Stop reading if you think chugging a charcoal milkshake makes sense. You’ll waste time and get nothing from the post. If you chase after superfoods and avoid putatively cancer-laden staples, then you’re probably in the wrong place, too. There are plenty of sites that shill everything from charcoal to fermented who-knows-what that are more exciting and happy to take your money. If you are interested in livable, sensible advice about food and health, we should get along fine. There. You’ve heard my sales pitch.
I try to eat, move, and live in a way that promotes good health and longevity. It’s rarely glamorous, and never easy – I’ve yet to meet a pastry or hot dog I don’t like, and much of the food industry sets itself against me. Like everyone else, I am busy. I have two girls who eat only a handful of ‘foods’. I know it’s not the healthiest option for me or for my family, but I buy convenience foods and snacks, and the kids live on chicken nuggets and noodles. I have no beef with grocery stores or industrial food plants and take sole responsibility for my health.
I have always liked Micheal Pollan’s advice to Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. It’s a sentiment backed by science and good sense. His focus is on healthy food, and from there he touches on all things related to it, including nutrition, economics, and family. He comes across as a wise friend who encourages me to just try something – if I like it, great! If not, that’s okay too.
If this resonates with you, then you might like the documentary In Defense of Food. It’s a fascinating and thought-provoking hour-and-a-half that looks at food from dirt to grocery to plate. They show how urban kids in so-called last-chance schools, given a garden and help to grow vegetables, learn how to cook and enjoy eating what they grow. The French Paradox is explored: how is it that the French dine on fat, pastry, and wine and are healthier than we are in the US? (Hint – they eat small meals, don’t snack, and relish fresh food). I was fascinated with the segment where several people were brought into a room for a pasta taste test. They grabbed plates, spooned up portions, and then discovered that the food was only lukewarm. The ‘hosts’ apologized and brought out another pot with new – slightly smaller – plates. The same folks dished up, and each one put less on the plate. Sounds easy and self-evident? Then why not try it? In a similar exercise of social engineering, a high school sorted food in its cafeteria line from healthier to less so. Kids filled their plates with healthy food first and found less room for less healthy alternatives. In a short time, the school went from needing 25 pounds of carrots a week for carrot sticks to 75. No one complained, and no one demanded more space for pizza. The reverse of this engineering is foisted on us every day by food companies. They spend millions of dollars each year on advertising, packaging, and lobbying to put more and more food in front of us for more profit.
Pollan, with his mantra of ‘mostly plants’, walks a fine line between carnivores and vegans. He clarifies unapologetically that he’s not against eating meat and that meat can be healthy and enjoyable, but worries that the amount of meat we eat that is unhealthy. Be sure to watch for the surgeons pulling solidified cholesterol from a clogged artery – that by itself might change your habits as much as any sage or sane advice.
I haven’t a clue how long the documentary will run, but if brain health or Wayne Dyer episodes are any indication of future showings on PBS, if you miss Defense of Food this time, just keep waiting. It will be back.
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Check out Pollan’s book In Defense of Food here.