Pollan, not pollen

January 13, 2009

Michelle, Zev and I heard a great talk tonight by Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals and In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto. It wasn’t specifically relevant to beekeeping, but is certainly relevant to the locavore mantra we’ve been preaching here lately. Indulge me then a tangent.

Pollan suggested that Nutritionism has become the dominant ideology of Western food-thought. Its tenets are:

  1. Food is a nothing but a sum of its constituent nutrients
  2. Because you can’t directly see nutrients, knowledge of what to eat is a mystery that must be guided by experts (a priesthood, if you will)
  3. The goal of eating is to improve bodily health (not, say, to savor the meal or one’s company at it)
  4. Nutrients are either good or evil (e.g., Omega-3 is Good, high fructose corn syrup is Evil)

This ideology leads to various flawed conclusions. For one, the “good” and “evil” nutrients change over time, like fashion. At the turn of the century, Kellogg preached that protein was evil, and that a healthy diet consisted of primarily carbohydrates (yes, that Kellogg).

Worse, if there are “good” nutrients, then eating lots of them must be better. And this exactly has been the recommendation of the goverment (at the behest of the agriculture industry): encourage people to eat more things with “good” nutrients in them, rather than to eat less of anything.

As a result, obesity, diabetes and heart disease have skyrocketed over the past several decades, to the point where the CDC predicts that 1 in 3 children born in the year 2000 will eventually develop Type 2 diabetes!

Pollan’s recommendation? He has lots, but one that resonated with me is “shorten the food chain”. If you know the person who you are getting your food from, it’s much less likely to be processed “edible food-like substances” than if you are buying it anonymously in the store. In other words, eat local!

And now, for those annoyed at my non-beekeeping tangent, is the obligatory bee-relevant tidbit of the story: another rule he suggested was “only eat things that rot” (i.e., if it has so many preservatives or is so far removed from biology that molds and bacteria don’t want any of it, neither should you). He caught himself though, and exempted that one natural food that never rots, that has been found edible in Egyptian tombs after millenia, honey.

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