What's wrong with America's approach to food?

obese baby
CC BY 2.0 Joe 13

Michael Pollan believes that America is suffering from a “national eating disorder.” The entire country has to rethink its approach to food and eating if it ever hopes to improve the general health of the population.

In an interview with Julia Belluz of Vox, Pollan explains where he thinks America has gone wrong. It’s a conversation that is particularly relevant in light of the new dietary guidelines, which (unsurprisingly) disappointed many people in their lack of consideration for environmental sustainability and even health.

1. There is an over-emphasis on ‘nutritionism’ and too little on culture.

Eating is viewed as scientific, a sort of negotiation between the eater and a bunch of chemicals in the food, a.k.a. nutrients. Pollan goes so far as to link it to Puritan roots: “The idea that you’d eat for pleasure is an uncomfortable idea for people in such a culture.”

By contrast, Brazil has created an impressive set of food guidelines that take the cultural setting into consideration when providing recommendations:

Pollan says: “They encourage Brazilians to eat with other people. What does this have to do with health? It turns out it has everything to do with health. We know that snacking and eating alone are destructive to health.”

2. The food industry is far too involved in the creation of food guidelines.

The food production industry has high stakes in everything the government says about food. The Department of Agriculture, which is partly responsible for the guidelines, should have no place in the creation of the guidelines, since its primary task is to sell U.S. agricultural products. This is a major conflict of interest.

Furthermore, the industry loves turning the conversation about food into a discussion of nutrients because it creates opportunities for new health claims:

“If ‘added sugar’ becomes a food category, which it hasn’t been in the past, it’ll be an opportunity for foodmakers to boast about how little added sugar they have in their products. But that won’t turn unhealthy food into healthy food.”

3. People are getting distracted from the real food.

Pollan maintains that his food rules are still relevant. Don’t eat anything your grandmother wouldn’t eat. Stick to the outside perimeter of the grocery store. Make your own treats, because they’ll always be better than the store-bought varieties with a six-month shelf life. Basically, eat the kinds of things that have been eaten for a long time, before food science tried to ‘improve’ them.

Tags: Diet | Food Security | Health | Michael Pollan | United States

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