On Watching Acclaimed Foodie Author Michael Pollan
Last Thursday night I had the honor of watching (and meeting!) one of my all-time favorite authors, Michael Pollan, give a talk. Pollan’s books have consistently made the NY Times Best Seller lists, and for good reason. I was first introduced to his literature several years ago when I interned in the Northstar Cafe home office, where we read and discussed some of his books as a sort of weekly book club. I fell in love with his writing and philosophy on food when I read In Defense of Food. At the time, I was at the still struggling with my self-image and obsessing over trying to lose weight. His acclaimed quote, “eat food, not too much, mostly plants,” hit home. Not coming from any sort of nutritional background and being simply struck by the western diet’s obsession with “health,” yet being the most unhealthy culture on the planet, he set out to answer the question “what should we eat?” A question that is so seemingly simple, but the Western culture has complicated to an extreme. The moment we step into the supermarket, or turn on the TV, or open our favorite magazine, we are inundated by the latest and greatest “health” fads and experts telling us what we should and shouldn’t eat. After months of research and interviews, he came up with the “eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” A simple answer to a simple question.
During his talk he made several points that had me shaking my head and saying “yes” or “absolutely” aloud like I was in some vocal church audience.
He brought a bag of several items he picked up at the supermarket to the talk, including Coca-Cola, peach Greek yogurt, chocolate Chex cereal, a cereal bar with dry “milk,” and a container of strawberries. Going through the bag of products, he emphasized the advertisements on the packaging. Yogurt is supposedly healthy, yet it had more sugar per serving than the bottle of Coke. Chex cereal is gluten-free! (splayed in bold letters on the front of the box)..but it has always been! And no longer does Chex cereal have high-fructose corn syrup!..but taking a look at the ingredients list, you can see it has been replaced with pure fructose (even worse for your body!…or so says the latest studies…). What is this white powdery “milk” really made of in the cereal bar? A myriad of unrecognizable man-made chemicals. The strawberries, with no screaming advertisements on the package, were the healthiest food in the bag. Pollan elaborated on the fact that the quietest products in the grocery store are typically the most healthy. A head of romaine lettuce or bunch of bananas are also gluten-free…and pack significantly more nutritional value than the chocolate Chex. (As a disclaimer, I completely understand some people actually suffer from celiac disease, but my point is that most people don’t and don’t need all these gluten-free products). Your avocado or apple doesn’t need any extensive ingredient list, because it is a whole, and completely nutritious, food in itself.
Pollan moved on to define “overexia,” the noun he has come up with to describe the obsession Westerns have developed with attempting to be healthy (which I totally loved). Advertisements are plastered all over products at the supermarket, with little to no regulation by any agency, but consumers buy into them because they want to be healthy. Pollan points out that cultures that have continued to eat the way their ancestors ate, and don’t have all these crazy colorful advertisements, are exceedingly more healthy than our general population. These cultures he refers to aren’t eating superfoods day in and day out, or cutting out all carbs or sugar, but they’re eating real food. Some live on primarily red meat, or beans and white rice, but they’re still so much healthier than Westerners!
I cannot deny I am also guilty of reading up on the latest “healthy” food trend or study, but as I state in my foodie philosophy, I believe the best diet is to focus on real, nourishing, whole food. When we look at food now we sometimes don’t even see what we’re eating, but instead a list of scientific terms and invisible nutrients (“High in Antioxidants!,” “Fat Free!,” etc.). Your body knows what it needs to thrive, and it will respond by communicating that to you through your energy levels and your physical well-being. Listen to it! Your digestive tract has neurons (yes, brain cells!) in it for a reason!
Do I look excited?? Because I SO was! 🙂 …and a little starstruck!
For anyone looking for an good foodie read, or just a good book, I highly suggest one (or all) of Pollan’s. Some are more scientific, and some are more fun. To learn more on how I have taken Pollan’s insight and manifested into my own life, read my Foodie Philosophy page!
Have you read any of his books?? Which is your favorite?