Last night I had the opportunity–along with thousands of others–to spend an evening listening to an interactive and entertaining lecture presented by Michael Pollan, author of the wildly popular In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto. Masses of eager listeners–myself among them–piled into a downtown Madison sports arena to hear the words and ideas of the nation’s “real food expert” right from his own mouth. It was highly informative and educational, to say the least.
One thing in particular that Michael Pollan said last night really stuck with me. He said (and I’m paraphrasing) that we as a culture have lost our ability to eat for pleasure. With every forkful of food, we’re either ruining our diets or redeeming them. You know the last time you ate that bowl of ice-cream at 10 pm? You were, in a sense, sabotaging all the “good” efforts you made that day by eating oatmeal for breakfast, nothing for lunch, and a salad for dinner. After downing the pint (dare I say more!) of ice-cream, you became infested with guilt. The next day, you awoke committed to “redeeming” yourself by eating SUPER healthy. It’s likely that you starved yourself most of the day, then found yourself ravishing that night and binged on sweets or comfort foods all over again. It’s a vicious, vicious cycle. And all the while, you are not enjoying anything you’re eating because it’s either a good food or a bad food, not a nourishing food. That brings me to my next point.
Pollan talked a bit last night about how we categorize foods so quickly. Fat is bad, carbs are good. No, carbs are bad, protein is good. Wait. Vegetables are good, everything else is bad. High fructose corn syrup is REALLY bad, but plain old sugar is okay after all. No, no, no. Carbs, including sugar, are bad…remember? Although, new research has said they’re not so bad after all. See what I mean? One food becomes a god, another becomes the devil. In our nation today, everything is labelled good or bad, healthy or unhealthy. This labelling system, this diet cycle of ruining-redeeming-ruining-redeeming, is making us fat, sick, and downright confused about nutrition.
So what are we to do? In a world of swiftly changing ideas about what’s healthy and what’s unhealthy, how are we to make sense of it all? Here are some tips:
- First (and this is suggested by Michael Pollan and highly endorsed by me!), eat REAL food! What is real food? Stuff that is eaten just as it is found in nature. Fruits, vegetables, quality proteins that come from humanely raised animals treated with care. Apples, not apple pop-tarts. Wild-caught fish, not fish sticks breaded in a list of 17+ ingredients.
- If there’s more than 5 ingredients on the list, don’t eat it. Ever look at what’s in your morning breakfast cereal? You might be surprised what you find there. Stick to plain, simple, whole foods.
- If it wasn’t around 100 years ago, don’t eat it. (I don’t think you could have found Go-Gurt at the county general store back in the early 1900′s.)
- Cook at home. When you cook at home, YOU control the quality of ingredients that goes into your food. You can support local farmers and choose humanely-raised animal products to eat when you cook at home. You have the power to vote for organic, free-range, or grass-fed products with your food dollar. Learn to cook. More important, learn to love it.
More than anything, last night’s lecture was both educational and encouraging for me. Looking around and seeing thousands of others in support of real, whole food was such an inspiration. I was reminded that real-food-lovers really are out there. Change is happening, and can continue to happen, starting with average-Joe people across the country…people like you and me.
When it comes right down to it, it is our decisions, choices, and opinions that will spark change and make an impact in this nation. So I hope you’ll join me in continued support of healthy, delicious, real food. Let’s be the change.
(Note: this post is part of Food Renegade’s “Fight Back Friday.”)