Tag Archives: Michael Pollan

Trust in Food, Lies in Food

As I am writing this, I am sitting at a Coffeehouse called Verite Coffee. Their coffee is good, their cupcakes are even better. I visit here often because it’s convenient, and the product they sell (coffee, cupcakes) are quite good. I have a fair amount of faith that if I hand over my six dollars, I’m going to be rewarded with a pleasant experience.

The key word in the above paragraph is the word “faith”. I didn’t blindly give it to the proprietors of Verite. They had earned it through a fair amount of repetition of experience.

It’s this word “faith” that I latched onto when I was reading Michael Pollan’s piece Unhappy Meals in the most recent New York Time Magazine. My mind acknowledged the major thesis of his article, but still found it lacking a decent foundation from which the thesis is based.

The overall idea in the article is that “nutritionism” (a word coined by a sociologist) has played a large factor in the over processing of processed food.

In the case of nutritionism, the widely shared but unexamined assumption is that the key to understanding food is indeed the nutrient. From this basic premise flow several others. Since nutrients, as compared with foods, are invisible and therefore slightly mysterious, it falls to the scientists (and to the journalists through whom the scientists speak) to explain the hidden reality of foods to us. To enter a world in which you dine on unseen nutrients, you need lots of expert help.

But expert help to do what, exactly? This brings us to another unexamined assumption: that the whole point of eating is to maintain and promote bodily health.

It’s an interesting idea, and one that sounds correct at it’s core. But the nutritionism is an effect, not a cause.

The key time frame that nutritionism entered into the industrial food world is roughly between 1975 and the late 1980′s/early 1990′s. This era roughly coincides with the rise of two very major socio-economic trends – single parent households and dual income households. And what’s the one resource in demand in both of these types of families?

Time.

The “nutritional” food explosion of the era in question didn’t happen in a vacuum. It happened as a result of the marketplace not knowing what was in their food anymore, and not having the time (nor inclination) to find out. And as such, they turned their faith and trust over to food producers, in hopes that the food they purchased would be healthy, delicious, and convenient. And if two of those three properties aren’t available, please oh please let the food be convenient above anything else. One can see this in the rise of fast food, pizza delivery and single serving packaging.

The question on the table is now, did some industrial food companies abuse that trust? Of course they did, often by giving an allusion towards healthiness or deliciousness where none truly existed. The “All Natural 7up” and the low-fat ice cream are all the same strategy from the same playbook that has been around since Coca-Cola was sold as a health tonic.

Pollan does address this in his article.

The sheer novelty and glamour of the Western diet, with its 17,000 new food products introduced every year, and the marketing muscle used to sell these products, has overwhelmed the force of tradition and left us where we now find ourselves: relying on science and journalism and marketing to help us decide questions about what to eat. Nutritionism, which arose to help us better deal with the problems of the Western diet, has largely been co-opted by it, used by the industry to sell more food and to undermine the authority of traditional ways of eating. You would not have read this far into this article if your food culture were intact and healthy; you would simply eat the way your parents and grandparents and great-grandparents taught you to eat. The question is, Are we better off with these new authorities than we were with the traditional authorities they supplanted? The answer by now should be clear.

With so much riding on diets, there’s only one person you should trust in your food decisions – yourself. If you find yourself lacking in information, find the time in your week to do the necessary research. It doesn’t matter if your primary choices are based on convenience, taste or health – it is you that has to live with the consequences of your choices. Faith in faceless institutions, especially in food companies whose primary goal is to increase their stock prices, is always an iffy proposition.

tags technorati : Food Choices Food


Michael Pollan on the Spinach/E.Coli debacle

From the New York Time Magazine:

But there’s nothing sentimental about local food — indeed, the reasons to support local food economies could not be any more hardheaded or pragmatic. Our highly centralized food economy is a dangerously precarious system, vulnerable to accidental — and deliberate — contamination. This is something the government understands better than most of us eaters. When Tommy Thompson retired from the Department of Health and Human Services in 2004, he said something chilling at his farewell news conference: “For the life of me, I cannot understand why the terrorists have not attacked our food supply, because it is so easy to do.ˮ The reason it is so easy to do was laid out in a 2003 G.A.O. report to Congress on bioterrorism. “The high concentration of our livestock industry and the centralized nature of our food-processing industryˮ make them “vulnerable to terrorist attack.ˮ Today 80 percent of America’s beef is slaughtered by four companies, 75 percent of the precut salads are processed by two and 30 percent of the milk by just one company. Keeping local food economies healthy — and at the moment they are thriving — is a matter not of sentiment but of critical importance to the national security and the public health, as well as to reducing our dependence on foreign sources of energy.

I could easily have printed any paragraph out of the article, as there is much information there to be digested. The entire article is worth your read.

I choose the above paragraph as I wanted statistics to illustrate the lack of diversity and competition within the food industry. It is this lack of competition that puts the American Conusmers at risk, it is this lack of competition which was grossly on display with the Spinach /E Coli outbreak. It’s also only one variable of a list of about a half-dozen or so which allowed this to happen.

From the top of my head, here are other issues that allowed the E.Coli outbreak – Feedlot Cattle; Cattle CAFFA’s in close proximity to produce farms; questionable water source and water practices; no checks or balances to catch ‘dirty’ product; questionable washing processes;an underfunded FDA to adequately an follow up on outbreaks in a quick manner. Every one of these issues added to the outbreak. As the cliche goes “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem”. Any argument that states that the aforemention issues helped rather than hindered the food safety issue surrounding the spinach outbreak better be ready to support such claims.

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As a side note, I do not think it’s hyperbole to equate Mr. Pollan with Rachel Carson, nor to compare The Ominvore’s Dillema with Silent Spring. I don’t make this statement lightly. If you haven’t read The Ominvore’s Dillema, you really should.

Technorati Tags: Spinach, E.Coli, Michael Pollan


Michael Pollan and Whole Foods

First, Michael Pollan writes a book marginally critical of Whole Foods.

Next, John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, responds to Mr. Pollan on their blog.

And now, Michael Pollan responds to Mr. Mackey on his own blog.

Personally, I’m glad both of them are willing to discuss their agreements and disagreements in such a public way.

tags technorati : food Michael Pollan Whole Foods The Ominvore’s Dilemma


Michael Pollan on Foie Gras

Okay, okay, I’m going a little bit overboard on Michael Pollan of late, but the dude is on top of his game. It also helps that he and I share the same brain on several topics.

On his New York Times Blog (hidden behind a login screen that one must pay for), he makes the following statement on the recent Chicago Foie Gran ban:

Iâ??m not about to defend foie gras from the legions of righteous animal defenders. But do we have any reason to believe that feeding ducks and geese corn through tubes put down their throats is any more brutal than snipping off tails and beaks? I have not visited either of Americaâ??s foie gras farms, but I note that they have invited journalists to visit and see the operations for themselves. (Just try to wangle your way into an industrial chicken or hog facility.) Some of the journalists who have accepted that invitation report that the birds rush over to the farmers at feeding time. Our own visceral revulsion at the prospect of having tubes stuck down our throats may have to do with the fact we have a gag reflex; ducks and geese do not. I seriously doubt youâ??d ever see pigs rushing over to the man wielding the pliers.

To ban foie gras is symbolic politics at its worst, a way to create the appearance of doing something about a problem that politicians â?? and, letâ??s face it, most of us eaters â?? would rather not confront. So we close down a couple of foie gras farms. (Though the California law gives the farmers till 2012 to desist, which is odd: if force-feeding ducks is really so heinous, then how in good conscience can we abide the practice for six more years?) We brace ourselves for a major change in our eating habits: no more foie gras after 2012. What a sacrifice! And, after patting ourselves on the back for all weâ??ve done for the animals, we can now, with clear conscience, turn back to our breakfast, ordering bacon and eggs, sunny side up.

The hypocrisy behind the Foie Gras ban is something that the folks at PETA seem to be unwilling to address. Chicago, home of Armour meats, would have been the perfect place to confront some of the issues that are worth bringing into the public discourse. Instead, they chose to attack a small farm producer that’s trying to be as transparent as possible.

(Thanks Jack!)

Technorati Tags: Foie Gras, Michael Pollan, PETA, Food


Whole Foods responds to “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”

It’s an interesting read if you’re into that kind of stuff.


How much Corn is in a McNugget?

The following is purely for entertainment purposes only.

The ingredients in bold indicate the ingredient is directly derived from corn.

The ingredients in italics indicate the ingedient is indirectly derived from corn.

Chicken:

  • Boneless chicken breast
  • water
  • modified cornstarch
  • salt
  • chicken flavor
  • yeast extract
  • wheat starch
  • natural flavoring (animal source)
  • safflower oil
  • dextrose
  • citric acid
  • rosemary
  • sodium phosphates
  • natural extractives of rosemary
  • canola and/or soybean oil
  • mono-and diglycerides
  • lecithin

Battered and Breaded with:

  • Water
  • enriched bleached wheat flour
  • yellow corn flour
  • bleached wheat flour
  • modified corn starch
  • salt
  • leavening (baking soda, sodium acid pyrophosphate, sodium aluminum phosphate, monocalcium phosphate, calcium lactate)
  • spices
  • wheat starch
  • whey
  • corn starch

Breading set in:

  • vegetable oil

Cooked in:

  • partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, (may contain partially hydrogenated soybean oil and/or partially hydrogenated corn oil and/or partially hydrogenated canola oil and/or cottonseed oil and/or sunflower oil and/or corn oil)
  • wheat
  • milk
  • soybean

Some notes:

Chicken: Chickens are fed with corn.

Bleached wheat flour: Most bleached flours are often bleached with corn starch.

Milk and Whey: Dairy products from cows fed with corn.

Inspired by “The Omnivore’s Dilemma“, references found here, here and here.

Technorati Tags: Food, McDonald’s, Corn, McNuggets