Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Industrial food in America

The older I get, I continue to marvel at how little I truly comprehend the level of "fucked-upness" that pervades the culture I'm trapped living in the midst of. Take for instance, food--or something closely resembling the industrial approximation that comprises the diet of average Americans.

Writing about food is a lot like writing about religion. Americans generally know little about either topic, but that doesn't stop them from getting offended when you broach the subject. Better, both topics are chock full of misinformation, myth, and downright destructive ideologies.

I just got done listening to Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto, on CD. I'd read most of The Omnivore's Dilemma, and have consistently sought out his columns in the New York Times and other places, writing about food in America. Pollan regularly has stated that the food system in our country is a matter of national importance. It rarely is framed, however, in almost any political debate, or discussion.

What I love about Pollan is that his writing on the topic hits us right between the eyes, like when he wrote back in July, in the New York Times Magazine “How is it that we are so eager to watch other people browning beef cubes on screen but so much less eager to brown them ourselves? For the rise of Julia Child as a figure of cultural consequence — along with Alice Waters and Mario Batali and Martha Stewart and Emeril Lagasse and whoever is crowned the next Food Network star — has, paradoxically, coincided with the rise of fast food, home-meal replacements and the decline and fall of everyday home cooking.” Food, like just about everything else in our land of make-believe has become just another spectator sport.

Because Americans have become ahistorical, Pollan's thoughts and ideas seem new, and somewhat offputting to anyone that thinks high fructose corn syrup is one of the essential food groups. Actually, others have firmly tamped this ground before, writers like Wendell Berry, before Pollan, and Joan Gussow both understood the connection between dietary health and its connection to our agriculture, and policies that drive it. One can even go back further to Sir Albert Howard, British botanist and organic farming pioneer, in the 19th century. Pollan references all three in his latest treatise on food, in which he indicts the American food industry as the cause for our plague of obesity, diabetes, coronary disease, and cancer, to name a few of the serious health issues that now are rampant across the U.S. Let's have a conversation about health care reform, and while having that conversation, let's also place part of the blame squarely where it belongs in this conversation; firmly on the American diet of highly processed, industrial foods.

I'm now more than four months into a journey that I don't plan on turning back from. I've faced up to some truths in my own diet that weren't easy to tackle at first. As weight has come off, and I've become conscious of what I'm putting into my mouth and body, the words of Pollan have resonated with me.

Health is more than how much you weigh, or how many times you exercise each week. Pollan boils his ideas down into their most basic element when he states, "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

Not a bad manifesto for Americans to adopt.

1 comment:

Lisa K. said...

I am jealous. I have more than a few pounds to lose myself, and IT IS HARD (she says as she eats a dinner of white bread and spaghetti sause...)