Sunday, March 2, 2008

i read a book

I like to start books. I don't like to finish them. It's because I'm not so great at managing time, because I'm not a quick reader, and because a lot of my reading time is usually devoted to textbooks (which take even longer to read than regular ones).

But the other day I finished a book:

Jacob has been dutifully working his way through Michael Pollan's entire catalogue, but all I'd read were some of Pollan's articles for the New York Times. This book is an entertaining read, and it incorporates some of the material from the NYT articles and from Pollan's past books to support his argument that our culture's obsession with nutrition is what is really keeping us from being healthy.

By breaking foods down into nutrients, Pollan says, we value only those tiny and poorly-understood pieces instead of the food itself. It's not yogurt that's good for you; it's calcium. It's not carrots that are good for you, it's beta-carotene. So go ahead and isolate some calcium and some beta-carotene and put it in Gatorade and you'll be fine. Or something. The point, though, is that humans as a species had a generally healthy diet, and their eating habits generally didn't kill them, up until the past century or so when we decided to start messing with food and trying to synthesize it. And there was really nothing wrong with that yogurt or that carrot in the first place.

I've always thought I had a decent diet, but it wasn't until recently that I started paying more attention to what other people eat and what is really available to us as consumers. Most recently I didn't bring enough for lunch one day at school, and I decided to go look in the vending machine. Out of all the edible food-like items in the machine, I found one thing (trail mix) that wasn't mostly processed corn and soy in one form or another. I was pretty surprised that I had never noticed before. This book explains why it is that what's most available is all corn and soy, and why that's not so great.

If you eat, and you live in the United States (or Canada, or any of the countries rapidly assuming our food habits), you might want to check out In Defense of Food.

If you don't have time, you could just watch this interview with Michael Pollan from the CBC show The Hour. It sums up the general message pretty well.

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