Dear Mr. Pollan,
It was refreshing to hear you speak tonight on small vs. large farms, sustainable agriculture and moving our society to real, unprocessed foods instead of the crazy products you carried into the Wharton Center in Meijer bags. You have a good time poking fun at corn, don’t you? It deserves it, we don’t mind.
You had some striking sound bites that I shared on Twitter that night, so since I’m about to disagree with you, I thought I’d tell you there are a lot of things I love about your message. Here’s what I tweeted:
- Some of @michaelpollan ‘s best quotes tonight: We have an unhealthy obsession w/healthy eating= “Nutritionism”
- No 1 ideal diet: What an achievement for our civilization to have come up w/the ONE diet that makes people sick!”
- What is best for health = best for agriculture too. Farmers can’t diversify fields until we diversify our diets.
- Pollan to farmers: “You have chosen the most important work anyone can do for nation, self, family; a noble profession.
- Pollan to farmers cont: “Farmers need to learn to talk to eaters. Do some direct marketing. Get to know your eater.”
- “Pay people a living wage to buy real food instead of subsidizing to lower the price of food.”
Now that I’ve stroked your ego a little bit, I have to tell you that I bought your new book, Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual. I read it in about 45 minutes, which I suppose is the point of putting together 64 brief rules about eating food.
I would have loved to sit down with you after the talk and have a little chat about Food Rules. As I read the book, I immediately began formatting a rebuttal on three of your points. Three wrong out of 64 really isn’t a bad grade, Mr. Pollan, so don’t worry about getting an A- or a B+. No one can be 100% right all the time!
Many of them are marvelous, really. I take a bit of an issue with “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants,” your 7-word mantra, only because I am not sure I agree with “mostly plants.”
Three Food Rules I Disagree With
#23: Treat meat as a flavoring or special occasion food. You are absolutely right that Americans need to change their relationship with meat. We do probably eat too much of it, but worse, it’s the wrong kinds. Corn-fed beef with lower omega-3s and unhappy chickens aren’t nourishing us well.
I use less meat than I’d like, just because it’s so expensive. However, meat and dairy are an important source of nutrient-dense food, and you can spend an awful lot of money eating vegetables and have a hard time getting your healthy fats, cholesterol and proteins. Eating more plants and less meat and dairy may result in too many grains and carbs, which would make us fat without much nourishment.
I’m happy you take the middle ground and don’t say “only plants,” but I’d like to see you laud the value of good, healthy meats even more.
#26 Drink the spinach water. I understand the value , both for frugality and nutrition, of using the water vegetables are cooked in. The cooking process leaches minerals and vitamins from the veggies, so consuming the water is one way to try to get those back in your body. Spinach is my ultimate top powerhouse superfood vegetable. Unfortunately, spinach contains oxalic acid or oxalate, a compound that inhibits the absorption of both calcium and iron.
Cooking spinach quickly for about one minute neutralizes oxalates, but they end up in the cooking water. Therefore, using the spinach water, of all things, is about the worst thing you could do as you would be ingesting more toxins than necessary. Maybe “Use your carrot water” would be a better rule. (Note: Broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, and kale also release toxins into their cooking water. Don’t reuse!)
#39 Eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself. When I read this, I had homemade pumpkin ice cream, coconut pie, homemade potato chips and leftover rock candy from Christmas tempting me to wander through the kitchen and “graze”. As an at-home mom who loves to cook, I could keep us too well-stocked with hazardous foods!
“Cooking yourself” needs the caveat of “from healthy recipes” or “without white flour or sugar”. You know how bad white sugar is for people, right? However, this rule would work well for most people and might encourage healthy cooking from scratch. Come on over to my house sometime, Mr. Pollan, and I’ll whip you up some awesome Healthy Snacks!
My Favorite Food Rules
#29 Eat like an omnivore. Yep. We eat too much corn and soy as a culture. Let’s eat more variety!
#35 Eat sweet foods as you find them in nature. Pairing sweets with fiber was an intriguing point for me…
#40 Be the kind of person who takes supplements…and then skip the supplements! I’ve often wondered if it’s more the lifestyle of healthy people rather than the pills they pop that keep them healthy! I’d love an excuse not to take my vitamins. 😉
#44 Pay more, eat less. You deserve to be quoted: “If you spend more for better food, you’ll probably eat less of it, and treat it with more care…Choose quality over quantity, food experience over mere calories. Or as grandmothers used to say, “Better to pay the grocer than the doctor.”” Amen!
#46 Stop eating before you’re full. I love that the French say “I have no more hunger,” instead of “I’m full.” We Americans train ourselves to over eat.
Thanks for stepping out there to encourage real food and bring attention to the monoculture of corn, Mr. Pollan. You’re doing important work! Want to be interviewed on Kitchen Stewardship someday?
Note: Donielle and I had the great privilege of getting to see Michael Pollan speak a few weeks ago. He packed a huge theater at Michigan State University, and I thought my hand would fall off by the end from the frantic notes I was taking. I will work on making some notes from Pollan’s excellent speech to share with you all sometime soon.
I also keep putting off typing a post about the experts I talked to on soaking grains, perhaps because the document of their conversations and my thoughts alone is 26 pages! Sheesh! Distilling that down to some bullet points or a table is my hope for Friday’s post; give me some encouragement if you want to see it and maybe I’ll quit procrastinating… 😉 You can see all my soaking grains research so far to catch up if you’d like.
Photo credit from lemonice photos.