This is an outstanding interview with Michael Pollan who, as ever, is thought-provoking, intelligent and knowledgeable.
Here’s a taster of what he said:
Most food ‘products’ aren’t food, he says; they’re “edible food-like substances”.
Now read again his seven word mantra with that thought in mind:
eat food, not too much, mostly plants
That’s it in a nutshell. The discussion around these seven words was illuminating, and in ways I hadn’t thought before.
For example, yoghurt. Or bread. Both ‘good’ ‘natural’ foods, especially if the former is ‘granary’ or ‘wholemeal’. These are, though, manufactured food, complex products which do have good elements . . . and then, according to Pollan, we switch our minds off.
Many a yogurt, for example, contains more sugar than a can of coke. Most breads, too, contains sugar.
Big corporations now prepare our foods, meeting our desire for convenience; we have a supply-driven system not a demand-led one
The basic ingredients, such as corn, soy, wheat (or milk in the case of yoghurt) are cheap, very cheap. The more processing goes into the final product, the more ‘value-added’ it is, so the more the price goes up.
Cooking, Pollan said, is a major factor in what enabled the evolution of human intelligence. Cooking allows a greater release of energy from a foodstuff than would otherwise happen. (If that’s hard to grasp, think of the energy you have to expend in eating a raw carrot compared to that in eating a cooked one.)
Plus, we’re omnivores; i.e. can get the energy we need to live from a wide variety of sources. It’s a mixed blessing, though. First, omnivores have to have a culture that informs us of what’s healthy to eat. Secondly, that culture allows (what Pollan calls) ‘borderline foods’.
Supermarkets is the new ‘wilderness’ for us, giving us easy access to high calorie foodstuffs that throughout most of our evolutionary history was hard to find; i.e. the basis of the huge public health problem we face.
Agricultural practices and food markets are heavily subsidised, he says. And until we align agriculture and corporations with health policies, we will have an even greater public health problem than we currently do.
He has more than a tad criticism of nutritional science — and their ‘unholy alliance’ with manufacturers. As he says, you don’t need to be a biochemist to eat a healthy diet.
Broccoli doesn’t brag. But it’s a truly healthy food.
As many others have said before, where once it was the rich who were overweight, it is now the poor who struggle with obesity. The cheapest calories are the most unhealthy; for a ingle US dollar, you can buy 250 calories of carrots or 1000 calories of cola.
No doubt, the industrialisation of food has had great benefits. He pointed out that he doesn’t mill his own flour, and he uses frozen vegetables. But these achievements come with a cost . . .