A Journey toward (real) food


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The husband and I just finished reading Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, and it has sparked lots of good conversation about our priorities for the food we put onto our–and our son’s–plate. That’s a conversation that started before we left for Paris and evolved as we witnessed how a different culture can have a very dramatically different relationship to foods, which is something that Pollan talks about quite a bit.

(You can click through my “What the French Know about Food” posts here, here, and here.)

In Defense of Food isn’t doctine-y at all, although in a few places Pollan waxes a bit too poetical for my taste about his garden and being part of an ecosystem (for me, my garden = cheap, clean veggies, pure and simple). And it taught me things about how food policy gets made in the U.S. that I’m really glad to know as a consumer and a parent. At the end of the day, now I know that we need to trust our own sense of what’s right with food over anything the FDA or the American Heart Association says. 

Pollan brings home the need for common sense over “expert” recommendations through his strangely moving chronicle of the rise of the low-fat movement in official dietary recommendations. Or maybe it was just moving for me because it made me think back to my childhood. My parents–striving to “do right” and follow the best recommendations–always bought low-fat everything. At the time, I don’t think it ever occurred to any of us that (a) we were eating a lot more artificial or modified foods because of this or that (b) we were eating a lot more sugar and carbohydrates in products from which fat had been subtracted. 

And that brings us to the main point of Pollan’s book, which probably should have been the first thing I mentioned: what is meant by the title. When Pollan writes about defending “food,” what he means is the notion that the food we buy and eat should be comprised of a combination of recognizable ingredients, not engineered “food products” (Read: convenience foods, chain restaurant menu items, and anything that has ingredients you can’t pronounce).

Another great food book, The End of Overeating, illustrates in detail how these food products are different from actual food. The main difference is that, rather than being designed to satisfy, food products are designed to lead to more cravings. Whereas The End of Overeating focuses more on the engineering of specific foods, In Defense of Food looks a bit more at industry trends like marketing different foods to different members of the family and encouraging the notion that even at home, everyone should cook (read: microwave pre-package food substance) their own thing.

In our home, as we try to teach Liam to be a diverse eater while still giving him opportunities to enjoy the occasional treat, I am realizing that parenting a healthy eater really means learning to be a healthier eater myself. 


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