Sunday, January 28, 2007

Yet another book for the list

Dammit... I'm just finishing up on my Vietnam history binge, I've got friends demanding I read Vernor Vinge's books, and now I obviously have to read Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma. He has a fantastic essay on the western diet and the evils therein in the NYT Magazine this week. READ READ READ.
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. I hate to give away the game right here at the beginning of a long essay, and I confess that I’m tempted to complicate matters in the interest of keeping things going for a few thousand more words. I’ll try to resist but will go ahead and add a couple more details to flesh out the advice. Like: 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.
I especially like this part at the end:
Eat more like the French. Or the Japanese. Or the Italians. Or the Greeks. Confounding factors aside, people who eat according to the rules of a traditional food culture are generally healthier than we are. Any traditional diet will do: if it weren’t a healthy diet, the people who follow it wouldn’t still be around. True, food cultures are embedded in societies and economies and ecologies, and some of them travel better than others: Inuit not so well as Italian. In borrowing from a food culture, pay attention to how a culture eats, as well as to what it eats. In the case of the French paradox, it may not be the dietary nutrients that keep the French healthy (lots of saturated fat and alcohol?!) so much as the dietary habits: small portions, no seconds or snacking, communal meals — and the serious pleasure taken in eating. (Worrying about diet can’t possibly be good for you.) Let culture be your guide, not science.


Battlepanda said...

Frankly, there's nothing like reading michael pollan to make me want to run screaming to an american grocery store where I will bust open bags of Ho Hos right there in the snack aisle before washing them down with gallons of high-fructose corn syrup infused soda after dipping them well in butter flavored crisco. It's not that I disagree with the man per se, I often agree with him, and when I do not it is often on issues where I'm withholding my judgement rather than positively against his point of view, but gosh he can be a smug, sanctimonious sonofabitch while doing the whole sensitive writer who addresses readers in a personal way thing.

OK rant over.

john said...

Um, no, seriously. Tell us how you really feel.

See, I got hungry for salad reading him. What does that say about me and the smug sanctimony that I write?