In Defense of Food: NPR interview with Michael Pollan about "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

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50 Responses to “In Defense of Food: NPR interview with Michael Pollan about "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."”

  1. ripley says:

    yeah, so if one of my grandmothers starved on the shtetl, and the other one was dirt poor (ketchup sandwiches on white bread), and then slightly better off, cooking with karo syrup and crisco and spam… sorry, not eating like that.

    not sure what assumptions go with “your grandmother” – what era did she live in, how poor or wealthy was she, what country…

  2. NeonCat says:

    Ideally, we would all be able to follow the diet that worked well for our ancestors, namely, wandering around outside, eating nuts, berries, wild vegetables and occasionally killing and eating a ruminant for meat. Or a fish or fowl.

    Whenever I read this type of post about what we should eat or how we should behave, I think about something I read earlier this year: “Pity all those poor healthy people, lying in their hospital beds, dying of nothing.”

    Unless you’ve stumbled upon the Garden of Eden and have snuck past the angel guarding it and are happily munching the fruit of the tree of life, you’re going to die, just like everybody else. Eat what you like, and if you decide your body is disgustingly fat (with objective proof, you eating disorder people!) or you really want to see how the whole Social Security/global warming/peak oil/steroid scandal/take-your-pick mess plays out, eat less and more healthily. Otherwise, why should you care?

    This week’s issue of Time has an amusing article by Joel Stein criticizing the whole “eat local” fad, btw.

  3. Jeff says:

    The science of human diet and health is interesting stuff. I read Body For Life when I was in school, (1980s). I took a lot of it to heart. It’s about good food, sleep, exercise daily. Less stress, more fun, stay young… And take a lot of supplements. I eat nothing but energy bars, “made from apple cores and recycled Chinese news papers.”–Homer Simpson.

  4. bananaking says:

    to MLP & StyleSwag (and anyone/everyone else too..)

    You should take notice of something that hasn’t came up,
    When switching to a “better” diet (whatever your idea/definition of better is) your body is still filled with the crap from the previous diet. – and the amount of “crap” is accordingly with the amount of years and amount of food intake, etc.

    It would be best if you’d CLEAN your systems (start with the intestine, then the liver, the kidneys and the bladder) and then your body would be in a Much Better condition to actually let the right nutrients to SOAK-IN and absorb correctly.

    Just think of a giant sewage pipe – When it was first placed it was new and clean, but over the years it gets dirty and “dirtier” and the stuff that runs through it can’t run as fast and efficiently – Same goes for the human body.

    In this regards, just as we all take care of our cars and homes and perform periodic cleaning and cleansing, the same needs to be done with the human body.

    & a well recommended reading would be over at -
    http://www.herballegacy.com/Herbal_Legacy_of_Courage.html

  5. Jerril says:

    #28 This week’s issue of Time has an amusing article by Joel Stein criticizing the whole “eat local” fad, btw.

    Living in Canada, I find the “eat local” thing terribly annoying. If I eat only local in this region, I will be spending my winter eating pretty much nothing but potatoes and partially rotten shrivelled up apples, and only if I can find someone locally who actually grows potatoes in enough volume to get an six-to-eight months supply at once.

    Oh. And cedar, probably boiled into tea. Buckets and buckets and buckets of cedar tea. Good for vitamin C, not so good for anything else.

    Admittedly this is one of the less smart places to try and keep an industrialized society and be ecologically conscious at the same time.

  6. DWittSF says:

    I’ll be picking up this book, and would also like to recommend another on the same subject, What to Eat by Marion Nestle.

    While at first I thought it would be a simple run through the food groups, her take is much more comprehensive, delving into the politics of commodity food growers and the logic of the typical supermarket setup. Fascinating stuff!

  7. MrsBug says:

    @18 I must say, that is probably the funniest thing I have EVER read. I was crying so hard all my mascara is gone. Winner!

  8. Splendor says:

    This book is a good start, but he doesn’t quite go far enough. Read Reply

  • Apashiol says:

    There was only only a radical change in average lifespan from the late 19th century onwards due to better sanitation, clean drinking water and better medicine. It’s easy to forget the difference antibiotics made to the human condition. It’s not that long ago when a compound fracture warranted amputation to try and avoid death through gangrene. For all these various reasons we are living long enough for a bad diet to have an impact.
    As far as the “The Caveman Diet” goes, I’ve read that the average lifespan of the caveman was 16 years. Bugger that.
    While there is still a lot we aren’t sure about, plenty of variety and moderation in what we eat, along with trying to cook as much as we can from scratch is probably the safest bet.
    The latest tests here in the UK on pre-cooked ready meals showed that some foods had more than double the fat, salt and sugar than was shown on the labels. At least when you cook food yourself you know what is going into it. My granny might have fried everything in lard but all the veg was fresh and she never ate a ready meal from the supermarket.

  • slates81 says:

    They can have my corndog when they pry it from my cold, dead hands.

  • Bek says:

    I’m afraid I may have missed most of the readers by catching this a day late, however, I heartily agree with #45 & #25. Since comments were introduced, I’m noticing reading comprehension is not a strong point in this audience.

    Michael Pollan’s prior book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, traces organic produce & food substances back to their source. I am currently reading it, and it’s a real eye-opener into what phrases like “organic” and “cage-free” could really mean, or what “buying local” entails.

    Some of the questions raised by readers of In Defense of Food might actually already have been answered by this first book on the subject, which was mentioned in the beginning of the post.

  • stratosfyr says:

    I’ve heard of the Caveman diet, raw food diet, or whatever it’s called. “Our ancient ancestors lived on this food, so it MUST be the best for us.”

    They always seem to forget the “nasty, brutish and short” elements of caveman life, to take Hobbes out of context.

    That said, I eat too much candy and meat. I’m not big on vegetables, though I love fruit. Overall I think I’m doing OK but could do a little better.

  • Takuan says:

    The caveman diet included carrion and Aunt Betty after the mastodon stepped on her. I am all for available protein ,but…

  • Anonymous says:

    Then again, depends on the grandmother. One of my grandmothers couldn’t/wouldn’t cook and had nothing but prepackaged ‘foods’ in the house. She lived into her sixties and was a walking pack of diseases. She was cranky as heck, too!
    My other grandmother made everything from scratch and lived into her eighties, healthy and slender. May I add she was also cheerful and a perfect delight to be with! ^_^

  • zuzu says:

    @29 Jeff:

    And take a lot of supplements. I eat nothing but energy bars, “made from apple cores and recycled Chinese news papers.”–Homer Simpson.

    “Shredded newspapers add much-needed ruffage and essential inks.” — Seymour Skinner

  • Cpt. Tim says:

    I’d normally defend my meat to no end. but lately my diet has been mostly comprised of yogurts, fruits, vegtables, granola, things like that. For about 3 months or so, and to be honest i can’t remember the last time i felt this good.

  • Hykos says:

    “Eat things your great grandmother might have eaten,”

    my grandmother ate lard biscuits and fried everything…

  • strider_mt2k says:

    Mine too.

    Awesome.

  • Santa's Knee says:

    Hykos, sounds like your gramdma rocked.

  • Brett Burton says:

    My grandma used to roll butter in some sugar and give it to the kids as a snack.

  • Kyle Armbruster says:

    Here’s the thing about the history of food:

    We have it so good now that we just plain don’t know how to deal.

    For most of human history, populations ate one thing, usually some sort of grain, with some other stuff for kicks, when it was available. Most of European history was dominated by “daily bread,” as in, you ate bread every day. Meat was for rich people (Ever wondered why pig meat is pork? Cow meat is beef? The former are Anglo-Saxon words, the latter Norman French. The former the words of the people who raised it, the latter the words of the people who ate it. The former the poor occupied slaves, the latter the rich conquerers.). Most of Asian history, it was rice. You can live on it, and we did for a very, very long time.

    However, we are so healthy now precisely because of nutritionism, I think. We understand that there are compounds that our bodies if not “need,” then certainly “benefit from.” Here in Japan, very old people, who grew up in the days before Japan had taken on the Proto-Indo-European cultures’ proclivity for consuming other animals’ milk, are literally bent-backed. They walk at 90 degrees, with a cane. Calcium deficiency.

    So, on the one hand, a more diverse, nutritious diet is absolutely better for you than the old, carbohydrates-only diet. But we should also recognize that that is the basic diet of our species–carbs. They turn into glucose easily. That’s why they make you fat. They’re just full of easily-accessible energy.

    So don’t eat so damned much. Adults need very, very little food. Eat carbs for energy, other stuff (including animals–they’re made of meat) for flavor, fun, and, most importantly, nutrients to keep your body strong.

    The. End.

    (I have absolutely no qualifications to be saying any of this, so take it with a small quantity of NaCl, please.)

  • George Curious says:

    I heard him on at least 3 different NPR programs, and was probably on many others I didn’t hear.

    If only they covered NEWS like that.

  • The Life Of Bryan says:

    I frequently refer to an idea I call “The Caveman Diet.” In other words, when evaluating nutritional choices, I ask myself, “Self, what would Ogg eat?”

    And I just don’t think Ogg’s cave was lined with boxes of stuff resembling real food precision crafted and injection molded from corn syrup.

  • gobo says:

    Some folks are taking the pull-quote way too literally. Pollan isn’t suggesting you go through your grandma’s recipe box. He’s suggesting a critical way to look at the food you’re buying: is this NutriGrain Bar with Antioxidants something your grandma ate? No. It’s not “food”, then.

    #43: Have you read the book to know what “mostly plants” means?

    #42: Well, is the meat in your corndog of any kind of quality (all-beef? kosher? grass-fed?) or is it a chemical-laden tube of offal from a factory farm? I think talking about your cold dead hands is kind of the point Pollan’s making.

  • PhantomMut says:

    Same here on the Grandma/Grandpa thing. The difference, of course, is that they did hard physical work for at least 10 hours out of every day.

    That pays for a lot of red meat badness.

  • Greg Turner says:

    One thing crucial in the “would your grandmother recognize it?” argument is the natural ingredients that went into making the biscuits and fried chicken, etc. People have no idea how negatively high fructose corn syrup can affect a body. I say, eat. Eat biscuits. Eat bacon. Eat green beans slathered in butter. But make sure it’s butter. Make sure the biscuits are those you made yourself with organic ingredients (and buy local when you can). And if you go on a salad kick, make your own dressings. They’re not hard, and the ones you make from pantry ingredients won’t contain all the yucky stuff that’s in the store-bought brands.

  • z7q2 says:

    I rushed right out and bought this book after hearing an NPR piece about it about 2 weeks ago. The book is awesome, I read it over a weekend. It’s philosophy fits right in with my low glycemic index diet.

    If you care about your food you should definitely read it.

    tl;dr: stop eating processed food and dead things

  • Takuan says:

    when oil hits $500 a barrel, people will go back to eating locally grown food.

  • jetsetsc says:

    It ain’t so much what you eat as what you drink. Kick sodas and you’ll cut half the junk calories from your diet instantly. Then just eat what you want in the least processed form possible. Simple.

  • mlp says:

    I am perpetually infuriated by Western medicine’s persistent belief in the myth of the “ideal patient”, with its insistence that a single diet, a single course of treatment for a given disease, a single way of addressing any thing having to do with human biochemistry is necessarily right for all people.

    Some people cannot process meat protein. Other people cannot derive enough nutrition from plant protein, or even from dairy. I happen to be one of them; no matter how much spinach or other high-iron vegetables I eat, or how many supplements I take, I’m anemic unless I eat plenty of red meat. Without enough meat in my diet, I end up lethargic and unable to think clearly. If I tried to follow blanket claims about what I should and shouldn’t eat, I would be unable to function.

    Pay attention to how your body responds to food, and eat what leaves you feeling best. It’s really not that difficult.

  • zuzu says:

    “Nutritionism” seems to be something of an inbred science that isn’t communicating with systems biology and pharmacology at large. Public institutions refer to “food and drugs” much like “drugs and alcohol” — i.e. redundantly.

    However, the real science of “inputs and outputs” for the complex system we call the human body, by whatever name, could serve me well by explaining exactly how to devise and continuously measure an “optimized” diet. Bring on the “moulded protein”! Make all of my “meals” Spirutein! In other words, the complete opposite of what this book advocates.

    Approximately 80% of my “meals” are solely about my need to intake nutrition to stoke the chemical engine keeping me alive and functioning. There’s maybe once every month or two that I actually desire to sit down to a gourmet meal that I savor for the flavor. The rest of the time I simply need fuel. (Seriously, needing to eat at least 3 times a day! What a hassle!)

    Next, sell me some Orexin A so I can reclaim the 1/3 of my life (20 years!) wasted in the paralysis we call sleep.

  • zuzu says:

    I am perpetually infuriated by Western medicine’s persistent belief in the myth of the “ideal patient”, with its insistence that a single diet, a single course of treatment for a given disease, a single way of addressing any thing having to do with human biochemistry is necessarily right for all people.

    Excellent point; the medical industry is incredibly normative (in the modernist vein). Specifically, this is a statistical fallacy of division, very common in the social science (which includes economics).

  • Jeff says:

    Heard the interview…My grandmothers were big on cooking internal organs. Both of them were poor women from Ireland and ate every part of the animal. I won’t be mixing any brains in with my eggs today, thanks. And lard and butter and vegtables cooked to death. I agree with most of what the guy has to say. People need to make time for good food.

  • Stewart Haddock says:

    I try not to eat food out of a box. Luckily, Nutter Butters are in a plastic bag!

  • StyleSwag says:

    I am exactly like MLP except in reverse. The protein in red meat is useless to me. Without my veggies and (hold onto your hats) CARBS, I am confused, lethargic and anemic. It got so bad that I had to take Iron supplements which I took for about 6 months and guess what-I just felt weaker and weaker. I stuck to my personal motto, “When it doubt, throw it out.” I quit taking everything and went back to my veggies and pasta and I feel better than ever.

    That food pyramid that we learned in school needs to be flipped upside down. The gov’t says it gives this advice for our own good but they care more about the economic welfare than people welfare.

    Example, margerine is full of hydrogenated (heart attack stuff) oil and it’s still on the shelves, why? Go back to butter people, it’s natural.

    PS. When I go to McDonalds, I’m not looking for a salad, okay? Once you step over that threshold you know what your after. I don’t know why they’ve been singled out as the bad guy to child obesity.

    PPS. I’m a nurse. I know what Bullwhappy they force me to tell you patients.

  • Halloween Jack says:

    I eat my young. They’re great with ketchup!

  • zombieprocess says:

    He was on CBC radio last week. Here is a link to the show.
    (at the bottom of the page)
    page
    or
    audio link

  • BruceB says:

    Kyle, for what it’s worth, that’s more or less exactly what my doctors (who focus on patients with major immune problems) say.

  • StyleSwag says:

    Why thank you BananaKing. Why say you such sweet things? I’ve never been so flattered as when compared to a giant, dirty then dirtier sewage pipe!

  • StyleSwag says:

    Why thank you BananaKing. Why say you such sweet things? I’ve never been so flattered as when compared to a giant, dirty then dirtier sewage pipe!

  • RugerRedhawk says:

    Mostly plants. What a crock of crap.

  • schmod says:

    You know….. it wasn’t too long after my family made my Grandmother stop smoking, drinking red wine, and eating bacon & eggs every morning that her health started to go downhill…..

    Coincidence?

    Don’t eat too much of any one food-group, stay away from over-processed crap, and get as much exercise as you can.

  • mscot says:

    #13 and #19 – have you heard of the blood type diet? This may be what you’ve put yourself on without realizing it.

  • tenebrism says:

    you know, i really love this site but your ideas of food are just kind of silly. is lettuce better for you than a snicker’s bar? in nearly ever situation imaginable, yes it is.

    but to actually have contradictory quotes in the same article yet still believe it to be gospel-esque is just… i don’t know what word is appropriate.

    you have “the science behind nutritionism is, at best, “promising” but not ready for primetime” followed directly with an insinuation that the same science the FDA uses is correct with “nutritionism has captured politics, so that the FDA isn’t allowed to say, ‘Eat less red meat,’ but is backed into saying, ‘Make eating choices that are lower in saturated fats,’.”

    How does one justify that comment of 16th century level science right after they demonize it?

    I guess before I just flame away I should go, but it needs to be said that with a site like yours where you can influence a lot of people you need to be a little more cautious in what you recommend. Diets are not the same for everyone. Some people can live off pasta and red sauce for a hundred years while others would die after 50 of a heart attack.

    Telling people to cut out their protein intake by eating nearly all vegetables is dangerous. Just as dangerous as telling people to only eat protein.

    So yeah, chill out with your diet crap because all it is is crap.

  • dragonfrog says:

    #31

    Living in Canada, I find the “eat local” thing terribly annoying. If I eat only local in this region, I will be spending my winter eating pretty much nothing but potatoes and partially rotten shrivelled up apples

    That’s only if you don’t freeze, can, dry, pickle, salt, smoke, or candy anything, or keep a root cellar, or buy your food from anyone who does any of those things. Which, if you go to a farmer’s market (and where else will you be buying locally?), would be pretty much impossible.

    When everyone ate local, a great deal of effort went into preserving local food. Now much of that effort has shifted toward preserving food in Spain and California and the like, in order to sell it eight months later in Canada and Sweden. But the techniques haven’t changed much, and the art of doing these things hasn’t been forgotten by the locals either.

  • Teresa Nielsen Hayden / Moderator says:

    I believe that we don’t all taste the same things, or have the same reactions to food. We evolved while living in small groups. Having disparate tastes and needs meant foodstuffs got spread around more.

    For instance, people who eat liver and kidneys can’t possibly be tasting the same things I do if I accidentally take a bite of them. They’re bitter, pungent, and utterly nauseating. I can taste liver in tiny concentrations, and it’s always awful. Clearly, when my husband piles into a plate of liver and onions, he’s having a very different experience.

    By contrast, I, like all the kids in my extended family, have been more or less convinced from birth that broccoli, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts are delectable. At family gatherings, you can hear toddlers being told that if they clean up everything else on their plate, they can have more broccoli. We’re tasting something a lot better than many of you get when you eat those vegetables.

    Here’s another one: bananas and milk is a combination that will put me straight to sleep. If my friend Geri is working on a project and needs to pull an all-nighter, she has bananas and milk, and it keeps her awake.

    Would you feel good if you ate a dozen raw oysters for breakfast, a large steak for dinner, and a citrus fruit every few days? I would.

    I think it’s built into all of us to like and need different things. No one diet will suit everyone.

  • Jerril says:

    @24
    but to actually have contradictory quotes in the same article yet still believe it to be gospel-esque is just… i don’t know what word is appropriate.

    you have “the science behind nutritionism is, at best, “promising” but not ready for primetime” followed directly with an insinuation that the same science the FDA uses is correct with “nutritionism has captured politics, so that the FDA isn’t allowed to say, ‘Eat less red meat,’ but is backed into saying, ‘Make eating choices that are lower in saturated fats,’.”

    You fail reading comprehension. Try again.

    Nutritionism is why the FDA is not allowed to say “eat less red meat”.

    Because Nutritionism is at best promising (which suggests generally NOT promising – it’s sort of an understatement/dry sarcasm) the advice provided by Nutritionism is “Make eating choices that are lower in saturated fats” which is the wrong message.

    There is no contradiction here. The statement is internally consistent.

  • Alexis says:

    I disagree with Pollan’s advice not to eat anything that has a health claim. Red River Cereal (you Canadians ought to be sitting up and taking notice about now!) has health claims, but it’s *gasp* actually good for you. All it has is cracked wheat, cracked rye, and flax. So it has all the standard claims about low in sodium, whole grains, omega-3s. But it’s actually good for you anyway and there’s no way that Pollan means you shouldn’t eat that stuff. His rule works in general, but there are definite exceptions.

  • LOLcat Stevens says:

    Maybe this was already linked somewhere, but Pollan had a nice lengthy article in the NY Times Magazine last year covering much of this same material. Most of his suggestions just sound like common sense, and I suppose that explains a large part of their appeal, given that so many diets seem to be plucked straight from the loony bin.

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