Last week, Michael Pollan (author of the acclaimed The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals) did an interview with NPR's Science Friday in order to discuss his new book, In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto, whose contents can be summed up as, "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."
Hidden in those seven words is an indictment of "Nutritionism," the philosophy that says that food must be approached as a scientific challenge, valued for its nutrients, which can be delivered in purer, industrialized (and highly profitable) forms in packaged, prepared dishes and ingredients.
Pollan makes a convincing case — citing credible research — that the science behind nutritionism is, at best, "promising" but not ready for primetime (he likens it to sixteenth century surgery: fascinating but not the kind of thing you want to be on the receiving end of). He explains how 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," prompting an industry to spring up around further industrialization of food to remove saturated fats. Nevermind that the science says, "Eat less red meat" — by demonizing a nutrient, a blow to the cattle-ranchers is turned into an opportunity to create even greater markups on their product by charging a premium for engineered, "low in saturated fats" beef.
Pollan has a set of simple rules for eating that really resonate: "Shop the edges of the grocery store, not the middle," "Eat things your great grandmother might have eaten," "Eat nothing that bears a health or nutritional claim," and so on.
It's a delightful interview and it's led me to ordering the audiobook to listen to on my morning walks.