Michael Pollan writes deceptively simple yet terrific opening sentences.
“The Omnivore’s Dilemma” started off with “What should we have for dinner?” — a question that he revealed to be a minefield for most Americans, and one that he didn’t ever answer, exactly, in the rest of the book. In tomorrow’s New York Times Magazine, he does. Sort of.
“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
Of course, following these instructions is more complicated than it sounds, which is why tomorrow’s essay is 10,000 words long. His subject is the rise of “nutritionism,” or the science behind the health claims made for food products — which are not the same as food, he argues. Nutritionism goes a long way to explaining why Americans have whiplash about what’s “good for you” (low fat? no carbs?) and what’s “bad.” Somehow we’ve been tricked into looking at food as nutrient-delivery systems, when science still doesn’t grasp how those nutrients work together, or even which are most important.
Much of this essay will be familiar to readers of “Omnivore’s Dilemma,” but it never hurts to have a refresher course, especially as Pollan’s prose is as always such a delight to read. For example:
Of course it’s also a lot easier to slap a health claim on a box of sugary cereal than on a potato or carrot, with the perverse result that the most healthful foods in the supermarket sit there quietly in the produce section, silent as stroke victims, while a few aisles over, the Cocoa Puffs and Lucky Charms are screaming about their newfound whole-grain goodness.
What Pollan really excels at is cutting through all the noise — all the suspect industry-funded or just sloppy research studies, the advertising bombardment, and the merciless march of capitalism — and tuning into the real distress signal: Americans don’t know what to eat anymore. Worst of all, we’re infecting other cultures with our messed-up relationship to food.
He offers a list of suggestions that would go a long way to putting this country back on the path to gustatory enjoyment, health, and clarity. They will not make any corporations any money, so you’re unlikely to hear about them elsewhere — except here and on like-minded blogs.
They’re pretty simple. Cook. Grow. Avoid packaged food. Get to know your farmers. Be willing to pay more for SOLE food.
Amen to that.