Michael Pollan has a lot to say about food.
From food culture to agriculture, to health fads and scientific research, the award-winning journalist and activist has taken a microscope to it all. And with ten published books – eight of them focusing on food – he’s written about it all.
But for all his research and writing, Pollan’s work can be boiled down to this simple, 7-word, 3-step advice: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.
Pollan spends a large portion of his novel In Defense of Food talking about nutritionism, the scientific and government-lead ideology that judges food based on its nutrients. His argument: judging food based on its nutritional value misses the mark and actually has made us less healthy.
Instead, he offers this solution to healthier, more wholesome eating: eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. Let’s break down what this means:
By this, Pollan means to eat real food – not processed food.
He offers this advice: Don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food. But if you’re like me and fall into more of the Gen X or Millenial category, the great-grandmother advice doesn’t work.
The food industry and manufacturers have become really, really good at disguising processed food as “real” food. In fact, processed “food” has slowly replaced real food for decades and now dominates the central isles of the supermarket.
Pollan is not the first to offer up this advice. John Gussow has given speeches persuading the audience to “just eat food.” British nutritionist John Yudkin even suggesting people go back to the diets of their Neolithic ancestors.
Would this make us healthier? Comparing it the Western diet, it probably will. But Pollan offers more advice that doesn’t return us to hunter-gatherer times:
By this, Pollan doesn’t specifically want people to consume fewer calories (although based on how much Americans consume daily). What he means is that we should change the way we eat – not just the food itself.
To improve one’s relationship with food and avoid overeating, Pollan offers these bits of advice:
When we look back in time, humans mostly ate the plants and fruits of their harvests – not the seeds themselves. But in the Western Diet, people are consuming more seed and grain-based versions of food than the actual plant matter. This is a big, biological problem notably for one reason: vitamin C.
Our ancestors could produce vitamin C, ascorbic acid, on their own. Many of our biological processes rely on adequate supplies of vitamin C, including cell metabolism and defending the body against free radicals and inflammation.
However, our ancestors received an abundance of ascorbic acid from their plant-based diets. Over time, we lost the ability to produce this necessary nutrient ourselves. That means, we much consume enough of it (75 – 90 mg. daily) through plants to help our bodies function best.
If nutritionist and scientists agree on anything about eating, it’s this. Eating plants is probably very good for your health. Pollan suggests eating a variety of different plants from organic, healthy soil. He also suggests we drink a glass of wine with dinner, so we like his advice.
Of all the food and health advice out there, Michael Pollan’s 3-step ideology stands out.
No – he doesn’t offer you the typical health advice characteristic of today’s nutritionism. Take a B-complex multivitamin each day for better weight management! But this simple pathway to practicing a more wholesome food culture can stand the test of time.
Whatever diet you may already follow, or whichever food culture you practice, Pollan’s advice works with it. Unless, of course, you are like me and fall under the “Western diet” category. Then, it’s time we both connect with the roots of our food and environment to start living healthier, wholesome lives.