manufactured very cheaply, the combination of worshipping the drug and the cheapness of the drug can be deadly. Likewise, our stone age ancestor gave thanks when they killed a relatively fat game animal, because it relieved them of the necessity of searching constantly for energy (calories) from less dense sources. But if we carry that same attitude into a world of feed lot cattle and cheap cheese, we get in trouble quickly.

Almost every animal that ever evolved has gone extinct. Humans are still around, in an environment we did not evolve to live in, at least partly because we have intelligence which gives us the capacity to adapt to the changing environment. So far, we aren't adapting very well to the abundance of cheap calories brought by science and technology. So we have little alternative but to try to apply what we do know in order to make intelligent choices. I think that Dr. Fuhrman hits the correct note when he strikes a balance between those who think that nutrition comes from a pink pill and those who think that we can simply eat the way some traditional society ate--not because they wanted to eat that way, but because they didn't have the science and technology to give them more abundance of the feast foods and drugs they valued so highly.

Josh - February 15, 2008 2:40 PM

In his conversation with Amy Goodman, Mr. Pollan repeated a statement from In Defense of Food to the effect that there seems to be no link between intake of dietary cholesterol and blood serum cholesterol. I found that somewhat surprising and would be very interested to know Dr. Fuhrman's perspective on the presence or absence---and if present, the strength---of such a link. I don't have Eat to Live handy, but my recollection from it (and other books by Drs. Esselstyn, Macdougall, etc.) is that such a link has been recognized.

Gerry Pugliese - February 15, 2008 3:12 PM

Hey Josh-

I'm giving you some homework. Sniff around the cholesterol or cardiovascular category, you'll find something. ;)


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