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"Don’t eat anything your great-great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food."
January 28, 2007 7:27 AM   Subscribe

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.
posted by jaronson (184 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite

 
A bunch of people are going to refute this because it's inconvenient to them. Also, some will say that it's good to be overweight. And a schizo-affective will really lose their shit over this somewhere around comment 35. I've seen how threads about food/eating work.
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:31 AM on January 28, 2007 [3 favorites]


And the NYTimes obsession with Pollan continues.
posted by rxrfrx at 7:32 AM on January 28, 2007


I thought this was kind of hilarious. Pollan's message: Those nutritionists have taken all the joy out of eating. Just eat food, real, glorious food!

Oh, but a lot less of it, fatty. And a lot less meat and dairy. And don't eat anything your great-great-grandmother wouldn't have recognized. And really, you'd be better off following the traditional diet of a culture that isn't yours.

So in other words, he's telling people to go on a strictly calorie-reduced, mostly vegan diet consisting only of foods that were available four generations ago, and promoting this as the solution that will finally make people able to relax about eating and enjoy food again.
posted by transona5 at 7:32 AM on January 28, 2007 [6 favorites]


I think it's good to be fat.
posted by The Deej at 7:34 AM on January 28, 2007


This is too incovenient.
posted by jimmythefish at 7:44 AM on January 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


I'M TOTALLY LOSING MY SHIT RIGHT NOW!
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:48 AM on January 28, 2007 [4 favorites]


Heh. I scrolled to the last section, with the numbered list, and I do exactly zero of the things he recommends. RUH ROH
posted by danb at 7:49 AM on January 28, 2007


I started following most of his recommendations about four months ago (I eat a rather large amount of lean meat however) It does require much more time and effort, and a little more money. But, speaking for myself only, it has been more than worth the effort. I found myself having more energy and just feeling powerfully more well. I found myself easily shrugging off colds in a day rather than four or five. Pretty quickly I found myself liking eating more. I think that there are few pleasures in the world greater than eating well, and eating well does not need to be guilty and decadent or spartan and unsatisfying. Fruit and vegetables taste very good, I don't feel like I'm denying myself by choosing something that I ultimately like as much but will leave me feeling better, and healthier.
posted by I Foody at 8:10 AM on January 28, 2007


This tired, familiar message is best-of-the-web how, exactly?
posted by not that girl at 8:12 AM on January 28, 2007


I like Michael Pollan in some ways and agree with most of what he says. But I'm also jealous. Because I want to make a living writing the same article/book over and over again!
posted by veggieboy at 8:12 AM on January 28, 2007


veggieboy, just be John Grisham, Stephen King, or David Eddings.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 8:16 AM on January 28, 2007


veggieboy, Metafilter's a pretty good testbed for any tired old argument you want to repeat over and over again.
posted by slimepuppy at 8:18 AM on January 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


I DON'T HAVE THE RUNS SO I CAN'T SAY I'M LOSING MY SHIT.
I HAVE BEEN EATING A LOT OF ROUGHAGE WITH MY MEALS, SO I CAN SAY I'M LOSING MY LUNCH. WAIT, THAT DIDN'T COME OUT RIGHT...
posted by Smart Dalek at 8:22 AM on January 28, 2007


A lot of things probably aren't coming out right for you, Smart Dalek, if you're eating too much processed food.
posted by veggieboy at 8:24 AM on January 28, 2007


Don’t eat anything your great-great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.

So its potatos and whole grain bread, then?
posted by b1tr0t at 8:32 AM on January 28, 2007


Don’t eat anything your great-great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.

I don't know whether I'll be able to handle that much offal.

Oh well. At least there'll be beef and potatoes on Sundays.
posted by dansdata at 8:32 AM on January 28, 2007


So stir-frying is bad, then? Uh-huh, got it. ;)
posted by Smart Dalek at 8:33 AM on January 28, 2007


Pollan is correct you know, as is the Mayor.
posted by caddis at 8:34 AM on January 28, 2007


From now on, I'm staying away from fatty foods
And eating healthy foods

posted by bink at 8:40 AM on January 28, 2007


Deming was on to something. US business took notice after they realized that Japan was killing them in manufacturing. Then, six sigma came along and ruined everything. It's basically Deming's methods, stripped of all the things which are difficult for managers.
posted by caddis at 8:41 AM on January 28, 2007


ditto caddis. Who cares how tired you are of Michael Pollan? The man's right, or he isn't. He's right.
posted by argybarg at 8:43 AM on January 28, 2007


The odd thing is that probably just about all of you know what is good and not good for you if you really wanted to think about it or act on it!
posted by Postroad at 8:47 AM on January 28, 2007


Seems to be a mixture of common sense and complete bollocks.

Common sense: don't eat too much meat, fat, calories.

Bollocks: Whole foods have a mysterious health-power that processed foods do not; which exists because of unspecified and scientifically-unprovable "interactions", not because of what's in them.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 8:53 AM on January 28, 2007 [2 favorites]


He's been a contributing writer to the NYT Mag for a long time now, hasn't he? Kinda explains the love affair. He's also one of the best science writers we have, and while he's definitely hammering away at the agribusiness model, he's also not shrill and bases his points on fairly clear and well-established (if not outright obvious) ecological concepts and what goes wrong when you try to isolate elements from a holistic network of connections.

If you missed it, Pollan's take last October on how the centralization in the food processing industry leads to more contamination problems like the spinach E.coli thing (and, given federal regulators' closeness to those big processors, will probably lead to new rules that will hurt local growers even more) was pretty compelling.
posted by mediareport at 8:53 AM on January 28, 2007


Note that people are made of meat and are therefore definitely food--though not a main dish. Just have a dash of people as a savoury with your roots, bark, and sprouts.

Now then, soylent green: food or not-food?
posted by jfuller at 8:53 AM on January 28, 2007


Whole foods have a mysterious health-power that processed foods do not

There's nothing mysterious about the difference between whole-grain bread and the white bread that developed in the 20th century, with the grain milled out and sold to livestock (no farmer would touch the white flour processors were selling to humans as soft, "squeezable" bread). How much do you know about nutrition science? Processing often (though not always) removes nutrients.
posted by mediareport at 8:57 AM on January 28, 2007


Just don't eat soylent green every day. Treat it more as a flavoring.
posted by A dead Quaker at 8:58 AM on January 28, 2007


ditto caddis. Who cares how tired you are of Michael Pollan? The man's right, or he isn't. He's right.

You can say the same about Tom Friedman, though, and he's written the exact same book and article over and over for what, seven years straight?
posted by dw at 9:00 AM on January 28, 2007


Tom Friedman's not been right about much at all, dw.
posted by mediareport at 9:01 AM on January 28, 2007


That's not the point I'm making. It's that Pollan and Friedman are very one-note, though they tend to emphasize that one note differently on occasion.
posted by dw at 9:06 AM on January 28, 2007


Yeah, he probably should have written "only eat stuff that somebody's grandmother would recognize". Otherwise us folks with Irish great-grandmothers get the shaft.
posted by Bugbread at 9:11 AM on January 28, 2007


Yes, somehow I doubt my great-great-grandmothers would know what a banana is or how to eat it.
posted by gubo at 9:19 AM on January 28, 2007


The man's right, or he isn't. He's right.

Pollan may or may not be right that his restricted-calorie, mostly vegan diet is healthy; there's certainly a good case to be made that he is. I have yet to see someone make a case that he's right in characterizing it as a less regimented, more intuitive alternative to the tyranny of what he calls "nutritionism." I see no evidence that it would allow people to become less neurotic about food and enjoy eating; that in fact, for most people, it would not be extremely stressful, time-consuming and unpleasant.
posted by transona5 at 9:21 AM on January 28, 2007


not that girl, I've only heard some vague whole-food rants from random hippies, and never anything nearly as detailed as this article. Maybe this subject is more common in the US than in Finland. In any case, I'd rather learn about the subject now, and not only after all farmers' markets have disappeared from OUR neighborhoods too.
posted by Anything at 9:23 AM on January 28, 2007


mediareport: Sorry, I might have been unclear there.

I fully agree that there are differences between processed and unprocessed foods, and the processed foods are generally unhealthier: with more salt, more calories, fewer vitamins and less fibre.

But those differences are because of what is in or what is missing from each.

What Pollan is saying is that looking at what's in each food is "nutritionism", which is bad. Instead we need to just eat whole foods instead, which he believes to have other benefits to those which are scientifically proven.

I think if you get the right amounts of protein, carbs, fibre, vitamins, minerals, salt etc it doesn't make a difference whether you get them from whole foods or processed foods.

I don't buy any of this stuff about older diets being intrinsically better. I never met my maternal great-grandparents, but I'm pretty sure that like almost everyone else in rural India they ate dal and rice every day and almost nothing else: very little diversity there. My paternal great-grandparents would have eaten a traditional Victorian London diet: lots of mutton pies, almost no fruit and veg. I'm pretty sure I eat healthier than any of them, microwaved baked beans and all.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 9:25 AM on January 28, 2007


Well, of course he's right in the basic sense that everybody knows exactly how to eat to be healthy. And while some people take the "no processed food" rule to extremes, it's a pretty easy shorthand to cut a huge number of bad foods out of your diet. Theophile is correct, technically, but Pollan is still right from a going to the grocery store perspective.

transon is right in that many people allow healthy eating to become a neurotic obsession. But that doesn't change the fact that almost anyone can intuitively pick the healthiest thing to eat out of a given pile of food (like a menu), especially if highly processed foods are taken out of the equation.

I can think of no better place to use the phrase "inner child" than when it comes to eating. Otherwise normal healthy people simply cannot conquer their inner six-year-old when it comes to diet.
posted by Bookhouse at 9:29 AM on January 28, 2007 [2 favorites]


And the Pollan model of things is too simplified.

Eat what your great-grandmother would recognize? Well, lots of cabbage and foraged greens and pemmican and boiled beed for me. And then later it's "eat like an omnivore" -- well, doesn't that contradict the great-grandmother part?

Eat mostly vegetables? Duh. Outside of Fatkins, there's no nutritionist on this planet who would say Americans should eat more meat.

Less HFCS? I agree totally, but look in your pantry sometime -- everything, including wheat bread, has it now. Until Americans wake up to what HFCS is doing to our pancreases, it will be ubiquitious.

But what about exercise? That's not mentioned at all in here. Humans store carbs and fat so they can burn them in lean times, but Americans (and increasingly Europeans) are sedentary. More exercise would mean more calories burned.

And he fails to explain the concept of "genetics loads the gun, environment pulls the trigger." If you're genetically pre-disposed to a certain ailment (e.g. heart disease), then you should do the things that keep you from having that ailment develop (e.g. eat less, exercise more, watch fat intake, control cholesterol and raise HDLs). The problem is that there are contradictions in every food. Broccoli, for all its anti-oxidant worship, contains a small amount of a carcinogen.

And oh, didn't he write a book last year where one of the central premises was that we spend a lot of diesel shipping foods from these factory farms -- even organic ones -- and that it probably wasn't a good idea?

So, in the end, he's being too complex and too simple. He could have just said what any doctor would tell you -- eat more fresh vegetables, eat less meat, avoid processed foods, cook for yourself, exercise more. Instead, he just pads it with his one note so he can get paid, just like any other journalist.

And still they complain why Americans are confused about food.
posted by dw at 9:30 AM on January 28, 2007


There is something of the Chewbacca defense about this article, though, isn't there?
posted by dhartung at 9:39 AM on January 28, 2007


What is the opinion of people like Pollan on milk?

My great-great-grandmother would recognize whole fat milk as, simply, "milk", and would recognize lowfat or skim milk as "errrrr... milk?".
posted by Flunkie at 9:42 AM on January 28, 2007


I don't think so, Flunkie. Pre-homogenization, you'd get a bucket or a bottle of milk with most of the cream floating on the top. I think what was left under the cream was pretty close to 1% or even skim. So lowfat milk would be recognized as milk while whole, homogenized milk would just confuse her.
posted by maudlin at 9:47 AM on January 28, 2007


(Well, unless she never skimmed the cream and shook the bottle to distribute the fat. But "skimmed" milk was not a puzzle to our ancestors.)
posted by maudlin at 9:50 AM on January 28, 2007


I think if you get the right amounts of protein, carbs, fibre, vitamins, minerals, salt etc it doesn't make a difference whether you get them from whole foods or processed foods.

Well, there's the idea that whole foods may have properties we have yet to identify. You can process grains, strip out the germ containing Vitamin B, make white bread, and add to a synthetic Vitamin B. Sure. But we may be missing other elements in the germ that are bioactive, that we have not identified, and not replaced.

I don't know. I've been eating whole, unprocessed foods for years. When I started, I began with the idea that I was going to throw out every diet plan I'd every heard of, not count points, not eat "Healthy Choice" entrees and Power Bars, and just eat normal food that I cooked from basic whole ingredients. I lost 50 pounds and I was always satisfied.

Part of the 'whole foods' magic is about macronutrients, not micronutrients. Fats, proteins, fibers, sugars -- not mysterious trace elements. Processed foods are so often missing the same amounts of water and fiber that whole, less-processed foods offer - and water and fiber provide us the wonderful satisfying filling bulk that people are seeking when they plow through an entire pound bag of Cheetos. Comparison - Slice a potato thin, toss it with olive oil and kosher salt, and bake it until crisp. 120 calories. Oh my lord, delicious. Now take the caloric equivalent in deep-fried potato chips (maybe an ounce?). Delicious in an oily way, but dehydrated and thus not filling, making the small handful you can have feel like not enough. Similarly, I can have a really indulgent salad of mixed greens and chicken grapes and pears and veggies with a sprinkle of bleu cheese and an olive-oil/apple-cider vinegar dressing that I make in 10 seconds, and feel really filled up, for 600 calories. The meagre sad Lean Cuisine pathetic imitation of fettucine I can have for 600 calories is far less flavorful and lacks that satisfying bulk.

Less HFCS? I agree totally, but look in your pantry sometime -- everything, including wheat bread, has it now.

Absolutely true; that proliferation of HFCS is one of the greatest sins the American agricultural-industrial complex has foisted on us in the last 20 years. I remember when Chex had no sugar in them; it's now a highly HFCS sweetened cereal.

But you do not have to eat things with HFCS. I haven't bought any staple foods containing that stuff in years (trans fats either). It just means you get choosier about what you buy. I buy bread from a regional bakery that just has normal ingredients like wheat or rye or corn flour, salt, yeast, and oil. I buy TLC crackers or rice or sesame crackers. I make cookies at home from scratch.

There's a lot of truth in what Pollan says. If you don't enjoy cooking, that truth is going to be kind of painful and you're going to resist it, because convenience foods are just bad. They rely for flavor on tremendous doses of sugars, sodium, and/or fat. But I grew up cooking and eating whole food, and it's a breeze once you've got a repertoire. I swear it takes me no longer to cook a good meal than it takes someone to make box mac and cheese, or heat a frozen pizza. It does require attention and some knowledge and skill, which I suspect is the real problem. The industrial-food system started 50 years ago telling us to stop learning to cook, that in the World of Tomorrow we wouldn't have to, thus creating a dependence on convenience foods and an ensured income for food corporations. It worked so well that it's now slowly killing us.
posted by Miko at 9:51 AM on January 28, 2007 [16 favorites]


Well, that's true, but unless she simply threw away the cream, the result of what she ingested was whole milk.

And I kind of doubt that the typical person from a century or two ago just threw away the cream.
posted by Flunkie at 9:54 AM on January 28, 2007


Getting picky here: yes, your grandma drank everything. She may have shaken up the bottle, or she may have had the cream and milk separately. I'm just saying that she wouldn't have the screaming fantods over skimmed milk.
posted by maudlin at 9:57 AM on January 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


Anyway, Pollan isn't saying "eat everything your great-grandma ate", he's saying "the things you're going to eat -- and hey, go easy on the meat and dairy -- should be selected from the types of foods your grandmother would recognize."

Thus: zero fat pasteurized cheese food: out. Low-fat milk: in.
posted by maudlin at 10:00 AM on January 28, 2007


Right, sure, and thanks. But I'm asking whether people like Pollan suggest drinking whole milk.
posted by Flunkie at 10:00 AM on January 28, 2007


OK, thanks.
posted by Flunkie at 10:01 AM on January 28, 2007


If you don't enjoy cooking, that truth is going to be kind of painful and you're going to resist it, because convenience foods are just bad.

I love to cook, eat a lot of vegetarian meals and avoid anything with HFCS. Pollan has still managed to alienate me with an approach to food that strikes me as both mystical (attempts to isolate nutrients haven't just been incomplete, they are destined to fail because they go against the Essential Holistic Nature of Things) and moralistic (shortcuts to nutrition are inherently bad.)
posted by transona5 at 10:03 AM on January 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


Well, there's the idea that whole foods may have properties we have yet to identify. You can process grains, strip out the germ containing Vitamin B, make white bread, and add to a synthetic Vitamin B. Sure. But we may be missing other elements in the germ that are bioactive, that we have not identified, and not replaced.

There may indeed. Or there may not. But if so, are these things good or bad? They might also contain subtle carcinogens and highly diluted poisons.

Until or unless there's some evidence, I don't see the need to believe in either.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 10:07 AM on January 28, 2007


Oh, and one other thing: The French are getting fat. And while the usual things have been blamed (less time to eat, more fast food, less walking, more driving, too much PS2), one other one is coming out, too -- the French are smoking less than they used to. There's some thought that what we understand to be the wonderful benefits of the "French diet" may stem from the appetite supressive qualities of tobacco.

They're also drinking less wine. Wine does have a supressive quality as well, though not as much as tobacco.

I'm not opposed to slow food, hour-long lunches, buying locally, farmer's markets, eating your greens, and such. But I think the whole "French women don't get fat" meme is oversimplified.
posted by dw at 10:20 AM on January 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


Anyway, Pollan isn't saying "eat everything your great-grandma ate", he's saying "the things you're going to eat -- and hey, go easy on the meat and dairy -- should be selected from the types of foods your grandmother would recognize."

He could just say "don't eat that processed crap that comes in bags and wrappers and frozen boxes and contains multisyllabic ingredients" and get the same point across.
posted by dw at 10:22 AM on January 28, 2007


OK, I've been considering, in the back of my mind, switching to a more natural veggie-ish (not strictly vegetarian) diet, so I'm doing a quick-and-dirty calculation here.

Let's say I generally have, in a day, a quart of low fat milk and a half a cup of nuts and seeds. That's something like 800 calories, leaving 1700 to go.

A couple of eggs, four slices of whole grain bread. 400 more calories, 1300 to go.

Some olive oil, let's say a couple tablespoons. Some vinegar. 250 more, 1050 to go.

A potato. 900 to go.

Let's say six fruits like an apple or orange. 500 to go.

That leaves something like eight to twelve of any of the following:That seems like a lot. Not just to eat, but to carry back from the market every day.

Could someone who has experience with this sort of eating please comment, especially with regards to how my quick-and-dirty list above resembles or differs from your typical daily intake?

Thanks.
posted by Flunkie at 10:27 AM on January 28, 2007


Eat more nuts and seeds. Eat beans and legumes. Eat more olive oil. Trust me, the calories will mount.
posted by maudlin at 10:32 AM on January 28, 2007


Ah, beans, yes. Thanks. And whole grain rice, too, no?
posted by Flunkie at 10:39 AM on January 28, 2007


For all of you harping about how your grandmother wouldn't recognize anything other than a potato, please stop being intentionally obtuse. The point Pollan is making with the whole grandmother thing is this: Avoid eating heavily processed foods filled with preservatives, added flavors and other additives that did not exist before your grandmother's time.
posted by lyam at 10:41 AM on January 28, 2007 [2 favorites]


By the time she dies, my grandmother wasn't even capable of recognizing a potato, who she insisted was her long-dead brother Phil.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:51 AM on January 28, 2007 [2 favorites]


If you went and got one of those fried chicken TV dinners (my, how times have changed - now they're just "frozen dinners," aren't they?) my great-great-grandmother would indeed have recognized it. She died in the late 70s, when I was 6.

Even when she was a kid, she probably would have recognized it as food if it was heated up, at least until she tasted the potatoes. But that's just picking at Pollan's way of saying to avoid processed foods and to buy and eat fresh or whole food when possible. It involves somewhat more frequent trips to the grocery store to get the fresh veggies, because they don't keep long - when I was a kid I knew people who went only once a week or once a month to buy everything they were going to eat. I still see that - big carts full of mixes and frozen boxes.

I'm a vegetarian and I cook most of my food from whole ingredients (dried and frozen as well as fresh). My grandparents kept large vegetable gardens and some fruit and nut trees around, so I've always been familiar with the idea that fresh food was better and tasted better. My family was very insistent about that, and it made them feel like they were doing something very good and important for themselves. Plus we're mostly cheapskates.

Times and attitudes towards food have had some drastic changes, though, and what Pollan is saying will be a novel idea to many people. I used to work with someone (in her 40s) who ate almost nothing but frozen dinners - her daughter was growing up on those and thought that cooking meant sticking a frozen tray in the microwave. I once had to settle an argument at work between people who didn't believe that butter was a dairy product or that it had anything to do with cows. At the grocery store last year I went through a checkout line where the cashier didn't know what broccoli was, and had to ask me. I bet he didn't know his mushrooms, either, but I didn't test him on them.
posted by dilettante at 10:56 AM on January 28, 2007


I'm glad I live in a time and place where the biggest problem we face is TOO MUCH GOOD FOOD.
posted by MarshallPoe at 11:07 AM on January 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


Astro Zombie, for goodness sakes don't eat your great uncle Phil.
posted by lyam at 11:11 AM on January 28, 2007


For all of you harping about how your grandmother wouldn't recognize anything other than a potato, please stop being intentionally obtuse. The point Pollan is making with the whole grandmother thing is this: Avoid eating heavily processed foods filled with preservatives, added flavors and other additives that did not exist before your grandmother's time.
posted by lyam at 10:41 AM PST on January 28 [+]
[!]


This bears repeating. I can't believe how much time people are spending on the wording of this. Everyone here knows exactly what he meant by it.
posted by proj at 11:12 AM on January 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


They might also contain subtle carcinogens and highly diluted poisons.

You're right that you don't have to believe in anything without evidence. But if these foods contain subtle carcinogens, why has the incidence of cancer gone through the roof in the last half of the last century as compared with more whole-foods-eatin' eras?

All you need to do is eat this way for a month. You won't really want to go back, and you will qualitatively feel quite a difference, while scientists scurry to quantify it endlessly. It's common sense.

Flunkie, your menu proposal is sort of weird. A quart of milk is a ton, and nuts are very high-calorie. It also looks monotonous. I don't eat, like, an entire head of lettuce a day -- I combine ingredients into prepared dishes using, um recipes. ;) I cook for myself, so I understand the intimidating idea of buying a lot of veggies you might not be able to eat before they spoi. But by keeping the basic repertoire simple and within a couple general ethnic vocabularies, you can have a lot of variety while still using the same staple veggies and other ingredients. Think in terms of finished dishes, then amp up the vegetable content, and always balance meats and carbs with an equal amount of veggies and fruits - I actually aim for double the bulk in veggies.

Let me give you a day's typical menu options for me (Typically I take in around 1800 calories, but I haven't added it up in a while, and this is assuming a day with no big splurges.).

Breakfast: 1 or 2 slices whole wheat toast, 1/2 banana, 1 T. peanut butter, coffee with 2 T. milk.

Lunch Options: Usually something leftover from dinner totalling around 400 calories. Salad with chicken, black bean or chicken or carrot-ginger soup, whole-wheat tortilla wrapped around chicken and veggies with avocado or salsa, that kind of thing. Always heavy on the veggies at lunch, and light on the carbs, which seem to make me sleepy.

Snack Options: (variable depending on whether I'm working out that day or not) A few almonds (not half a cup, that's a huge amount - more like a dozen); an apple; crackers with cheese or peanut butter; large cafe au lait (which has a cup of milk in it.)

Dinner Options: Mexican style salad with chicken or shrimp, black olives, veggies, and lime-and-olive oil dressing; or whole wheat pasta with sauteed tomatoes, peppers, and garlic with chicken sausage; or corn tortillas with black bean-chipotle topping and a sprinkle of melted cheddar on top, with sauteed zucchini and onions

Dessert Options: a few squares dark chocolate, baked apple with cinnamon sugar, 1/2 cup natural-foods ice cream

Evening snack options: glass of red wine, bowl of edamame with red pepper flakes and salt; baked corn tortilla broken into chips with fresh salsa...

posted by Miko at 11:16 AM on January 28, 2007 [2 favorites]


Yeesh, oops on those italics. So sorry

I still see that - big carts full of mixes and frozen boxes.

I know, which brings up another point: ounce for ounce, calorie for calorie, processed foods are so much more expensive than fresh-cooked foods. People really tend not to believe this, but it's very easy to prove. I can eat on $40 a week, and do a lot of shopping at farmer's markets and do enjoy specialty ingredients. $40 a week will barely buy 10 frozen/processed-type meals. And that's not to mention the piles of coated cardboard and plastic and foam packaging this stuff generates.

II once had to settle an argument at work between people who didn't believe that butter was a dairy product or that it had anything to do with cows.

I work in a museum where we demonstrate hearth cooking techniques. This lack of food-source awareness is really common. We also had a group of kids last year who knew that milk came from cows, but when the interpreter asked "And why do cows produce milk?" she was met with blank stares. Probing questions - "All mammals produce milk. Why do they do that? Who drinks the milk?" "We do!" "But who does the cow produce the milk for?" Crik crik, crik crik. No sense of what's going on with the natural cycle of gestation followed by lactation, and human intervention in that. These were 4th graders.
posted by Miko at 11:22 AM on January 28, 2007


I can think of no better place to use the phrase "inner child" than when it comes to eating. Otherwise normal healthy people simply cannot conquer their inner six-year-old when it comes to diet.

Amen to that, Bookhouse--I still struggle with this, daily.
posted by LooseFilter at 11:30 AM on January 28, 2007


If I ate what my great-grandmother fed her family, I'd probably have a massive coronary within a year. Then again she lived in northern Quebec and the traditional foods of that area -- as I am reminded every year around Christmas -- consist mostly of meat dishes with potatoes. Not a hell of a lot of vegetables in the traditional diet, because those would have had to be shipped in by train at great expense. The meat was also a lot more fatty back then -- beans were prepared with chunks of lard in them, and the average toast was covered with a pork-based spread called "cretons". The stuff's damn tasty and no one would contest its claim to be a "whole food". Back then people ate a lot more of the whole animal than anyone would even be permitted to sell you today.

Of course the fact that I'm not a lumberjack or a farmer -- both jobs which involve spending untold thousands of calories daily in the form of physical work -- may have something to do with that as well. I may go swimming 4 or 5 times a week, but that doesn't mean my body can handle a diet that would sustain out-and-out hard physical labor 6 days a week.

And that is the other reason America is getting fat. They're still enjoying the rancher's diet while giving up the actual activities that go along with it. Sure, diet's important, but exercise has largely gone out the wayside. Just look at all the TV-advertised stuff that promises you a great body with "10 minutes a day" and you'll realize that it's not only the food industry that sells lies based on convenience...
posted by clevershark at 11:31 AM on January 28, 2007


You're right that you don't have to believe in anything without evidence. But if these foods contain subtle carcinogens, why has the incidence of cancer gone through the roof in the last half of the last century as compared with more whole-foods-eatin' eras?

If that's true, maybe life expectancy has gone up enough that we now have more time to get cancer.

Is it true though? According to Britannica, death rates from cancer at least are decreasing:
Declining death rates

Age-adjusted death rates (deaths per 100,000 population) for specific types of tumours have changed significantly over the years. In 1996, for the first time since data began being compiled, cancer deaths in the United States decreased (almost 3 percent). Decreases can be attributed to successes of therapy or prevention. For example, a reduction in the number of deaths due to lung cancer is attributed to warnings that have altered cigarette-smoking habits. Therapy has greatly lessened mortality from Hodgkin disease and testicular cancer, and it also has improved the chances of surviving breast cancer. The yearly routine Pap smear, an examination used to screen for carcinoma of the uterine cervix, has resulted in a downward trend in mortality observed for this disease. This reduction in cancer deaths clearly exemplifies the benefits of screening and early detection.
Unfortunately, it doesn't mention incidence rates, which would be more helpful.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 11:36 AM on January 28, 2007


I can't believe how much time people are spending on the wording of this. Everyone here knows exactly what he meant by it.

It's not disingenuous to interpret his words literally to make a point -- the point being that his program is nowhere near as simple and intuitive as he claims, and perhaps based on an idealized version of what people ate in the past.
posted by transona5 at 11:44 AM on January 28, 2007


Quite true, clevershark -- my Southern American grandparents ate all whole foods, and a lot of fresh fruits and veggies, but some of those whole foods were deep-fried, laden with butter and cream, and glazed or sauced, and a lot of those veggies were creamed and a lot of those fruits ended up in ice cream and on top of cake. And they could handle it, because both of them worked, physically, all day long. Exercise is equally as important as diet, if not more - and that also impacts bone and joint health as well as just apparent slenderness.

Think, too, about the loss of pedestrian activity over the last 30 years or so. Downtowns went out of favor and strip malls came in. Cars proliferated; people on average spend an hour more behind the wheel each day, thus up to an hour less on their feet. School busing increased; I used to walk a little over a mile to school, because you had to live 1.5 miles away to qualify for the bus. Now students get the bus in that neighborhood if they live within .5 mile of the school. Hm. We've tried to increase convenience and reduce steps everywhere -- you don't walk up the steps and into the bank to see the teller and cash your check. Now we have direct deposit, or we just drive up to the ATM. There are some public-health and urban design studies I've seen comparing the average number of steps per day people took in the 40s and 50s to the number today, and the reduction has been drastic.

Americans are lazy: it's true. We're in love with convenience. Last year I heard an interesting story on 'As It Happens,' a Canadian radio show. It said that physicians are generally in agreement that 60 minutes of moderate physical activity per day is the minimum recommended for optimal health. In the U.S., the government decided to recommend 30 minutes a day, 4-5 times a week, because they thought 60 minutes daily would sound like too much for Americans and they would be too overwhelmed at the thought to do anything at all; so by recommending 30 minutes and lowering the bar, there was a chance that people would become slightly more active. Meanwhile, in Canada, the government recognized that people will do a bit less than they aim for -- so they recommend two hours a day of moderate physical activity, understanding that will mean most people will make some effort, and get one hour.
posted by Miko at 11:45 AM on January 28, 2007


n 1996, for the first time since data began being compiled, cancer deaths in the United States decreased (almost 3 percent). Decreases can be attributed to successes of therapy or prevention.

Also, it supports my argument rather than yours, because 1996 is so recent. Yes, it's been in the last ten years that people have become vastly more aware of dietary and environmental risk factors for cancer and have been changing their behavior in accordance. That's all part of the same growing awareness Pollan, among many many others, is helping to build.

Food issues of all kinds will continue to be the content of the most important discussions the world has in the next several years. Food industrialization touches everything. Hunger and obesity are two sides of the same coin. Fossil fuel use, national secure all have a role in the food discussion. We are what we eat. What the environmental-awareness movement was to the 1970s through 90s is what the food awareness movement is today.
posted by Miko at 11:51 AM on January 28, 2007


Pollan's got information right in the article on disease, anyway:
No single event marked the shift from eating food to eating nutrients, though in retrospect a little-noticed political dust-up in Washington in 1977 seems to have helped propel American food culture down this dimly lighted path. Responding to an alarming increase in chronic diseases linked to diet — including heart disease, cancer and diabetes — a Senate Select Committee on Nutrition, headed by George McGovern, held hearings on the problem and prepared what by all rights should have been an uncontroversial document called “Dietary Goals for the United States.” The committee learned that while rates of coronary heart disease had soared in America since World War II, other cultures that consumed traditional diets based largely on plants had strikingly low rates of chronic disease. Epidemiologists also had observed that in America during the war years, when meat and dairy products were strictly rationed, the rate of heart disease temporarily plummeted
.
posted by Miko at 11:56 AM on January 28, 2007


If I ate what my great-grandmother fed her family, I'd probably have a massive coronary within a year.

It's not disingenuous to interpret his words literally to make a point


ACK. People here aren't taking his words literally! They're deliberately distorting what he said. He said don't eat anything that wouldn't be recognized as food. The fact that a lot of people had poor diets doesn't mean they wouldn't have recognized fresh fruit and vegetables as food, whereas they would have had no idea what a can of Cheese Whiz was if you put it in front of them. That's his point. Can we move on?
posted by Dasein at 12:00 PM on January 28, 2007


I can't believe how much time people are spending on the wording of this. Everyone here knows exactly what he meant by it.

No, we don't. The big complaint about science journalism as it relates to food is the confusion it has engendered. Look at the 360 on butter -- my MIL still believes that margarine is still far healthier. Or the confusion about whether diet actually helps against cancer.

In fact, he complains about this confusion early on in the article. And then he drops this, which is confusing as hell. Miko's talking about eating edamame and chipotle and avocadoes; my great-grandmothers all lived in rural Oklahoma in the first quarter of the 20th century and never saw any of this. See the confusion? He's trying to say to avoid the over-processed Space Age TV dinners and yogurt-in-a-tube, but it comes out as kiwis and ethnic food are evil, too.

He's trying to pack way too much meaning into what is a really simple statement: "STOP EATING THIS OVERPROCESSED CRAP." And instead of informing, he's confusing.
posted by dw at 12:00 PM on January 28, 2007


And instead of informing, he's confusing.

And yet almost all of us understood him. It's almost like he's writing for the News York Times and not Highlights.
posted by Bookhouse at 12:04 PM on January 28, 2007 [7 favorites]


Gawd, intentionally obtuse is right. I'm sorry your great-grandmothers were all so sheltered and sensorily deprived. Can the rest of us talk about the article's content now?
posted by Miko at 12:09 PM on January 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


My great-great-grandmother was a total fatty.
posted by papakwanz at 12:09 PM on January 28, 2007


And here's one more kink in this argument: Fats are cheaper than fresh vegetables, and that's part of what's making the poor obese.

This is something we talk about in public health all the time -- why is "healthy living" a privilege for the upper-middle class and a burden for the poor? Shouldn't it be a right for all?

But then, a quarter century of public health funding cuts and drug company profitability says that we just want the quick-and-dirty solution (a pill) versus a larger, longer-term solution that costs time and money (lifestyle changes, better food regulation, making local farms more profitable than selling out to suburban developers....)
posted by dw at 12:13 PM on January 28, 2007


Also, it supports my argument rather than yours, because 1996 is so recent. Yes, it's been in the last ten years that people have become vastly more aware of dietary and environmental risk factors for cancer and have been changing their behavior in accordance. That's all part of the same growing awareness Pollan, among many many others, is helping to build.

Um, that article specifically mentions the decline in cigarette smoking, and increased breast, testical and cervical screen as being mostly likely responsible.

You mention incidence of cancer gone through the roof in the last half of the last century, but again you haven't provided any evidence of this.

Myself, I think I'll keep sticking to evidence-based nutrition.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 12:20 PM on January 28, 2007


Ramen noodles asid, the real problem with that study is here:

the less-convenient foods recommended by most experts for all-around good health and weight control — particularly fresh vegetables, fruits, fish and lean meat — tend to cost more than packaged convenience foods when measured on a cents-per-calorie basis...most fresh fruit costs more per calorie than convenience dessert options such as packaged cookies.


See, we don't go shopping for 2000 calories. We go shopping for meals. To compare the foods by calorie definitely gives the advantage to unhealthy processed foods, which are higher in calories ounce for ounce. The idea that fresh foods are generally less calorie dense is exactly the point; that's why they're generally better for you. A baked whole potato is filling and low-calorie and costs about 50 cents. A bag of potato chips may have ten times the calories and cost only $1.99, but eaten in place of one baked potato, is a real setback in terms of health, and in fact, IS more expensive in real money.

I absolutely defy anyone to prove that a well-balanced, healthy diet based on whole foods is more expensive than processed. I know this because I live it. Like I said: $40 a week will do it. You can eat a lot of ramen for $40 a week, but it is not a healthy, well-balanced diet. And most processed food is a lot more expensive than ramen, anyway. As is diabetes treatment.
posted by Miko at 12:21 PM on January 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


drug company profitability says that we just want the quick-and-dirty solution (a pill)

I don't see how this would be a bad thing, provided you see obesity as a medical rather than moral issue. But it probably wouldn't be worth it for drug companies to undertake the research required to find a medical solution to obesity that actually works. They're already making a lot of money on expensive treatments that don't work very well.
posted by transona5 at 12:22 PM on January 28, 2007


From what I can tell, his thing about eating is: eat staples. Don't buy processed food. That's not stressful, it just means you shop in a different aisle, mostly. :)
posted by Malor at 12:38 PM on January 28, 2007


World Cancer Rates Set to Double in Next 20 Years"

My understanding of cancer includes the awareness that over time, some cancers have increased while others decreased; that cancer affects different races and different geograpic regions differently over time; and that early 20th-century data is less reliable because of frequent misdiagnosis or wrong identification of the original locus of cancer. But the basic story: cancer increased until the 1990s, has decreased a bit, but is expected to increase again in the next 20 years.

You can drown in cancer info and statistics starting here, but here's a simplified overview:
Although cancer continues to be a significant health issue in the United States, a recent report from the American Cancer Society (ACS), National Cancer Institute (NCI), and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that health officials are making progress in controlling the disease. In a news bulletin released on 12 March 1998, the ACS, NCI, and CDC announced the first sustained decline in the cancer death rate, a turning point from the steady increase observed throughout much of the century. The report showed that after increasing 1.2 percent per year from 1973 to 1990, the incidence for all cancers combined declined an average of 0.7 percent per year from 1990 to 1995. The overall cancer death rate also declined by about 0.5 percent per year across this period.
Um, that article specifically mentions the decline in cigarette smoking, and increased breast, testical and cervical screen as being mostly likely responsible.

Yeah, 'um', it says "Decreases can be attributed to successes of therapy or prevention." mentions prevention as being to some degree responsible. It's true that smoking is a huge factor, and screening has vastly improved, as the article states. But diet is also part of prevention. The degree to which it is important is undetermined. (But tobacco companies will say the same thing about smoking).
posted by Miko at 12:39 PM on January 28, 2007


But I think the whole "French women don't get fat" meme is oversimplified.

Parisian women don't get fat. Not French women. And there's a good reason for that: because they walk everywhere.

Same reason why grandma and grandpa could eat fried chicken all the time and not get fat. Because they moved around a whole lot more than we do now, where we're complaining about how much energy it takes to shuffling from couch potato to office drone in our cars.

The quality of our foods is almost irrelevant. What we do with the foods--how we use the energy those foods provide--that's what separates the fat from the thin.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:41 PM on January 28, 2007


By the way...

Number of times the words "exercise" "exercising" or "work out" appear in the article:

0.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:43 PM on January 28, 2007


"Don’t take the silence of the yams as a sign that they have nothing valuable to say about health."

"silence of the yams" -- nyuk nyuk nyuk!
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 12:51 PM on January 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


See, we don't go shopping for 2000 calories. We go shopping for meals. To compare the foods by calorie definitely gives the advantage to unhealthy processed foods, which are higher in calories ounce for ounce. The idea that fresh foods are generally less calorie dense is exactly the point; that's why they're generally better for you. A baked whole potato is filling and low-calorie and costs about 50 cents. A bag of potato chips may have ten times the calories and cost only $1.99, but eaten in place of one baked potato, is a real setback in terms of health, and in fact, IS more expensive in real money.

But if this is all so, then the poor should not be more obese than the rich. And yet, they are. Studies have shown that in the US, the poorer you are, the more likely you are to be obese.

I absolutely defy anyone to prove that a well-balanced, healthy diet based on whole foods is more expensive than processed.

You talk about $40/week; at $10/hour that 10% of weekly pre-tax income. Now extrapolate that for a single mother with two kids. And the mother is working more than 40 hours a week and may not have the time -- or the energy -- to pick out the bad beans and boil them and do all the other cooking to get something healthy out there. OTOH, a box of processed family-size frozen crap is $5 and is ready in 10 minutes.

Saying "I shouldn't eat this because in 20 years I might get diabetes" isn't an immediate part of the equation. It's about putting calories in you.

It's great that you can eat $40/week of healthy vegetarian cuisine and have the time and energy to prepare it. But not everyone can. There's a lot of laziness out there, to be sure, but there's also a lot of poverty that is forcing choices that shouldn't even be choices. And that's the problem with this country -- healthy eating should be a right, not a luxury.
posted by dw at 1:09 PM on January 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


Miko: there are a lot of hidden costs. You either live near a store that provides a lot of food options, including a very good variety of veggies, or you have a car and can afford the gas to drive to Whole Foods & stock up on veggies & fresh stuff. You probably have a kitchen, fully stocked with stove, oven, fridge, etc., meaning that you can prepare your own, healthier food and store leftovers or ingredients. You're in no danger of losing your electricity or water or of getting kicked out of where you live. For people who have that kind of background, yeah, cooking for yourself and eating healthy is cheaper.

For a certain percentage of the poor who lack that kind of setup, that's not the case. They might not have a car, so they're stuck with the offerings in the nearest urban grocery store [and stores in poor neighborhoods generally have fewer healthy offerings.] Even if they have access to a store with decently healthy food, they might not have access to a fully stocked kitchen [or any kitchen at all]. If they have a kitchen, they might not have much time to use it, since they may be working two or more jobs. And so on: being poor often means making choices that are cheaper in the short run [buying McDonald's today & staying in a cheap motel vs. having enough money to make the deposit to get a real apartment that's got a kitchen], even if they're more expensive in the long run. Dependence on food stamps & government assistance is similar problem: it can be very hard to eat well, since the things that are easy to get in those programs are often the things that are subsidized by the government, rather than the most healthy foods.

This isn't to claim that Americans don't often make horrible eating choices, or that all poor people struggle this way. Nutrition education is very important, but generally neglected. However, there are very real reasons why unhealthy food may be "cheaper" in the short term, despite the price on its label and despite the health risks.
posted by ubersturm at 1:20 PM on January 28, 2007


Dude negates his own thesis. Raw food is the new oat bran.
posted by Afroblanco at 1:22 PM on January 28, 2007


It's worth noting that the author of the article agrees that not everyone can follow his suggestions. But most Americans can, and almost all of the Americans who will read his article can.
posted by Bookhouse at 1:23 PM on January 28, 2007


it can be very hard to eat well, since the things that are easy to get in those programs are often the things that are subsidized by the government, rather than the most healthy foods.

You see this in the grocery store sometimes - women who get WIC and are new to it try to get either cheaper or healthier food or brands and of course WIC doesn't cover it. The poor women get so confused the first time that happens. But at least they're eating.

Oddly enough, WIC seems to take the nutrient-based approach that Pallon was discussing in the original article. And it gives its reasons for doing so.
posted by dilettante at 1:30 PM on January 28, 2007


It's worth noting that the author of the article agrees that not everyone can follow his suggestions. But most Americans can, and almost all of the Americans who will read his article can.

But it's more likely than not that those reading this article already are following these recommendations in some form. The readership is generally educated, generally upper-middle class to upper class, generally liberal, more likely to be vegetarian/vegan than not. They can afford organic food and farmers markets. This is preaching to the choir.

The people this should be addressed to are the lower-class people of the Midwest and South, where obesity is rampant thanks to the double whammy of a sedentary lifestyle and a diet of barbeque, fried chicken, and processed foods. They don't read the Times. They read Parade in their local paper.
posted by dw at 1:43 PM on January 28, 2007


(Responding to some comments above): I felt the French were thinner because less food was constantly available (try to get into a restaurant before 6:30 p.m. or the local market on a Sunday) and less cheap (no $7 meals that I recall); the portions; one snack per day only; peer pressure; the sheer pleasure at eating. Having said that, as dw and civil disobedient pointed out, trends are changing this. (In the fifties, I think, the wine industry actually outlawed Coca-Cola to encourage youthful consumption of the 'national beverage.' In time, though, these folks may be the same size as we are.)
posted by faux ami at 1:44 PM on January 28, 2007


I mean, consider this. Everyone in my office -- a highly-ranked public health school -- will be talking about this article tomorrow. What did Pollan get right and what did he get wrong? (In fact, I'm trying to set up a podcast with Drewnowski to talk about this.)

My mother and my two brothers, OTOH, won't read this. My youngest brother is such a hardcore conservative that he'd rather read Pravda. My middle brother and mother have never even opened a paper copy of the NYT in their lives.

See, there's your disparity. A bunch of rich, highly educated people harrumphing about food and how they eat vegetarian and shop at Whole Paycheck, while my mother tries to figure out what she can afford to eat on her salary and choosing the cheapest fatty thing she can find, because it will fill her up.
posted by dw at 1:52 PM on January 28, 2007


dw, i'm also in public health. Education connotes disparity in all sorts of health measures; this is a public policy issue, as well as a health services one. The strength in Pollan's argument, to me, is that industry and health services have both immensely profited from food guidelines that are (as in the McGovern report) untrue and unethical. It's difficult to talk about the ethics of socioeconomic disparity regarding nutrition, as you are, without noting how the beef industry and Snackwell's and others, not to mention $200 billion to medical providers, is all about conflicts of interest and disrespect to science and individual autonomy.
posted by faux ami at 2:09 PM on January 28, 2007


Thank you, ubersturm. Miko is not this person (*waves at Miko, smiles*), but I have had long, drawn-out, research-laden discussions with individuals who are convinced that poor people are fat because they don't know better, they are too lazy to cook, and that if they just ate vegetables they would be fine. Most of them said this as they got into their Subaru Forrester and picked little Hadyn up from violin practice.
posted by oflinkey at 2:15 PM on January 28, 2007


But it's more likely than not that those reading this article already are following these recommendations in some form. The readership is generally educated, generally upper-middle class to upper class, generally liberal, more likely to be vegetarian/vegan than not.... This is preaching to the choir.

You really think a majority of NYT readers are vegetarian or vegan?
posted by jayder at 2:26 PM on January 28, 2007


Before my grandmother died, she took me to the field at the end of the block where the local library would be built five years later. In that field she showed me two plants. She told me one was poison and one was a carrot. Above ground they looked identical. Same shape, leaf pattern, symmetry. Both had large flower heads with hundreds of tiny white petals. Except one of them had a tiny spot of black in the center of the flower. She told me that when she was child in eastern Europe, knowing the difference between the two could mean the difference between starving or eating.

I think that’s Pollan’s point. He’s considering how foreign food is to us and why. And he’s recommending against it.

I was amazed at the conversation about the skimmed milk. Throw away the cream? When it wasn’t used as cream I believe it usually used to make butter. Which wasn’t just eaten, but also used as a lubricant or conditioner, where we might use a petroleum product today. That’s what I think he’s getting at. Not perhaps what you remember about your grandparents eating habits, but more how they looked at food, and how it connected them to the rest of the world.

I also don’t think he’s in anyway suggesting veganism or vegatrainism are better choices. Vegetarians are some big consumers and are as prone to disconnect from their food as omnivores. His concern seems systemic. Convenience is related to markets is related to transportation which have an effect on the local environment, health, and economy. Consider that my contribution to the pile of oversimplifications of a 12 page essay posted here. If there’s a suggestion, it might be that experiencing a little more inconvenience might taste better and lead to a richer life. It may be counterintuitive but then again, what has convenience done for you lately?
posted by Toekneesan at 2:32 PM on January 28, 2007 [3 favorites]


Pollan's suggestions all boil down to the same conclusion - that people need to devote more of their time and money to food.

I would argue that the people who are most harmed by their diets usually have the least time and money to spare.
posted by Afroblanco at 2:32 PM on January 28, 2007


This is preaching to the choir.

I agree, dw. I have read some version of this article 1000 times. But I'm already on board.

It's a huge challenge to find ways to let whole food filter down to those who cannot afford Whole Foods.

I worked at the farmers markets in Chicago this past summer and was really happy to see that Illinois has a program that gives low-income seniors coupons that can be spent at farmers markets.
posted by veggieboy at 2:37 PM on January 28, 2007


What's also being missed here is that people eat processed foods for reasons other than convenience. Some of them taste really good. In my experience, they don't taste good in an "I want to eat this every day" sort of way, but everyone's experience is different.

Some of the discussion about processed foods reminds me of abstinence advocates who seem to think that the only reason teens could possibly want to have sex is low self-esteem or parental abandonment.
posted by transona5 at 2:39 PM on January 28, 2007


(One note or not, like climate change, Pollan's message needs to be repeated over and over till people get it. We didn't used to eat this way, and now we're less healthy for it. All that changed is that industry maximized the economic yield of food production at the expense of nutritional makeup and content.

If you've never seen someone's quality of life seep slowly away as they gradually die of adult onset diabetes, or congestive heart failure, then you probably live like Thoreau. Its frightfully common and statistically proven to have risen dramatically.

Nevertheless, I for one, welcome our new centralized processing factory food overlords.
posted by Fupped Duck at 2:57 PM on January 28, 2007


On preview:

"What's also being missed here is that people eat processed foods for reasons other than convenience. Some of them taste really good. In my experience, they don't taste good in an "I want to eat this every day" sort of way, but everyone's experience is different."

Its not by accident. Big food has pored millions into fine tuning flavor properties of their products to maximize addictive consumption patterns of thier products, as if they tore a page right out of Brown & Williamson's tobacco marketing book
posted by Fupped Duck at 3:00 PM on January 28, 2007


Pollan's passage about Taubes and "What if it's all been a Big Fat Lie?" can be read as an interesting quasi-mea-culpa for the Times, but it doesn't go far enough.

Not only did Taubes willfully misstate Americans' eating habits to push the big fat lie that we got fat by eating less fat, he played fast and loose with the facts and quotes of several researchers who loudly disavowed his thesis once his "Big Fat Lie" appeared. He also made several egregious errors that Sally Squires at the Post did a good job of debunking, and he failed to disclose until the last couple paragraphs of his own multipage piece that it was being written by an Atkins devotee.

Most damningly, he assured us all that the very latest science was proving Atkins right and those who push plant-based eating wrong, citing studies about to be published. When the studies came out, they were underwhelming, and were soon contradicted either by their own followups or by larger studies in the same area.

In short, Taubes and the Times succeeded in kick-starting the latest wave of high-fat eating, endangering the health of millions, and even after Atkins "slipped on the ice," his company went bankrupt and science reaffirmed yet again the overwhelming health benefits of plant foods and dangers of excessive animal protein, neither has had much to say about their culpability.
posted by soyjoy at 3:02 PM on January 28, 2007


Think, too, about the loss of pedestrian activity over the last 30 years or so.

Very true. I live in NYC, which has a largely pedestrian culture. Unsurprisingly, I see far fewer obese people here then in my hometown of St. Louis, MO. In comparison, St. Louis as a city is outright hostile to pedestrians.

Incidentally, New Yorkers don't seem to eat any healthier then the average American, although they do seem to be more open to trying different nationalities of food.
posted by Afroblanco at 3:04 PM on January 28, 2007


Americans did indeed change their diets, endeavoring for a quarter-century to do what they had been told. Well, kind of. The industrial food supply was promptly reformulated to reflect the official advice, giving us low-fat pork, low-fat Snackwell’s and all the low-fat pasta and high-fructose (yet low-fat!) corn syrup we could consume. Which turned out to be quite a lot. Oddly, America got really fat on its new low-fat diet — indeed, many date the current obesity and diabetes epidemic to the late 1970s, when Americans began binging on carbohydrates, ostensibly as a way to avoid the evils of fat.

That was interesting. But what makes this guy think his ideas are so much better then everyone else's?

I started following most of his recommendations about four months ago (I eat a rather large amount of lean meat however) It does require much more time and effort, and a little more money. But, speaking for myself only, it has been more than worth the effort. I found myself having more energy and just feeling powerfully more well. I found myself easily shrugging off colds in a day rather than four or five.

You have more then one cold in less then 4 months? I recently had a cold (along with everyone else in my office) but before that I hadn't had a real cold in years. I don't even remember the last time I had a serious cold prior to my last one. Also I eat mostly junkfood.

A lot of this fad diet B.S. is the result of baby boomers getting paranoid about getting old and dying.

My view: eat whatever you want, but count your calories and make sure you're not eating too much. Don't worry too much about the specifics.

Bollocks: Whole foods have a mysterious health-power that processed foods do not; which exists because of unspecified and scientifically-unprovable "interactions", not because of what's in them.

Exactly. Plus he's basically saying his annoying diet is somehow less annoying then all the other diet ideas out there.

Also, the paranoia about HFCS is really bizarre. There is no evidence that Fructose is worse for people then Sucrose or Glucose.
posted by delmoi at 3:33 PM on January 28, 2007


You really think a majority of NYT readers are vegetarian or vegan?

No, what I meant was "more likely to be veggie/vegan than non-readers."

The strength in Pollan's argument, to me, is that industry and health services have both immensely profited from food guidelines that are (as in the McGovern report) untrue and unethical. It's difficult to talk about the ethics of socioeconomic disparity regarding nutrition, as you are, without noting how the beef industry and Snackwell's and others, not to mention $200 billion to medical providers, is all about conflicts of interest and disrespect to science and individual autonomy.

I agree faux ami, and eventually I'd get around to unpacking this part of it if I ever had time. Big Dairy/Meat/Sugar have had their thumb on the scales of American nutrition policy. Until we can get a public health education system that is free of biases, one where everything is laid out and people can make their own decisions, we will be dealing with the problems that come from obesity, and Type 2 is going to become more and more of an albatross around the neck of the American health care system.

But can you blame Big Meat/Dairy/Sugar? They're marketing to a human physiological bug -- we are built to desire fat and sugar -- that is easily exploited. They're more afraid of obesity-related lawsuits than people not eating cheese.

I worked at the farmers markets in Chicago this past summer and was really happy to see that Illinois has a program that gives low-income seniors coupons that can be spent at farmers markets.

Here in Seattle all the farmers markets take WIC and food stamps, so that's good. I was just there yesterday spending $8/lb on breakfast sausage from a local organic producer. So expensive, but the taste alone is worth it.
posted by dw at 3:40 PM on January 28, 2007


Incidentally, New Yorkers don't seem to eat any healthier then the average American

Yep, they don't. There are plenty of fast food places all over the city doing great business--probably more per square mile than any traditional "fat" city in the South, yet for some miraculous reason the city doesn't have endemic obesity. Funny that. Maybe it's the water.

Or maybe it's because city people, and New York City people in particular, walk an average shitload more miles per day. And I'd bet they take shorter lunches and breakfasts than other places in the country as well. More lunches "on the go," more skipped meals because of overworking.

*Sigh* Even if you just eat mostly plants, you're going to gain weight if you don't move around during the day and burn off the calories. Even healthy calories will still get you fat as a house if you won't exercise.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:31 PM on January 28, 2007


that was a lovely read, and very enlightening.
posted by spacediver at 4:31 PM on January 28, 2007


delmoi:

Also, the paranoia about HFCS is really bizarre. There is no evidence that Fructose is worse for people then Sucrose or Glucose.

Where did you get the impression that he was demonizing fructose above and beyond that of glucose or sucrose (or are you referring paranoia in this thread, rather than the article?).
posted by spacediver at 4:59 PM on January 28, 2007


So, in the end, he's being too complex and too simple. He could have just said what any doctor would tell you -- eat more fresh vegetables, eat less meat, avoid processed foods, cook for yourself, exercise more. Instead, he just pads it with his one note so he can get paid, just like any other journalist.

You guys are being awfully defensive. He said this outright at the beginning of the article. I thought what followed was an interesting analysis of the way nutrition science works and its limitations. His point is to be careful about what you think is healthy. As research begins to suggest that antioxidants aren't exactly what we thought them to be, its becoming clear that we are still a long way from understanding nutrition fully. And I think the conclusion that the best way to respond to that is to eat as few processed foods as possible is at least reasonable.
posted by mosessmith at 4:59 PM on January 28, 2007


Interesting read. I'm curious to hear from more of the proponents/followers of this ideology. Point me to some websites, books, etc with some more nuts&bolts information? I've been curious about the flexitarian/whole-foods lifestyle for some time but have never had an impetus to get it going; this might be it. Anybody?
posted by jckll at 5:23 PM on January 28, 2007


My great-grandmother recognizes bacon grease. So, more bacon grease for everyone!
posted by NationalKato at 5:24 PM on January 28, 2007


cklennon: It'd make for a good ask.mefi request, and I for one would like to see the answers.
posted by nightchrome at 6:24 PM on January 28, 2007


Too bad I've used my quota for the green...unless someone else wants to ask it *wink wink* it'll have to wait a week, or get answered here.
posted by jckll at 6:33 PM on January 28, 2007


I would, but I've gone this long without ever making a post anywhere about anything...I'd hate to break that record. I also have a feeling that similar questions have been asked before. I'm gonna do a little searching and see what I can come up with.
posted by nightchrome at 6:41 PM on January 28, 2007


cklennon, this question from yesterday might have some starting points in the answers.
posted by dilettante at 6:57 PM on January 28, 2007


more bacon grease for everyone!

Heh. Can't remember where, but I was just reading something about some research showing that the human body treats pork fats differently from other animal fats...could it be the next Omega-3? We can only hope!

em>
But if this is all so, then the poor should not be more obese than the rich. And yet, they are. Studies have shown that in the US, the poorer you are, the more likely you are to be obese.

It's precisely because my argument is so -- that junk food is more calorie dense. Therefore you get more calories for the buck, therefore people who purchase more junk food take in more calories for the same amount of bucks. Calorie for calorie, junk food is cheaper. But ounce for ounce, taking into account the food bulk in fiber and water of fresh whole foods, it is not.

Miko is not this person

Thank you; I am not. And despite the preachy tone, dw, I agree with everything you say about the working poor. I know this issue well because, for most of my adult life until recently, I have been the working poor and have had to come up with my food purchasing and eating plans because I needed to think very strategically about how best to apply my limited food dollar while covering all the macronutrients and not getting fat. Ramen was right out, but many things were in. The advantages I had were enough education to know that I needed to look after my health, and how to do that, and that I knew how to cook and had kitchen facilities throughout that time. At many points during that time I didn't have a car, but chose an apartment within walking distance to food co-ops or a grocery.

I know not everyone has even those advantages, and I know all about extortive convenience stores, limitations on food stamps, lack of kitchen facilities, and so on. We have to start addressing that stuff as a public health issue; but in the meantime, it's true that many, many more people have the ability to make these changes with ease, to lead the way in serving and purchasing better food and thus driving freshf-food prices down, making them more accessible for all -- and yet they do not. Not in huge numbers. Not yet.

In fact, it's largely the suburban upper middle class that consumes the crappiest food. It might be expensive food, yes, but it's still crap. It is those families, not the working poor, that I see with carts full of Hot Pockets, sugary cereals, chips and dips, frozen pizzas and entrees, Power Bars and Prias, Edy's Grand, Lunchables, and on and on. It's not poor people keeping MegaFoodCorp in business.
posted by Miko at 7:28 PM on January 28, 2007


Slow Food USA: good starting point.
posted by Miko at 7:29 PM on January 28, 2007


Miko ftw

Until or unless there's some evidence, I don't see the need to believe in either.
Hmm. I live in Glasgow, Scotland. One side of this city deep-fries its food, and eats processed shite. Average life expectancy for an adult male? 54.

Less than 11 miles across town are middle-class people with farmers' markets and the sort of whole-food approach to life. Average life expectancy? 78.

That'll do me. I love deep-fried pizza; but I like cutting the idea of being 70 someday even more.
posted by bonaldi at 8:09 PM on January 28, 2007


what's with me today? cutting
posted by bonaldi at 8:09 PM on January 28, 2007


Also:

The Sustainable Table
Chef's Collaborative
Center for Informed Food ChoicesFoodChange
FoodRoutes
Heritage Foods USA
Local Harvest
Locavores
Seafood Watch
100-Mile Diet
Eat Wild
posted by Miko at 8:29 PM on January 28, 2007 [4 favorites]


Let's get radical: The Paleolithic Diet page.
posted by zadcat at 8:52 PM on January 28, 2007


Miko: You rule!
posted by nightchrome at 10:31 PM on January 28, 2007


And despite the preachy tone, dw

Geez, preachy? OK, maybe. I guess I just don't like the idea that you can make these systemic changes without asking whether the system itself is causing or exacerbating the problem.

And I'm not opposed to any of this. Since my family's health history has been revealed to me in more detail (the men are lucky to keep it to one heart attack and can sometimes just drop dead of one), I'd had to consciously reexamine how much crap I'm putting in my body and how little exercise I'm getting. I'm cutting fat, eating more vegetables, and lifting for the first time in my life. I'm starting to feel better, though it will be a few months before I'm ideal.

it's true that many, many more people have the ability to make these changes with ease, to lead the way in serving and purchasing better food and thus driving freshf-food prices down, making them more accessible for all -- and yet they do not. Not in huge numbers. Not yet.

And this explains why Wal-Mart is in the organic business now. But we also see the costs of that in the E.coli spinach fiasco -- as people demand more greens, companies will factory farm them, and then one bad bug in the irrigation water cycles through the entire system.

And that's led me to thinking that maybe organic isn't as important as fresh and local. And it's why I love farmers markets and prefer to go there over Whole Paycheck.

In fact, it's largely the suburban upper middle class that consumes the crappiest food.

But the suburban upper middle class also has greater access to health insurance and health clubs. (Hi!) If the doctor tells them they have to take a $10 pill once a day, their insurance will pay for it. If doc says they have to hit the $40/month gym, they can afford it. So while they're eating the processed food, they also have the wealth to counteract it. The poor... not so much.

American cuisine has been moving in two opposing directions ever since Mastering the Art of French Cooking came out. My wife was reading Omnivore's Dilemma at the same time I was reading United States of Arugula, and in our discussions we came to the conclusion that there's a gourmand direction and a processed direction. And they're oppose each other at times, work together in others. But this is the battle we're in. As we lose arable land around cities for tract housing, we have a growing sentiment that locally grown food is important. We want healthy, so we buy Healthy Choice. The paradoxes abound.

But the gourmand side is winning, slowly. But the problem is that the message is aimed at NYT readers. It needs to be aimed at Parade readers. It needs to leap past the big producer lobbyists and into the hearts and minds of people. What we need is open-source nutrition.

And home ec. Every damn last high school student should know how to cook.
posted by dw at 11:22 PM on January 28, 2007


I think Pollan's message is one that bears repeating, even to the choir. Not all of the choir have been paying attention. This particular choir happens to be in a better-educated demographic inclined to be in a position to educate others-- by posting to blogs, for example.

See, we don't go shopping for 2000 calories. We go shopping for meals. To compare the foods by calorie definitely gives the advantage to unhealthy processed foods, which are higher in calories ounce for ounce. The idea that fresh foods are generally less calorie dense is exactly the point; that's why they're generally better for you. A baked whole potato is filling and low-calorie and costs about 50 cents. A bag of potato chips may have ten times the calories and cost only $1.99, but eaten in place of one baked potato, is a real setback in terms of health, and in fact, IS more expensive in real money.

Miko, I agree with your sentiments, but comparing foods on a per calorie basis is simply more scientifically sound than a per weight basis. We tend to eat to a certain number of calories per day, regardless of how little thought we may put into meals. In essence, we do shop for calories.

Thanks for posting those awesome links.
posted by zennie at 2:09 AM on January 29, 2007


Until or unless there's some evidence, I don't see the need to believe in either.
Hmm. I live in Glasgow, Scotland. One side of this city deep-fries its food, and eats processed shite. Average life expectancy for an adult male? 54.

Less than 11 miles across town are middle-class people with farmers' markets and the sort of whole-food approach to life. Average life expectancy? 78.


But this doesn't say anything about the point I'm making.

I say this is because of the fat, calories and salt that are in the food. That's pretty much universally agreed on.

Pollan says this is also because the food is processed rather than unprocessed/whole.

His interpretation of the "French exception" is that you can eat a lot of unhealthy ingredients and still be healthy, due to the magic of Wholeness.

The Glasgow data doesn't tell us anything about that, since they eat both a lot of calories and fat and a lot of processed food.

But this makes a big difference in how we might treat the problem.

Consider, for instance passing a law limiting the amount of salt and saturated fat in ready meals. From a Pollanistic point of view that would be pretty pointless since the food is still processed and unnatural.

I'd suspect it's more likely to have an impact than trying to make Glaswegians eat like Islingtonians though.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 3:59 AM on January 29, 2007


Pollard may be preaching to the choir but that's no reason to dismiss him outright. In fact, what do you think your purpose in this chain of communication is? Instead of complaining that the people who most need this understanding of food and nutrition would never read the NYT (some in your own families), why don't you help spread the word? Become an educator. Or is that sombody else's job?
posted by lyam at 7:32 AM on January 29, 2007


I say this is because of the fat, calories and salt that are in the food. That's pretty much universally agreed on.

And processed foods are vastly more likely to have stacks more of them in there. Sure, there's nothing that says we can't have the chemists create them without all the gloop, but we don't. So for being healthy, our choices are either:

a) change the food industry to make processed food healthier, and make sure they definitively include all the vitamins etc that the whole food contains.
or
b) Choose the foods that are guaranteed to have the complement of vitamins etc, and hardly any of the chemical nasties.

Pollan says this is also because the food is processed rather than unprocessed/whole.
He may be wrong in the "because" of it, but he'd be right if he added "likely". I doubt anyone can prove that processed foods contain all possible goodies that we do know are in the raw foods. Which leads to...

Consider, for instance passing a law limiting the amount of salt and saturated fat in ready meals. From a Pollanistic point of view that would be pretty pointless since the food is still processed and unnatural.
Of course: we take raw food X, process it and knowingly remove vitamins Y and Z. So then we add them back in. Are we sure we didn't lose Vitamin F that we know nothing of?
posted by bonaldi at 7:48 AM on January 29, 2007


I just don't like the idea that you can make these systemic changes without asking whether the system itself is causing or exacerbating the problem.

I don't think he suggested that. I think Pollan is among the many food-awareness advocates who are encouraging us to notice this problem and do something about it. That certainly includes making broad systemic changes; but as we push for that, those of us who can are already making changes in our individual lives, creating an example, and sharing information, and the world is shifting in response. CSAs and farmer's markets are proliferating. Small independent growing operations are starting up. People are pointing each other to local food sources and making an effort to patronize them over other choices. As we lead the way, we will continue to create new sources for locally grown and produced food, making it more accessible for everyone. We work on the system at the same time as we work on our own lives, ending the reward system for big food manufacturers by no longer purchasing their products.

Most of the growers I know reject the 'organic' label. It was the creation of a political process that set the bar for standards low enough so that a lot of big producers could get in on the game. It has become just another desirable marketing label, and thus there is incentive to create big factory farms to produce foods that qualify for that attractive label. However, it's important to note that the evidence is showing that the e. coli spinach epidemic did not result directly from organic practices or even directly from large-scale growing; it resulted from factory-farming feeding practices in beef and dairy cattle operations. The bug originated in the manure of industrially raised cows who eat a cheap and inappropriate diet, and contaminated groundwater supplies in that way. In other words, poor food production practices poisoned the growing environment.

All this is another reason why you're correct that our watchwords for food should not necessarily be 'organic,' but 'local' and 'sustainable.' One of our local growers got a standing ovation when he walked into a restuarant in September with a big beautiful crate of fresh (uncontaminated!) spinach, grown just a few miles from here. In a local-support model, we can see where our food comes from. We can appoint local agricultural commissions to watch what's going on on our farms, in the soil, and in the water. We can get to know farmers in person and ask questions about how they raise food. We can buy the smaller amount of meats we eat from grass-fed, humanely-raised, anti-biotic and rGBH-free animals that come from smaller, cleaner operations. This localized, cellular approach should gradually help to bring better quality and cleaner food to everyone, despite the limitations of income.

The new food-awareness movement is not really an outgrowth of gourmands, though their enthusiasm is certainly a big help. Instead, the people I know through this effort come from other activist backgrounds - social justice and environmental sustainability, most often. The beautiful thing about food is that people love it, and it's part of our culture, so it's easy to build very broad coalitions of people who want us to be able to eat better: chefs and home cooks, gardeners, open-space and environmental activists, restaurateurs, food writers, winemakers, public-health workers, and so on. The benefits of eating locally and sustainably go far beyond health alone. Local sourcing improves communities, uses less fossil fuel for transport, reduces labor exploitation, keeps more dollars circulating locally rather than going into the distant pockets of a Tyson or the like, and so on. The 100-Mile Diet link provides a great list of benefits.

I'm not arguing with your sentiments, dw. You're on the right track when we say we need systemic change. The problems of the poor and the problems of the rich are, as I said, two sides of the same coin. Objections that this movement is somehow elitist or for the rich are often straw men thrown out by factions who resist changing the industrialized food system; that's why I addressed those assumptions. We begin to change the system first by changing how we think and how we buy food, and by raising awareness about these problems. Economic access to good food is definitely one of the problems, but it should not serve as an excuse not to advocate individual and social change.


comparing foods on a per calorie basis is simply more scientifically sound than a per weight basis. We tend to eat to a certain number of calories per day, regardless of how little thought we may put into meals. In essence, we do shop for calories.


Zennie, I really want to encourage people to think more deeply about this study and examine its underlying assumptions. It's true that a calorie-by-calorie comparison provides easily crunched numbers and thus is more scientific. However, it assumes that the ability to purchase more calories is better. We now see that this isn't the case; the present-day problem of ill health and obesity among the poor is one of too many calories (and the wrong ones), not too few. Therefore, being able to purchase more calories for the same dollar is a bit of a red herring. You are not purchasing better nutrition or even more food (in volume), so it is not ultimately a good that it may be less expensive calorie for calorie.

For instance, you may be able to buy a 4000 calorie-a-day diet of junk food with $50 a week; but if you spend the same $50 on a more nutrient-rich diet of 2000 calories a day, your health will be better, you will not need to feel hunger, and your budget will not be negatively impacted. The study spin suggests that somehow you save money by eating junk food; but in practice, that's not so. If you instead assume that a shopper is working within a fixed food budget (which most poor people have) or even just an amount that happens to be available, you can purchase more nutrition and more food bulk for the same amount of money by choosing fewer calories. So healthier food is not more expensive in real dollars, in the aggregate, when paying for a complete diet; it just may provide fewer calories and more nutrients, which is a good thing. See what I mean?

To expand on my potato-chip illustration:

Lay's Potato Chips, 1 oz:
Calories: 150
Calories from fat: 90
Total Fat: 15%
Saturated Fat: 15%
Sodium: 180 mg
Dietary Fiber: 4%
Protein: 3%

Potato, 5.3 oz
Calories: 100
Calories from fat: 0
Total Fat: 0
Saturated Fat: 0
Sodium: 0
Dietary Fiber: 12%
Protein: 6%

The fresh potato has far more filling fiber (three times as much) twice the protein, and 4+ more ounces of satisfying food bulk, without the negative impact of the saturated fats and sodium. Be sure to compare the vitamins, as well. The potato provides 45% of the USRDA f Vitamin C, and significant amounts of B vitamins and iron.

Cut that spud in slices and toss it with a teaspoon of olive oil (40 calories) and sprinkle with a little kosher salt and bake on high heat - you've got a powerhouse of a snack for no more calories than the bagged chips.

My store is selling a 3-lb bag of Yukon Gold potatoes for $2.50. 3 pounds would provide about 9 5-some ounce potatoes. That works out to 27 cents a serving. The teaspoon of olive oil is about 5 cents. Total per potato snack: 32 cents.

The Lay's chips are $2 on sale right now, for a 13-oz bag, on special over usual price of $2.99. you get an ounce for 15 cents. But to compare them by food volume, if you want a serving equal in bulk to 5 ounces of potato, you need 5 ounces. Now you're up to 75 cents in cost, and you've taken in 750 calories (as opposed to potato's 140), 75% of your day's saturated fat, and you're off the daily chart on sodium. You've also missed out on the higher vitamin and protein content in the potato.

And I can tell you for sure, despite being 15 cents cheaper per serving, you will in practice get a lot more (and more varied) servings from 9 potatoes than from one bag of chips, because of the nutrient-dense bullk of whole foods. As we all are too well aware.

So which is the better investment of your $2-2.50?

I could do the same comparison with chicken nuggets, processed vs. homemade, or frozen pizza margherita, and come out again with superior nutrition for equal total cost. We just have to let the packed-in calories go and purchase things closer to their natural state.

There are a lot of ways to look at this stuff. We need to identify our goals and work backwards from there, looking more deeply than the lucrative processed-food industry would like us to.

For the past century, our goal was mostly to produce cheap calories in abundance and make them as convenient to find and eat as possible. Our goals are changing, and so should our measures of value.

As you can see, I'm a little bit passionate about this stuff.
posted by Miko at 8:12 AM on January 29, 2007 [1 favorite]



Think, too, about the loss of pedestrian activity over the last 30 years or so

It is not just pedestrian activity:
Mom: Beat her rugs
Me: Push amazingly heavy hoover around
Daughter: Watch robot

Mom: Mix bread dough by hand and knead by hand
Me: Mix dough with beaters and knead by hand
Daughter: Mix dough and knead with machine

Mom: Run clothes through mangle to squeeze out excess water and hung up on clothesline
Me: Run clothes through washer and hung up on clothesline
Daughter: Washer and and dryer

Etc, etc, including: automatic car windows, remote controlls, electric screwdriver and so on.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 8:12 AM on January 29, 2007


Of course: we take raw food X, process it and knowingly remove vitamins Y and Z. So then we add them back in. Are we sure we didn't lose Vitamin F that we know nothing of?

Can we be sure? No. Do we have any reason to believe it? No.

Again, if you're going to factor in things that might be but we don't have any evidence for, what about all the dangerous bacteria, carcinogens, and toxins that might be in unprocessed whole foods?

It's a pretty weak argument: "I don't have any actual evidence, so I'll just invent some possibilities on the side I prefer to bolster my point".
posted by TheophileEscargot at 8:35 AM on January 29, 2007


It's a pretty weak argument: "I don't have any actual evidence, so I'll just invent some possibilities on the side I prefer to bolster my point".

No, you're missing the point. We already have the evidence in favour of the whole foods. That's why we're trying to add the nutrients to processed food.

The reason we have to believe we're doing an incomplete job is that the nutrients often don't have the effect we expect when aritifically added -- witness the cancer-causing effects the article highlights. So we know there's something missing, or that we're getting wrong.

The onus of proof is on why we should continue pursuing processed foods, when the results we're attempting to achieve are already present in whole foods.
posted by bonaldi at 9:16 AM on January 29, 2007 [2 favorites]


I won't go too far in defending this argument, TheophileEscargot, because you're right that we're theorizing about the unknown when discuss the possibility of yet-to-be-identified nutrients in food.

Still, it's not a ridiculous possibility. The evident better health of people who eat whole foods over people who do not strongly suggests that the possibility is worth considering In fact, prior to our present-day understanding of vitamins, that sort of empirical evidence is exactly what led to useful changes in diet. People who ate citrus didn't get scurvy. People who processed their rice suffered from a disease, while people who ate the rice bran did not. Did we know why? No. But empirically, it was clear that making a change in diet had a positive effect. Those cases were extreme and obvious. The benefits of eating unprocessed food may be more subtle, but evidence suggests that they are there.

In the world of nutrition science, the idea that there are undiscovered elements in food is not without strong precedent. In the article, Pollan discusses the development of the understanding of macronutrients and micronutrients (vitamins, minerals), which began with empirical observations like the ones above, and only then proceeded to laboratory isolation of these elements, and only that within the last two centuries. (I'm beginning to suspect you haven't read the article). For milennia before that, people developed systems of eating that kept them healthy enough, for the most part, based entirely on how it made them feel and whether it made them sick, though they were unaware that food was made up of compounds that they needed to consume in balance.

Even using the scientific method, it's the possibility of something that gives rise to the hypothesis that can be tested. Pollan's saying that a reliance, such as yours, on only the evidence produced by scientific inquiry is clearly not resulting in better public health.

Pollan:
It’s also important to remind ourselves that what reductive science can manage to perceive well enough to isolate and study is subject to change, and that we have a tendency to assume that what we can see is all there is to see. When William Prout isolated the big three macronutrients, scientists figured they now understood food and what the body needs from it; when the vitamins were isolated a few decades later, scientists thought, O.K., now we really understand food and what the body needs to be healthy; today it’s the polyphenols and carotenoids that seem all-important. But who knows what the hell else is going on deep in the soul of a carrot? "
He's not asking you to accept an evidence-free proposition. He's asking you to consider the possibility that we don't fully understand nutrition, given the limitations of scientific inquiry into a complex, lifestyle-related realm -- that we are, in essence, at the stage of applying leeches and balancing the humors. He's also asking that you recognize the reality that even generating often-unreliable evidence on individual elements of food or dietary habits in isolation from other factors has failed to make us healthier.
posted by Miko at 9:17 AM on January 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


Hm, good point, bonaldi
posted by Miko at 9:19 AM on January 29, 2007


I simply cannot believe how obtuse people are being in this thread, and I cannot but think that many are doing it on purpose to either a) be jackasses, or b) foster 'discussion' of the topic.

I think we can distill the author's whole argument down to: for as complex as food is, we cannot necessarily use scientific reductionism to solve our nutritional and food problems because of the complex ways in which different ingredients interact and affect the body.

On that note, if we want to ensure we are treating our bodies as good as 'nature' might suggest, then don't eat processed foods, stick to the real stuff.

Is this all that terribly difficult to accept and understand?
posted by tgrundke at 9:36 AM on January 29, 2007


It looks like the biggest shortcut to good health is being poor, living in a country where produce is cheap, and having lots of spare time to cook.

Second biggest: Rich and lots of spare time and some vested interest in being close to ideal weight, with a personal trainer and a dedicated chef.

I think the problem is that instead of aiming to cook/eat like the first one, most people are either holding out for the second, or just don't have enough time/energy to devote themselves to eating healthily.

OR, they realize that we're all going to die one day, and they're rationalizing it by being nihilistic and detatched about their health.
posted by tehloki at 10:57 AM on January 29, 2007


Though I have nothing to add, I enjoyed the link, and I also enjoyed reading the discussion in this thread. Thanks, everyone.
posted by Kwine at 10:57 AM on January 29, 2007


He's not asking you to accept an evidence-free proposition. He's asking you to consider the possibility that we don't fully understand nutrition...

Um, he explicitly says "pay more".

He's not "asking us to consider" something. He's explicitly asking us to pay significantly more money for food, based on an evidence-free proposition.

Now, anyone who has had any interaction with the Western bourgeoisie knows that food faddism is a vitally important status symbol. From that purpose, the more expensive and time-consuming to prepare the food is, the better; for the same reasons that a Rolex is a better status symbol than a Casio.

But from a public health perspective, that's never going to spread into the wider population. Not just because of the cost and the inconvenience, but because if everyone did it, it would no longer be a status symbol. If poor people ate whole foods; the rich would no longer be able to differentiate themselves by eating it.

Far better to make processed and convenience foods healther, by consumer pressure if possible, legislation if necessary.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 11:27 AM on January 29, 2007


Miko, I'm not even clear if we're arguing with each other. It seems like we both agree on most of this.

The new food-awareness movement is not really an outgrowth of gourmands, though their enthusiasm is certainly a big help. Instead, the people I know through this effort come from other activist backgrounds - social justice and environmental sustainability, most often.

If it weren't for the gourmands, the movement might have died out in the 1970s -- or remained very small time. The people most willing to buy Niman Ranch beef or organic greens or foraged chanterelles were West Coast chefs looking for better quality produce and meat. And then it spread eastward.

I'm not saying that chefs and foodies were the reason why these movements have risen in the US, but they are very important in the evolution of the movements. Now, though, it's time to move beyond them. But is the quest for long-term sustainability going to collide with the short-term problems of scalability and profitability? I don't know. I hope not. But I'm not kidding about wanting to bring back home ec and making everyone take it.

And speaking of the "you can't eat healthy on food stamps" argument, the P-I had an article about it this morning, with people on both sides weighing in.
posted by dw at 11:30 AM on January 29, 2007


That's right, MeFites, each one of our genomes is exactly the same as is our lifetyle, so the exact same nutrition recommendations will probably work for all of us! How simple. I just love simplifying, don't you?
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:56 AM on January 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


Just going to throw my two cents in, because I have the energy to do so...

#1: I am 6'1", and currently weigh 155lbs.

#2: I don't have a health club membershp, I don't work out or exercise intentionally, yet have spent most of my life, shall we say, surprisingly narrow. I weighed 129lbs in high school at this height, and until my kids were born* I weighed 145lbs as an adult in his early thirties.

#3: I don't avoid meat, but I don't look for it; I mostly eat healthy things, and avoid HFCS -- have for almost as long as I can remember.

#4: when I did eat lousy as a young lad, and now as I eat well as an adult, I used the energy I received. As a teen I biked everywhere; the first year I had a car, I did a four-day training course for a job after school every day that had me driving (and eating dinner) for two hours a day -- and in a week, put on ten pounds and a potbelly. It freaked me out how quickly it happened, so I started watching what I ate and went back to my normal routine -- except for biking, which I never went back to -- and my weight dropped right back down.

My point, if I have one, is this: if you eat the right foods, are a generally active person, and are not genetically predisposed to obesity, you can probably be slender. Heck, my wife -- who struggles with her weight -- drops pounds quickly whenever she eats the right foods, and she doesn't exercise. It's only when she slips back into her old food habits (or, you know, has babies) that she puts weight back on.

So yeah: more "foods", especially leaves, and be generally an active person.

when I wasn't getting sleep, and was eating quick and easy garbage, I went up to 165lbs; with a return to a good diet and more activity, I'm back down to 155lbs and dropping, in my mid 30s.
posted by davejay at 12:01 PM on January 29, 2007


Now, anyone who has had any interaction with the Western bourgeoisie knows that food faddism is a vitally important status symbol.... But from a public health perspective, that's never going to spread into the wider population. Not just because of the cost and the inconvenience, but because if everyone did it, it would no longer be a status symbol.... Far better to make processed and convenience foods healther, by consumer pressure if possible, legislation if necessary.

This comes back to my point about there being two thrusts in American cuisine -- the convenience movement and the gourmand movement. And they merge and cross and oppose each other, but you can't separate one from the other in this society. The foodies rose because of disposable income and the activism of the last 30 years. But convenience has dominated more and more because of the longer work weeks and longer commutes. But you can take home a Whole Paycheck organic pizza with sundried tomatoes and organic cheese tonight. Convenience for the foodies.

You can have your cake and eat it too. Work to change the process of food production, and you have better food for not much more. But there are tradeoffs in doing this -- more factory production of produce, more dependence on overseas production. Or more locally grown food, more seasonality in the northern climes, less variety. Unfortunately, the system is a very complex thing.

But legislating food requirements will do nothing. The processed food companies will do all they can to weasel out from under them, and even if they do have to live by the rules... remember Olestra? There will be a lot more of that. And hey, carrageen is all-natural.

I guess I don't like simple solutions when it comes to food. It's like the problems of getting away from oil -- there's no single solution to give us energy independence and maintain long-term economic health. I applaud Miko's idealism and tenacity, and I do a number of the things she does myself. But every situation will be different. Every decision has a tradeoff.
posted by dw at 12:04 PM on January 29, 2007


Great link, well worth reading!
posted by autoverzekering at 12:17 PM on January 29, 2007


Mental Wimp writes "That's right, MeFites, each one of our genomes is exactly the same as is our lifetyle, so the exact same nutrition recommendations will probably work for all of us! How simple. I just love simplifying, don't you?"

Don't be ridiculous.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 12:17 PM on January 29, 2007


the appetite supressive qualities of tobacco.

They're also drinking less wine. Wine does have a supressive quality as well, though not as much as tobacco.


Wow, really? I find wine absolutely kickstarts my appetite, meaning that if I serve it with dinner, not only will I take in all the empty calories in the wine, I'll also eat like a pig.
posted by JanetLand at 12:54 PM on January 29, 2007


From the first comment in the thread: A bunch of people are going to refute this because it's inconvenient to them.

Yup. And it's interesting to see how many lame reasons have been trotted out to try and refute the idea that to be healthy you ought to put down the Doritos have eat a goddamn salad. Or, as the title of my future one-page best-selling diet book will be, You Fucking Know What You Should Eat and Take a Walk While You're At It.

It's like the people who always jump up to complain about how BMI's aren't scientific because they don't take into account people with big muscles. Right, America is a nation of crunch and squat-thrust addicts, which explains all those bulges.

Argue all you want about the details, but at its heart Pollen is simply repeating the Perennial Philosophy of dieting: eat your vegatables, don't eat a bunch of junk.
posted by Bookhouse at 12:57 PM on January 29, 2007


DW, the reason I've been discussing this here so long is that you're right - there's no single solution, and the problem is complex. However, rather than standing at a distance and throwing up our hands at the intractable largeness and complexity of the issue, there are many many things we can do that will create gradual change. It's good to focus on ways these ideas can reach all populations and to predict challenges, but there's no need to use the foreseeeable obstacles as a reason to discourage the effort overall. I'm not just an idealist, I work at this stuff; that's how I know it can work.

Tonight, while MeFites continue to talk about whether this is good or possible or worthwhile or evidence-based or reasonable, I will be sitting at a table in a meeting with a group of people including a CSA grower who has just agreed to grow heirloom seeds for the RAFT program in an attempt to preserve and help restore food-plant diversity, a soils scientist, an herbalist and gardener, a fair trade tea importer, another CSA guy who specializes in salad greens and is starting a schoolyard-garden project, and a community gardens director who provides free garden plots, seeds, and tools to youth groups, brain-injury patients, and an economic cross-section of residents of our city, and a few others working pretty hard to change things -- here in our own town. We're doing well so far. I've changed my shopping habits and grow a garden now and have gotten to know the growers at our farmer's market. New Hampshire is introducing Agricultural Commissions into town governments this year. Little by little. There are people everywhere getting involved in food issues, and if you want to see things change, it's very easy to get started - those links I posted will help.
posted by Miko at 1:10 PM on January 29, 2007


Lower your cholesterol, lower your blood pressure, lower your blood sugar, protect yourself from heart disease, lose weight - eat vegan. (pdf)
posted by caddis at 2:05 PM on January 29, 2007


All you need to do is eat this way for a month. You won't really want to go back, and you will qualitatively feel quite a difference,

I'm on my third week of making my own lunches and snacks for work, replacing fast food and snack chips. I feel awesome and I'm never going back. And I even ate pretty well for breakfast and dinner and weekend lunches (plenty of fruits and veggies, not a lot of meat, little to no processed foods). So just with changing five meals out of twenty-one in a week, the difference is staggering. Now, I just need to stop with the coffee (and white sugar).

What's more, my lunches are so much better. I have no more reason to complain about shoddy quality, portions that are too large, or rage-inducing service. And I replaced the snack chips with yogurt with fruit. I tried the prepackaged kind for a bit but it just doesn't compare with chopping up your own fruit and adding it to plain yogurt with a little honey added.

The only two sacrifices have been a fair portion of my spare time and more trips to the grocer during the work week (which I hate). YMMV

Oh, and I need a bigger fridge. And I wish I had a root cellar.

Extra disclosure: not vegan or vegetarian, not overweight and never have been.

posted by effwerd at 5:24 PM on January 29, 2007


Considering how much I rely on cheese for protein and happiness, if I went vegan I'd probably have to switch to crack, or something.
posted by tehloki at 5:44 PM on January 29, 2007


I'm on my third week of making my own lunches and snacks for work, replacing fast food and snack chips. I feel awesome and I'm never going back.

Remember you said this in ten months when a slice of pizza or worse, a cheese steak, starts looking just a little too enticing. I am not saying that you will falter, only that this feeling you have now is likely to fade a bit. On the positive side, it gets replaced a bit by habit. When you are out of the habit of junk food it tends to not be quite so enticing. Like cigarettes, drinking is often the trigger which plunges you back into former bad habits, beware.
posted by caddis at 6:17 PM on January 29, 2007


That said, caddis, the occasional indulgence is perfectly fine. There's a girl at my work who's a personal trainer in her off-hours, and eats/exercises accordingly. Her view is that dieting is pointless. You should do as the guy in the article wrote--more whole foods, fewer processed things, lots of veggies and fruit and whole grains, less meat, more fish. Further, she votes for an 80/20 rule. 80% of the time, eat good and healthy. The other 20%, live a little.

Seems nice and rational to me. I just need to start following it.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 7:08 PM on January 29, 2007


I lived in New Haven, CT, and the fruits and vegetables in the local supermarket was terrible and terribly expensive. If I had owned a car to commute to the Trader Joe's on the edge of town, I could have gotten cheaper and healthier food. But the supermarket in the middle of my modest to poor neighnourhood cost more. (There was actually a study in Britain that showed that the same basket of healthy foods - vegetables, lean meats - cost more in a poor neighbourhood than in a middle-class or rich.)

I now live in Cambridge, UK. The produce is even more expensive here - it is really messed up. Bread & milk cost the same as Canada or the US, bacon and sausages are cheaper, but vegetables are far more expensive. The only fresh vegetables I can afford on a regular basis are potatoes (not really vegetables, but starches), carrots and onions. I buy canned tomatoes and frozen peas and spinach.

But I can buy cans of chicken curry which are really filling for about the same cost as a can of tomatoes. I can buy 8 sausage rolls for less than three sweet peppers. I can buy a whole oven pizza for the price of a small bunch of celery. If I forget my lunch or only have a little sandwich and want to buy something to fill me up, a candy bar is 30p, but a piece of fruit is a £1. I can buy an entire pack of cookies for the cost of one or two apples.

People eat in a combination of bulk and calories - high calories, especially sugars as in a candy bar, will fill you up as well as bulk. I get busy and often forget/don't have time to pack my lunch - and the choice I face is between a bowl of sticky toffee pudding with custard that will full me up and keep me going for £1.15 or a nominally healthy lunch for £3.90. But I only have £2 in my pocket.

I think Pollan really is right about the sorts of things we should eat. But we as a society need to work at making those things more affordable. On a limited income in Britain, I now see having sweet potatoes or green peppers or lettuce as a special treat. Spinach is rationed. Zuccinni/courgettes are unknown.
posted by jb at 4:22 AM on January 30, 2007


(That's not to say I do buy all of those cheap, unhealthy foods -- I was just saying I could. I wouldn't touch the canned chicken curry though, that stuff is disgusting. The pizzas are good.)
posted by jb at 4:30 AM on January 30, 2007


This does not solve the problem, jb, it's just a note: what you are paying in Britain is probably closer to the true cost of the food, reflecting the problems of sourcing and transportation and the cost of paying minimum wages to labor, while we in the U.S. enjoy huge subsidies which bring down our food costs. We also make enormous use of illegal immigrant migrant labor at below market rates, cutting labor cost, and can import from Mexico by paying market price there, not EU price.

Carlo Petrini of Slow Food pointed out that Americans spend 10-15% of their monthly household budget on food, while the rest of the world spends about 20-25%.

This is still a problem, as you say. The inner-city market problem is really one of having a captive audience, taking advantage of a lack of transportation. In Boston or Philadelphia, farmer's markets are located in sections of the city within walking/PT distance to some of the poorer neighborhoods. Not so in New Haven, I guess.

An excellent initiative in a city like that would be to contact your nearest grower's association and see if you can arrange a weekly farmer's market in a downtown location, in season. Community gardening is a good move in that sort of setting, too, and it's a grant-money attractor. You could also gather a group of people to partner up and buy a share in a CSA which is then split 4 or 6 ways (shares are usually huge, especially in late summer and early fall), where one person goes and picks it up. With the university right there in New Haven, there's a lot of opportunity for partnership, and a ready source of funding in the form of community-support dollars and student groups with social-justice missions.
posted by Miko at 5:48 AM on January 30, 2007


That said, caddis, the occasional indulgence is perfectly fine.

I quite agree, perhaps even to the extent that I think that an occaisonal indulgence is almost necessary, at least for me. Otherwise the forbidden becomes almost too tempting and you risk an extended orgy of overindulgence.
posted by caddis at 6:48 AM on January 30, 2007


me: I'm on my third week of making my own lunches and snacks for work, replacing fast food and snack chips. I feel awesome and I'm never going back.

caddis: Remember you said this in ten months when a slice of pizza or worse, a cheese steak, starts looking just a little too enticing.

Heh, I saw a Taco Bell bag just yesterday and felt an instant craving. I did a typical Homer Simpson reaction, "mmm, Taco Bell... *gurgle*," and laughed it off. It was weird to suddenly get a craving, though, since I really don't like fast food. It's always been about the convenience not necessarily about the food craving. Fast food service sucks and the food prep quality is almost always bad. Even something as simple as deciding on where to go, made worse by the prospect that any choice will result in dissatisfying food, was an annoyance. It's been nice to get rid of all those tiny stresses. And the my home made lunches have been great. I don't know if that's helped along psychologically by knowing I made it, but whatever it is, it's definitely helping to reinforce the motivation.

The biggest reinforcement is my health. I'm getting older, close to 40 now, and I've been noticing a lot more how much what I put in my stomach affects how I feel and perform through the day. I had been feeling run down for a while now. I thought it was more to do with lack of sleep and work stress. The change has been very dramatic. I feel normal again and I don't want to give that up.

That said, caddis, the occasional indulgence is perfectly fine.

And I'm not averse to indulging every now and again, either.
posted by effwerd at 7:11 AM on January 30, 2007


Actually, subsidies are not the factor. British agriculture is subsidized, as is the rest of Europe - to the same degree as American agriculture (or slightly more?). There are some additional costs - petrol, cost of land and store property.

But you missed the comparative part of my comment: it costs £1 for three peppers, but 95p for 8 sausage rolls (Sainsbury's, in case anyone is wondering. And yes, I buy Basics). I get excited when broccoli drops under a pound for a small bunch. (That's over $2 CND, for anyone having trouble converting.) Zuccinni sells for £1.64/kg, but sausages cost £1.33/kg. (Actually, Tesco value sausages are only £0.85/kg, but really, no one with taste buds should be subjected to those things.) These days the vegetable aisle looks more like the candy aisle did when I was 6 - full of brightly coloured, beautiful and delicious things, most of which I can't have.

So British food isn't expensive; my grocery budget is just about the same as it was in the United States. It is HEALTHY food that is more expensive. If I lived off of sausages, beans, bacon and bread with no fibre, I could save a substantial amount of money.

I have also resided in Canada, which has extremely low subsidies. I had access to a farmer's market and a very large chest freezer (about $2000 in 1980, so not an insignificant investment), but healthy foods were still more expensive than unhealthy foods, especially if you don't have time to process the healthy foods.

My point was that anyone who claims that healthy food is cheaper than unhealthy hasn't been shopping in a grocery store in the cheap aisles. I actually conciously choose to buy those vegetables, even though they are so expensive, because I know that a) I can afford to and b) I need to, for my own health. But if I were any closer to the bone on my bills, or any less concious of the nutritional issues, I would probably choose the other way.


------------

I have long thought that if governments are going to be subsidizing agriculture anyways, the least they could do is subdize in useful ways. Instead of ruining the international markets by flooding them with cheap staple crops, why aren't Europe and the United States subsidizing fruits and vegetables for domestic consumption? In the UK you could justify it to save money for the NHS in 20 years time.


--------------


And I'm sorry, but your last suggestion is offensive to me. It's lovely and optimistic - and is loaded with bourgeois assumptions and expectations. Pick up the groceries? My roommate's granny cart was great, but not exactly up to bushels of vegetables. And where should I have stored them? I guess I could have thrown out the vaccuum cleaner - 20kg kilos of potatoes maybe could of fit in the front closet, and the salt from winter boots would lend them a nice flavour.

There was a farmer's market in New Haven. It was about a 30-40 minute walk on the other side of town from the poor, largely black neighbourhood I lived in. I would have walked there though, if it had been cheaper. But it wasn't - they catered to gourmet and organic food customers.

As for organising a farmer's market? You don't just do that in your spare time. As a teenager, I worked at a farmer's market, every Saturday, June to November. There was a business that organised the market, it had a full time manager.

I'm not saying it can't be done. It's just that you are making so many assumptions. That poor people know their neigbours -- often, we don't. In Toronto, my mother moved three times in 6 years. She's out of the house from 7am to 7pm, and has no shared yard or street on which to meet people. It takes time - a hell of a lot more than working people have. When we were on welfare, my mom did organise community drives, very effectively. This all stopped when she started working. (Actually, we ate better when we were on welfare, because of the aforementioned farmer's market and large chest freezer. I miss strawberries).

The thing is -- why don't we stop talking about clouds in the sky of organising lovely community gardens (because beets don't exactly grow well in asphalt), and start talking about what things are really like.
posted by jb at 7:15 AM on January 30, 2007


I'm not sure if all the comments upthread about "the magic of wholeness" were intended as trolling, and/or whether the posters have come around, but it's really, really, really simple: Whole foods contain nutrients that are lost in processing. We can't be sure exactly how many or which yet. Processed foods almost always contain more salt, sugar and fat, along with way less fiber.

These are very simple equations. It's not like there's a big controversy among nutrition professionals and scientists about whether whole foods are a better deal for your body than processed. It's a slam dunk.

Of course food processors should do more to make their products less unhealthful, but don't put that forward as an alternative to eating whole foods.

Considering how much I rely on cheese for protein and happiness, if I went vegan I'd probably have to switch to crack, or something.

I just gotta comment here that this was exactly my attitude - almost word for word - when I had decided to go vegan but was still eating cheese. I could not imagine life without cheese and was dreading the craving I would have for this delicious staple of my previous diet.

But once I stopped eating dairy, after maybe a week, there was no craving. None whatsoever. I have absolutely no desire to eat cheese, and if you think that's sad I should add that the pleasure I took in its taste has been replaced across the board by being able to better, more clearly taste whole fruits, vegetables and grains - and, of course, chocolate.

The comparison to crack was flip, but it has a basis in reality: A mammal's milk contains narcotic-like drugs to induce pleasure in the infant that's consuming it, to reinforce that behavior. Cheese concentrates this effect. In a way, it really is a drug, and only once you've kicked will you be able to fully appreciate that.
posted by soyjoy at 9:44 AM on January 30, 2007


loaded with bourgeois assumptions and expectations

Actually, no. I really have no assumptions; I'm looking for possibilities. (And you don't know enough about me to call my point of view bourgeois (it's kind of laughable, in fact). You listed some problems, I started to suggest some solutions. These might not be the solutions that would work where you've lived, but something would. If you want a solution, you will find one.

As for organising a farmer's market? You don't just do that in your spare time.


Well, yes, you do. One of the strongest points of this thread is that, if we want to improve our food supply and availability of whole food, we are going to have to work at it. Convenience, we have; better food is a bit more inconvenient, it's true. I actually do devote a lot of my spare time to stuff like this these days. It's important to me.

As a teenager, I worked at a farmer's market, every Saturday, June to November. There was a business that organised the market, it had a full time manager.

Our farmer's market is run by a voluntary grower's association. They started at the grassroots level 25 years ago among a few growers who wanted to set up tables downtown. They evolved into a formal nonprofit, and have now grown to the point where growers pay table fees which pay a half-year, full-time manager, who spends part of her time writing grants and pursuing sponsorships and partnerships to underwrite the rest of the cost. These things don't spring from the head of Zeus; people make them happen.

I'm not saying it can't be done. It's just that you are making so many assumptions.


I'm only assuming only that no external force is going to make changes in the food system for us. It starts with individuals who want things to change. I've hit a point in life where I've about had it with people making complaints about 'the way things are' while doing nothing at all to make changes. You made assumptions, too -- that you can never get to know your neighbors and that that's an inappropriate expectation; could never solve the transportation problems that prevented you and others from getting to cheaper healthy food sources; could never find partners in nearby social service or university groups that would use their energy, money, and spare time to assist in starting programs to address these issues -- when all this has been developed by people who worked at it, in many other places not unlike New Haven. You do what you can, where you can, on whatever limited scale you can. This is how change happens! If it's important enough to you, you will find a way. If it's not important enough, then the status quo will do. That's all I'm saying there.

Thank you for the enlightening comments about food subsidies. If you read my comments upthread, though, I spent some significant time on the 'junk food is cheaper' argument. From a nutritional standpoint, it's not cheaper; you're doing what I recommended, choosing better options (rather than more calories) for the available money.

Believe me, I really sympathize with you. Your problems with market availabilty is real and affects a lot of people. It needs to be addressed with some serious problem-solving. I know what it's like to have a strictly limited food budget and not to be able to make the choices you want to. If there are ways to improve the system, bring down prices, make food healthier, make good food more accessible than bad food -- then let's find 'em. It may not reach everybody right away. It may be incremental local change. But it's better than accepting things as they are.
posted by Miko at 12:07 PM on January 30, 2007


(It seems that people think I'm not aware of the issues of poverty and how those pose a challenge to improving the food supply for everyone. I am aware of those issues and the basic problems of economic class. Food is just one of many areas in which class makes itself felt. But my belief is that it is one area in which concrete and rather quick improvements have been, and can continue to be made, both at the local and the policy level. Since the poor are hurt the most by food issues, it seems appropriate to attack those issues, and imperative for those who can afford it not to support the industries that contribute to the problem. Of course people whose highest priority is generating income and have little time left can't do much to address the issue, which is exactly why people who have more time and more money should).
posted by Miko at 12:27 PM on January 30, 2007


There was a farmer's market in New Haven. It was about a 30-40 minute walk on the other side of town from the poor, largely black neighbourhood I lived in. I would have walked there though, if it had been cheaper. But it wasn't - they catered to gourmet and organic food customers.

As for organising a farmer's market? You don't just do that in your spare time.


Why organize one when Cambridge already has a Sunday farmers market?

And British farmers markets are always stocked with fruit and veg that's cheaper than Sainsbury's or Tesco. YMMV on quality, mind you (I had a very unpleasant watermelon from the Reading market -- the flesh was more like jello than melon), but you can save money off those cello-wrapped pretty veggies from Sainsbury's.
posted by dw at 12:40 PM on January 30, 2007


The comparison to crack was flip, but it has a basis in reality: A mammal's milk contains narcotic-like drugs to induce pleasure in the infant that's consuming it, to reinforce that behavior. Cheese concentrates this effect. In a way, it really is a drug, and only once you've kicked will you be able to fully appreciate that.

I'm calling you on this, because what reinforces infant feeding behavior initially is colostrum -- which stops being produced when the milk comes in -- and the milk itself, which is tasty and satisfying to an infant because of the sugars, fats, and proteins. That is, infants like it because it tastes like food.
posted by dw at 12:52 PM on January 30, 2007


dw - I didn't say the opiates were the single thing that made infants want to nurse, just one of the things. Sorry if I gave the impression otherwise.

"Cheese delivers casein, which breaks down into opiates called casomorphins." Neal Barnard, who wrote about about the addictive properties of various foods (animal- and plant-based) puts it this way: "The same compounds in a mother’s milk help an infant bond during nursing, but cheese is even more potent, because it delivers casomorphins in an undiluted form."

If you want to look at some of the source studies (e.g. beta-Casomorphins (beta-CMs) derived from milk beta-casein may exert various opiate activities in milk-fed infants), this is probably as good a start as any.
posted by soyjoy at 1:40 PM on January 30, 2007


OK, having hacked through a few of these papers, I don't see a lot that convinces me that casein and ß-casomorphin are evil. And apparently, it's getting blamed for a lot -- ADHD, autism, and a few other developmental issues.

But I don't see any really good studies linking this to anything. It just seems like a minor issue. And there's this line:

Enzymatic degradation of ß-casomorphins was influenced by the combination of pH and salt concentrations at cheese ripening temperatures. Therefore, if formed in cheese, ß-casomorphins may be degraded under conditions common for Cheddar cheese.

The graphs show that ß-casomorphin levels plummet during six weeks of aging. So, if ß-casomorphin is truly "an addictive chemical that makes you crave it fortnightly" you would see a strong preference for young cheeses and not aged ones among all people. I don't see that. Americans eat more cheddar than mozzarella. They like Parmesan as much as cottage cheese.

Blaming ß-casomorphin just strikes me as junk science. It's like saying that the small amount of cocaine in Coke is what makes it addictive. It's not. It's the HFCS and the caffeine and the taste. I think it's the same as cheese -- full of salt and fat and protein, all things humans have evolved to crave.
posted by dw at 3:26 PM on January 30, 2007


Why organize one when Cambridge already has a Sunday farmers market?

That's very nice. Except that a friend of mine shops there and tells me that it sells out early on Sunday morning. I've never even seen it - I don't go downtown on Sunday. I live outside the downtown and I shop on weekdays after work, like most people. I can tell, because Sainsbury's is insane on a weekday at 5:30.

My point wasn't that veg aren't available, my point was that they are much more expensive and/or much harder to get than a million unhealthy options. I can buy tasty sausage rolls anytime I like from Sainsbury's for less than veg - so why should I buy veg, let alone go way out of my way to find some obscure market or even start my own?

This is why the vast majority of people eat crap - because we make crap easy and cheap to get. It tastes good, even when it is crap. People can preach all they want, but no matter how much they preach "5 a day" the government here has shown absolutely no interest in making those fruits and vegetables widely available and affordable.
posted by jb at 4:58 PM on January 30, 2007


Fancy vegetables are expensive. Squash, turnips, carrots and kale and lots of others are not; neither are tofu, beans, rice and pasta. Vegetarian cuisine need not be more expensive than meat cuisnine. If you insist on taking what would normally be a side dish and turning that into a meal, well then perhaps the vegetables get expensive. Indian vegetarian cuisine in particular is quite reasonably priced. So are the beans, rice, tomato, chile, corn etc. for Latin American cuisine. Meat is expensive. Sure that crappy sausage packs a lot of calories into a few pence, but you are comparing it to high end vegetables. Try comparing those vegetables to prime rib.

the vast majority of people eat crap - because we make crap easy and cheap to get. with this I agree
posted by caddis at 6:21 PM on January 30, 2007


the vast majority of people eat crap - because we make crap easy and cheap to get

Well, that, and the fact that synthetic crap is engineered to have the most wonderful, irresistible, impossibly addictive taste which could never be achieved with natural food, and engineered to minimize production cost at the expense of nutritional value. That too.
posted by tehloki at 7:30 PM on January 30, 2007


Fancy vegetables are expensive. Squash, turnips, carrots and kale and lots of others are not; neither are tofu, beans, rice and pasta.

At my grocery store, fresh=fancy. There are frozen vegs, and even cheaper canned vegetables -- but the canned at least are exactly the types of foods that Pollan is arguing against.

Squash is super-premium here -- apparently they take a lot of land to grow and they are exotic in Britain. All I know is that I paid over £8 (about $16 CND) for some small butternut and acorn squash (the cheapest kinds) for a special treat - got about enough to feed 6-8 people. I don't know what kale is - there are some kind of greens they sell called "greens", but they are pricey like fresh spinach. Sometimes there is frozen broccoli (tastes pretty bad), but it isn't that cheap - and the fresh is even more expensive. Even celery is expensive.

The cheap vegetables at my local grocery story are potatoes (not a veg nutritionally but a starch), carrots (still pretty high in starch, but better) and frozen green peas (relatively high in sugar). You can get frozen green beans for not that bad a price, and like I said, I justify the frozen spinach (which my closest store doesn't sell -- I have to travel twice as far for). But this does not make for much variety.

Some of your other suggestions aren't fruits or vegetables, but starches and protiens. Canned beans are cheap and tasty and healthy - I eat them constantly. But they are primarily starch and protien and cannot replace fruits and vegetables. Nor can tofu (which isn't cheap, not anywhere outside of a Chinese neighbourhood), or rice or pasta. I have never said anything to suggest that vegetarianism is more expensive; half or more of my dinners are vegetarian. But vegetarian doesn't necessarily mean healthy - my cheese addicted husband eats a lot of vegetarian lunches of cheese and marmite and bread. (Okay, maybe the marmite is healthy.)

Nutritionally, vegetarian or not, people need more high fibre and vegetables like broccoli or spinach (the dark greens are high in vitamins) - a constant diet of potatoes, carrots and sweet green peas isn't sufficient. It's not unhealthy, but it's not all that we should eat. And especially if you cut back on red meat, you need those dark green vegetables for the iron.

But this is a silly argument.

I was trying to make the point that cheap and tasty if unhealthy food is readily available and substantially cheaper than most fresh healthy food. Which is indisputable. It doesn't mean that you can't get it if you take time to find cheap markets or grow your own or whatever (if you have the time to do so).

But the fact is that for most people, healthy food that they have time to find and cook comes at a high premium - especially fresh fruits and vegetables - and that is one of the many reasons why obesity (and general ill-health, including anemia) is more common among those on lower incomes.

Amen to tehloki's comment as well.
posted by jb at 5:30 AM on January 31, 2007


they take a lot of land to grow and they are exotic in Britain

Well, there you are. Squahes are exotic and not easily grown in Britain; so you're not eating locally or seasonally when you choose them, and you're paying a premium for that. What about all the other fresh vegetables you haven't mentioned? I've never lived in England, but I live in New England, where the growing season is short and winters are lean times. STill, I can easily get leeks and swiss chard and kale, onions, hothouse-grown greens, and bean sprouts.

I was trying to make the point that cheap and tasty if unhealthy food is readily available and substantially cheaper than most fresh healthy food. Which is indisputable.


You keep repeating this, and I keep repeating that it's cheaper only by one measure: caloric content, i.e, how much you can get per unit of currency. You can have quantity or quality.

The other thing that maximizes food value is cooking strategically. Plan a menu which uses a limited palette of fresh ingredients combined with your pantry staples, and cooking a variety of dishes that combine those ingredients in many ways. Each yam, say, may cost [whatever]. But if you cut it in half and use it in two different meals in combination with cheap stables (rices, pastas, tortillas, flour) and small amounts of meat and beans, you start really stretching the value of each. Over time you'll notice a huge difference in preparing real food as compared to purchasing pre-prepared, single-serving convenience foods. Typically you even have leftovers from big mixed dishes like that which can serve as lunches or as another day's supper. It's home economics, like dw said!
posted by Miko at 5:48 AM on January 31, 2007


Those still following this discussion will be interested in this MeFi thread about Slow Food on a food stamp budget, and this one about the Hillbilly Housewife.

An interesting side note: If convenience food is so much cheaper than whole food, then why does just about every resource on saving money and home budgeting recommend avoiding/replacing convenience foods? I actually came to whole-foods cooking for budgetary reasons first, health reasons only after I noticed what a difference it makes. I know it saves money. Yes, it takes time and you have to make it a priority, structuring a part of each day around it. Until the 50s or so, that was a reality for most people. It's not insane to go back to living that way. (Cooking each night is really relaxing for me, as is making big batches of stuff on weekends to freeze for later).
posted by Miko at 6:00 AM on January 31, 2007


This experiment integrated frugal supermarket shopping, use of many local foods, preparing meals from basic ingredients, food storage, gardening, and home preservation of foods. Each of these six areas was essential to our ability to stay within the food stamp budget.

I don't know anyong on food stamps who has the resources to do what that article recommends.
posted by zennie at 6:35 AM on January 31, 2007


My family used food stamps when I was growing up, and we did.

You'd be amazed who uses food stamps.
posted by Miko at 9:54 AM on January 31, 2007


In addition, the article points out that universal access to those resources is one of the challenges of our present society, and recommends that food-awareness groups concentrate efforts on addressing them. No, not everyone's able to do all those things. Some of that can be changed, if you try.
posted by Miko at 9:55 AM on January 31, 2007


I don't see a lot that convinces me that casein and ß-casomorphin are evil

That's fine, since I never said anything about them being "evil" or "blaming" them. I was passing on what has been reported by doctors and scientists about these components and how they contribute to (again, contribute to, not "are the sole cause of") an addictive effect.

You called for citations and I provided them, which pretty much wraps up my end of things. If you want go on to argue with the authors of the studies, books and articles, that's your prerogative.
posted by soyjoy at 10:11 AM on January 31, 2007


The title of the post is an elegant summary of the points made in the articl that I found imortant.
posted by David Williams at 2:36 PM on January 31, 2007


Miko: Time = Money. The Hillbilly housewife can do what she does because she is a housewife. It's her job. Could she do what she does as a working mother (whether single or married)?

I've read her menus - I was impressed (though they were quite heavy on starches versus protiens or vegetables). It's the sort of cooking my grandmother (a housewife) and my mother did -- but not after my mother started working, only when she was a "lazy" welfare mom.

Also, I've shown that unhealthy food can be substantially cheaper not just calorie per calorie, but kg per kg. And it's not just squashes (I know they are exotic, I was pointing that out to someone else who just assumed they would be cheap). Broccoli isn't exotic, neither are lettuces or cabbage or leeks or celery. It's just about all fresh vegetables that are expensive, other than those which are primarily/heavily starch (potatoes and carrots).

And the sitatution was not much better in the United States or Canada, unless you had access to a real farmer's market which did not cater for foodies. Starches are cheap (and should be eaten in moderation) - but other vegetables are not. As for eating solely in season - if people only eat vegetables in season, that means that everyone north of the 49th parallel should just not eat any veg between late October and June. (My great-grandfather did grow up with no green vegetables after the harbour froze, but I count myself luckier than that.)

You can get cheap frozen and canned vegetables - but that's processed, with the all of the problems of processed foods. (Actually - are there problems with frozen? Other than limited freezer space. God, I miss my mother's monstrous chest freezer.)

(and I haven't been even dealing with fruit -- British apples in my local store are twice the price of oranges, how's that for messed? And I live within walking distance of orchards)

Also -- Hungry people do shop by calorie, or at least by a combination of calorie/bulk, because they shop by "what will fill them up". If you have a small amount of money for lunch, a chocolate bar is better than an apple, because an apple will leave you feeling hungry (Mars is one of the bulkiest and most hunger reducing candy bars). In university, I would eat poutine for dinner, because it was 1/2 the cost of an actual dinner and made me feel full. It was a highly unhealthy choice - but in the choice between having hunger pangs through my nighttime class and my cholesterol level, it was inevitable. (Yes, I should have packed a meal, or rather two, to cover my 16 hour day. Again, time is a factor.)

Even when shopping for the home, being full and having tasty things you can cook easily is what drives people's choices. There are healthy tasty foods - but many of them take complex cooking, knowledge -- or increasingly (in the case of fresh vegetables) money.

Whereas the store shelves are filled with cheap and tasty and filling processed foods - and they are extra tasty because (as pointed out above) they are designed to hit all the right spots. When I'm cooking, I like to throw some chick peas in a frying pan, with spices and maybe some olive oil and garlic, and some canned tomatoes (with added salt in the cheap brands) -- and when the flavours don't balance, I'll keep adding bits (my spice budget is pretty high).

But that takes time, and more thought than someone like my mother (who works much harder than I do) has energy for. I've watched as over the years, a woman who once made her own pickles (mmm...massive jars of dills) falls back more and more on quick convenience foods, because they are cheap and tasty and quick. I've been sending her recipes to try to help her - I mean, this is my mother, who taught me how to cook.

--------------

So, in summary:

Yes, you can cook healthy and cheap. But that usually takes time, or a love of canned chick peas (again, somewhat processed, though only minorly).

But that doesn't change the fact that getting fresh vegetables is expensive/difficult. Starchy vegetables are the cheapest, and some staples like onions, carrots -- but to get access to a variety of fresh vegetables, that's going to be expensive (in time and/or money).

And in health terms, a healthy starch filled diet is better than an unhealthy starchy diet, but not brilliant, and it doesn't have much variety. Lack of variety temps people to easy pleasures - fats, sugars, salts. If your food doesn't give you much pleasure just on its own (because you don't have nice meat and vegetables), most people will go for a quick and easy hit of flavour - ketchup, salt, butter, cheese. I think that these (along with pasta, cheap fatty meats, bread) are the secrets to how a lot of people eat poorly, not just fast food. I'm basing this on how I've watched myself eat, and how people in my family eat (immediate and extended - primarily working class), and how it compares to how my in-laws (middle-class, almost upper-middle) eat.
posted by jb at 3:18 AM on February 1, 2007


jb, I'm just lost as to what point you're now trying to make. I've acknowledged that all these things are difficulties but not impossibilities. If you can and want to make the individual choice to eat well, you can. If life's circumstances prevent people from doing so to the greatest degree possible, then I'm suggesting that people do what they can to make some improvement where possible, and that it's then incumbent upon people with more time and means to help ameliorate these problems so it becomes easier for all.

Your points are fine, but I just don't see that there's anything to argue against in food awareness activism. It's like suggesting the problems of poverty can never be solved, so drop welfare programs, give up on national health, stop collecting for food pantries, and don't ever imagine that any poor person will organize the effort to find a way out of poverty, because they just plain can't do it. Why bother? Let them eat cake. The poor are always with us. The problem is intractable and not everyone is reached by those programs, anyway.

That's equivalent to what you're saying here.

It does take time to shop and cook well. People have to decide it's worth the time. What I still don't accept that it takes more money. You could have a baked or home-fried potato and your own homemade gravy for much less per week than nightly poutine costs. You're right that a Mars bar is more filling, per serving, than one apple. But your example presents a false choice; those are not the only options. The batch of carrot soup I made last Sunday in half an hour provided one dinner and five lunches this week for about 65 cents a serving. Incredibly filling, nutritious, and very tasty, and superior in every way to a Mars bar. A rice dish or bean soup or homemade hummus would come in at around the same cost. You have to plan ahead and make strategic choices, though. If you didn't want to during university days, again, that's fine -- but it's not that the world was forcing you to make that choice, unless you had no kitchen facilities at all.

Yes, the key ingredient is time. Not everyone can make much time (People with two or more jobs, for instance, or who have health problems) but excepting extreme cases, you make time for something by making it a priority, considering it an essential. I am not a housewife. I work more than full-time, spend lots of time each week working in two voluntary organizations, freelance, make music, and work out, and still cook most of my own food at home. You plan ahead on weekends, shop for the week, cook in bulk and freeze stuff for lunches and later dinners. Also, the more you cook, the quicker you get at it. Believe me, I'm not saying it's easy. But it's a viable choice.

In America, most often food problems among the poor aren't about hunger, exactly. They're about food insecurity -alternating between feast (on payday) and lean days, bulk-food monotony, and lack of nutrient diversity. This is a planning, storage, time, and cooking-facility problem, not solely a price-of-food problem. Obesity and diabetes-spectrum illnesses are more common problems than undernutrition. We have the strange phenomenon in this country now of people who are both obese and malnourished -- not getting the protein, iron, or vitamins they need despite getting plenty of calories. So it's not so much that people are making choices based on simple hunger - the issues are more complicated, and as the food stamp article shows, require multi-faceted solutions.

And it's perfectly okay for someone to say that they just don't want to make changes. Not everyone cares about this issue, not everyone cares what they eat, and not everyone cares to be inconvenienced by the additional work it would require to eat better and act for better food universally available globally. And some people are certainly hindered by problems associated with poverty. Accepted! But it's silly to suggest that somehow it's bad to urge change, or to say that the difficulties in making change are insurmountable, when in fact the vast majority of the population of this country, at least, is capable of making at least some improvement in their food choices. To suggest otherwise is condescending. We've let ourselves off the hook for too long.
posted by Miko at 6:55 AM on February 1, 2007


Also, I like very much your points about taste and desire for variety. I love food but am willing to accept a week of the same thing for lunch; not everyone likes that feeling. Perhaps the recognition that variety and bold taste are desired, even luxuries, will help people address food issues among lower-income people. The primacy of pleasure is actually one of the pillars of Sow Food, along with fairness in production and access and healthiness for the environment and individuals. The most recent catchphrase the organization uses to promote those 3 ideas is the great shorthand version: food should be "good, clean, and fair."
posted by Miko at 7:01 AM on February 1, 2007


I'm just lost as to what point you're now trying to make.

Miko, I was very tempted to say that to you earlier, because you've absolutely run the gamut.

Nobody is suggesting that the problem is completely insurmountable, with time. Nobody is suggesting that we should shrug off the nutrition problems of the unwell-to-do. Nobody is suggesting that "it's bad to urge change." If you think that people are saying that, I propose that you are misinterpreting.

"If you want to do it, you can," is a generally true statement, providing that you have few things you need to do more. I'm glad that you've found a way to make it work. However, it's incredibly frustrating to hear, "if only you wanted to," for those of us (which I would reckon is most) who do want to eat well, but who can't get reality to cooperate.

You are toward the high tapering end of the learning curve, wheras most people are toward the slowly rising beginning. If you truly care about this issue, you will want to help people advance on the curve, not just prove that you are ever-so right. As I tried to convey to you earlier, you can't simply ignore the gap, especially when you are suggesting people do things that run against instinct.
posted by zennie at 1:07 PM on February 1, 2007


How you do it is up to you. Whether you do it is up to you. But I know that every single person who eats food has, at some point, the opportunity to make choices, however limited, about what that food is, and small choices become magnified in the aggregate. There are difficulties and challenges, yes; but if they are brought up only as obstacles and excuses, then no progress can be made.

Since you seem to be suggesting that I should do a better job proselytizing, I want to note that I'm not actually proselytizing right now, in my own mind; I don't consider my discussion on this forum to be my effort to change the world. Instead, I'm here talking about those efforts, and trying to take on the points of argument which some of you have brought up, (and which anyone who is active in this area will hear regularly). My actual efforts to improve the food situation for everybody, including myself, don't happen online; they happen in my real-world, local community, where the scale makes change actually possible and visible. A lot of people do the same sort of work once they become aware of what's happening. What I have been saying here is in no way an effort to make anyone reading here change their habits. This is a forum discussion -- it's all theory. Nothing's actually happening here, unless people explore the ideas and either decide to do something with them, or just file them away for later.

I'd gently suggest that anyone who has time to engage in these long internet discussions also probably has time to cook, walk to the store that's a little farther away but has cheaper produce, or to take on a small part in a project to change things around the problems in your own locality which are preventing you and others from having access to better food choices. Maybe I haven't been the most charismatic representative for the world of food awareness and the actual delight and satisfaction and enjoyment available within it, but when the discussion began we were talking about the article and its points with others who had read it; I had no idea I'd be getting in this deep, and I only did by addressing the assumptions of those who would seem to be saying that Pollan's recommendations are elitist, unfair, or unattainable.
posted by Miko at 2:36 PM on February 1, 2007


“I smoke and drink. A lot of you don’t drink. Don’t smoke. Some people here tonight. They don’t eat butter. No salt. No sugar. No lard. ‘Cause they want to live, they give up that good stuff. Neck bone. Pig tail. You gonna feel like a damn fool layin’ out the hospital, dyin’ from nothin’.”

-- Redd Foxx
posted by Otis at 5:47 PM on February 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


I cannot favorite otis's comment enough times. I can only favorite it once. Once is not enough times.
posted by tehloki at 8:00 AM on February 4, 2007


You could have a baked or home-fried potato and your own homemade gravy for much less per week than nightly poutine costs. You're right that a Mars bar is more filling, per serving, than one apple. But your example presents a false choice; those are not the only options

Except that at the time I was stuck for about 16 hours a day, 2 hours travel from a stove. I would love it if I could magically bake potatoes in my hands, but god didn't grant me that particular super power.

My point was that our purchasing choices are heavily weighted towards unhealthy food - especially at the lower price range. And that is true whether it is in the grocery store or eating out.

Someone up thread claimed that eating healthy food was always cheaper than unhealthy. And I have brought up repeated examples of all sorts of unhealthy foods which are cheaper than healthy foods -- cheaper both by calorie and sometimes even by weight. Your counter example was the Hillbilly Housewife, who, though a remarkable woman, would be the first to say that her lifestyle requires a full-time commitment. And the fact is that even her diet is heavy on the starches, which is not that healthy for a lot of people.

We do not have full choices in our purchasing; price makes a big difference. The realities of the market - including the distortions from subsidies - mean that the cheapest foods are starches. Starches are hard to eat on their own (just try to live on bread and pasta and rice, with nothing else - both terrible tasting and dangerous to your health). Rich people add meat and vegetables, and poor people add condiments and fats*. Include the time constraints, and you get even more distortion. Stir-fry chicken with fresh vegetables is delicious, but it costs more than macaroni and cheese (lots of macaroni, only a little bit of cheese).

Your points are fine, but I just don't see that there's anything to argue against in food awareness activism. It's like suggesting the problems of poverty can never be solved, so drop welfare programs, give up on national health, stop collecting for food pantries, and don't ever imagine that any poor person will organize the effort to find a way out of poverty, because they just plain can't do it. Why bother? Let them eat cake. The poor are always with us. The problem is intractable and not everyone is reached by those programs, anyway.

No, as far as I'm concerned, simple food awareness campaigns is like trying to solve the problems of poverty by telling people how easy it is to raise themselves up by their bootstraps and hand out pamphlets on how to start your own business.

We need to address the systemic issues -- end subsidies for staple starches and start them for healthy locally grown foods. Welfare programs, universal health care -- these are organised by society as a whole, not just the most vulnerable. And they help society as a whole (They provide insurance and protection to all).

Now Pollan's article wasn't aimed at the poor. It was aimed at the middle and upper-middle class who follow the health food fads. And I completely agree with him, and it needs to be said and I'm sure it will help them.

What I'm frustrated at are people who say "It's easy, even if you don't have money. You just find a local farmer's market [started 25 years earlier by other people and that I just happen to be lucky enough to live near and have time to visit in the few hours it is open] ..."** It's not easy, unless you have money -- if you don't, it's a struggle to good quality healthy food. It's not impossible, but it's not easy. And that's a reflection of our society's messed up priorities that SAUSAGES cost less per kg than any vegetable other than potatoes. I'm saying that education is important, but it's not enough. We need to change the system.


*In the third world and maybe in rural areas vegetables are still the cheapest thing to add, but in every grocery store I've ever shopped in, fats, salt and sugar are the cheap way to flavour your starches.

**I was equally frustrated and angry in elementary school when all the teachers were going on and on about recycling. It made me feel so guilty that my family didn't recycle, and all the other kids did. Except that as apartment dwellers, we weren't ever given the "blue boxes" to collect recycling, like all the houses in the city were. There was a basic flaw in the system, which disenfranchised so many people from recycling. And they probably never got in the habit - to this day, I'm less aware of recycling than my friends who grew up with blue boxes.

posted by jb at 3:59 AM on February 5, 2007


And they probably never got in the habit - to this day, I'm less aware of recycling than my friends who grew up with blue boxes.

There were no blue boxes when I grew up. No recycling, unless you accumulated a half ton of scrap and took it to the industrial recycling center for a few bucks. I remember my excitement as an adult in moving to a community where recycling bins were provided, even in my apartment. Anyway, recycling is more about not filling up the landfills than it is about actually not wasting a recycleable resource.
posted by caddis at 4:54 AM on February 5, 2007


jb, let's put this one to rest, shall we? This will be my last contribution to the discussion.

I never said in all my comments that change was easy. In fact, I clearly said several times that it was hard, took more time and equipment and skill, was a conscious choice that entailed effort, and was less convenient. I see our reliance on convenience foods as a cultural ill that needs to be changed, and we need to make an effort to change which will not always be easy or comfortable but which will greatly improve the future of human life on earth in many ways. I happen to think a lot of people are capable of that additional effort. That doesn't mean I disagree with you about systemic issues; in fact, I do agree with you, and working on those is part of food advocacy. Without solving them, the change will be shallow and incomplete.

You've tried to show that some healthy foods are more expensive than some unhealthy foods. I've shown that some healthy foods are cheaper than some unhealthy foods. Both statements can be true if we're just comparing random grocery items; you could make a list of cheap processed foods and expensive healthy foods a yard long, and it still wouldn't prove that it's impossible to cook and eat whole foods on a limited budget with efficient planning. My point is that no matter how many 10-cent packages of ramen one is able to buy, it is also possible to make food that is both healthy and cheap -- if you can be satisfied with less overall bulk and have the time (20-30 minutes a day) and basic equipment to cook at home. I won't let that be refuted, because I do it.

Essentially, we need to work on two fronts: individual change to the degree to which we are capable, and social/economic change directed at the systems that bring food to us. The point I want to leave this part of the discussion with is that individual change is a pretty important part of the plan, and that thevast majority of people in developed countries canchange the way they shop, eat, and cook, ifthey want to, and if they accept that it's a project which will be less easy, but will provide other rewards and benefits. Even many lower-income people can do this, if they have a kitchen and access to a reasonable grocery store and perhaps some cooking education where needed. And working for social change in our approach to food will make even those resources more available to the remaining people who presently do not have it.

For more on all that, see the links I posted. Thanks for your input; the problems you mention are real and need to be addressed along with all the other ills of the industrialized food system.
posted by Miko at 8:54 AM on February 5, 2007


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