Monday, January 29, 2007

Thanks, Mr. Pollan

Finally, an article about food by Michael Pollan in the NYT that tells it like it is:

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

That, more or less, is the short answer to the supposedly incredibly complicated and confusing question of what we humans should eat in order to be maximally healthy.... A little meat won’t kill you, though it’s better approached as a side dish than as a main. And you’re much better off eating whole fresh foods than processed food products. That’s what I mean by the recommendation to eat “food.” Once, food was all you could eat, but today there are lots of other edible foodlike substances in the supermarket. These novel products of food science often come in packages festooned with health claims, which brings me to a related rule of thumb: if you’re concerned about your health, you should probably avoid food products that make health claims. Why? Because a health claim on a food product is a good indication that it’s not really food, and food is what you want to eat.

Exactly. I have never understood why Americans think that food is some sort of gasoline that you chug down in order to function, when food is one of the most glorious pleasures in the world. Having written copy for a major processed foods company, I will tell you that the American cheese you and I love is not actually cheese but a "pasteurized cheese product" that contains (and this is marketed as an actual beneficial claim) 5% real cheese. I love American cheese on top of a Dumont burger, but I have never been under the impression that it is actually cheese, like Brie or Idiazabal are cheese.
This processed food company actually didn't sell one single item that could be categorized as food. They sold powdered drinks for kids that claimed to have 10% vitamin C and with which you could dye your hair for Halloween, they sold packaged simulacra of food that is consumed on a daily basis by everybody in this country. If they cared about nutrition and the scary fattening of our young, it was only in order to look good and keep selling more crappy products. And every time we went to meetings there, there was never any food on the conference room table. Not even bottles of water. They were cheap, yes, but also I think they just didn't relate to food.
Americans just don't know how to eat. I'll give you an example: Yesterday I bought a sandwich at Midway airport in Chicago. It was a prosciutto and mozzarella focaccia sandwich. It turned out to be impossible to eat because somebody had put half a pound of prosciutto inside. Prosciutto is an incredibly flavorful ham that does the trick with one or two slices. There's no need to put the whole hog in there. Because it is chewy, it's not easy to bite off in big amounts. So something that on paper sounded like a good meal, ended up being an ordeal. Also, it had lettuce in it, which was completely unnecessary. If you think food is fuel, it stands to reason that you will think you need to fill up the tank, hence the obscene portion amounts in this country and the fact that you wouldn't know the secret of a good sandwich (the skillful layering of discreet amounts of several yummy ingredients) if it hit you in the mouth. Cf. the Mexican torta: Mexican food's gift to the sandwich world.

Of course it’s also a lot easier to slap a health claim on a box of sugary cereal than on a potato or carrot, with the perverse result that the most healthful foods in the supermarket sit there quietly in the produce section, silent as stroke victims, while a few aisles over, the Cocoa Puffs and Lucky Charms are screaming about their newfound whole-grain goodness.
Exactly. I highly recommend everybody in America reads this very smart, entertaining article. Maybe the sandwiches in this country will finally improve after this.

No comments:

Post a Comment