In Defense of Food | Michael Pollan

Published in: 2009

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Eat real food. Not too much. Mainly vegetables. It is Michael Pollan’s simple answer to the question that has eluded humanity for a long time. That is how Michael Pollan begins – and summarizes – the book. Pollan is an American writer, journalist and activist. He is perhaps best known for his book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” which is also about man’s relationship to food – today as well as historically.

AVOID ”HEALTHY FOODS”. If you care about your health, you should avoid foods that pretend to be healthy. A “health stamp” on a product is almost never real food – what we need to be healthy.

THE 1960S – WHEN FAT BECAME DANGEROUS. In the United States in the 1960s, academics and scientists published several studies on the dangers of fat. This led to the “low fat” wave which had the consequent effect that people instead began to consume more carbohydrates. This was also a good time for producers of manufactured food products, as they could change the recipes and sell new fat-free products with effective health advertising. Although the “low fat” hysteria has since been more or less declared incorrect, no health institutes or academics have issued any correction.

CARBOHYDRATES LEADS TO OBESITY. To avoid fat, Americans instead turned to carbohydrates. Many point out that the current obesity in the and diabetes epidemic (in the United States) gained momentum in the early 1970s when the “low fat” trend took hold in society.

STAKEHOLDERS HAVE NO INTEREST IN SOLVING “THE FOOD MYSTERY”. The food industry does not want society to agree on what is the “right way” to eat. Especially not if the healthiest food is the natural food. Food fads creates different segments and niche products with better margins than the natural foods. Nor is the journalists’ interested in seeing any comprehensive solution to the food issue – that means the end of the diet and health articles that they, given status quo, can spin into infinity. In addition, the diet industry for books and articles from scientists and academia is enormous, and every change of trend offers new business opportunities.

THE CHOICE OF DIET AFFECTS MORTALITY. Four of the ten most common causes of death are directly linked to our diet; coronary heart disease, diabetes, stroke and cancer. The increase in these diseases is partly due to the fact that we live longer, but not only – adjusted for age, they have increased sharply in the parts of the world where the Western diet has been adopted, and on the contrary are relatively unusual where the people do not eat a Western diet.

WHEAT, CORN AND SOY. Historically our food has greatly varied in terms of types of proteins, carbohydrates and fats. The foods has also varied based on the seasons. The western world has removed any seasonality and boiled down our diet into three ingredients; wheat, corn and soy. With these cheap ingredients an almost endless palette of food products can be manufactured at competitive prices – as another selling point, we humans are also biologically programmed to be attracted to its flavors.

THE HUMAN CAN LIVE ON MANY DIETS. Historically, it is possible to find human societies that have had diets based on high fat, low fat, high carbohydrates, only meat or just vegetables. Almost all combinations have been found in traditional diets. What they all have in common though, is that they are based on “real food” from the nature. Western diet, however, is not one that humans have historically been able to live on without severe side effects.

THE MANY SHAPES OF MANUFACTURED FOODS. For the food industry, manufactured products are the most profitable products. Depending on trends, producers of these products can choose a suitable content. If fat is seen as dangerous, margarine, cornflakes and cakes quickly become “fat free”. If a particular vitamin is particularly popular, it is quickly added to the label “now with extra vitamin D.” This means that as long as the manufactured products do not completely go out of flavor, they can just follow the trends and always be relevant.

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