Monday, September 28, 2009

Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. Michael Pollan

Bleatings from EnviRambo.

The sell-out crowd cheered and clapped as he walked on stage... and clapped and clapped and clapped. The audience clapped so long, I think he blushed.

Author of The Omnivore's Dilemma, In Defense of Food, The Botany of Desire, and the upcoming Omnivore's Dilemma for Kids, Michael Pollan is the authority on eating for personal health and the health of the planet. And, he is a very funny man.

He brought with him a bag full of "food" from the local supermarket.
  • Froot Loops - now with fiber
  • Pop Tarts - with blue filling and purple frosting
  • Go-Gurt - yogurt tubes
  • Wonder bread - whole grain white bread
  • Twinkies - need I say more?
Taken out of their normal context of the grocery store, have you ever stopped to think just how weird this stuff is? Sugar-laden circles in every color of the rainbow, which now carry an industry-derived Smart Choice Program label - despite the fact that Froot Loops are 44% sugar. How is that a "Smart Choice"? According to one board member, "It's better for you than donuts." And then there are Pop Tarts... frosting for breakfast. Mmm... nutritious. Bread, bread is food, right? Have you ever read the ingredient list on a packaged loaf of bread? Wonder bread consists of 23 ingredients! Last I knew bread contained 4 ingredients: flour, water, yeast and salt. 5 if you are feeding your yeast sugar. But, that is it. What the hell are the other 18?

It's practically spinach.

What ever happened to eating oh, say a carrot? No label needed to tell you that it is nutritious or, talking toucan to persuade you to eat it. Perhaps that is part of the problem. Throughout his presentation, Michael Pollan delivered simple rules to follow to guide your food choices.

Would your great-grandmother recognize it as food?
Yogurt you slurp from a tube, I think not.

Will it rot?
Food is/was alive. It is meant to die and rot. Little yellow-spongy cakes that remain so after two years are probably not something you want to ingest. If it can sit around for so long without insects and rodents even touching it, do you really want to eat it? What is in that stuff? Look for an expiration date. He admitted a flaw with this rule. Manufacturers have gotten wise to this and now include freshness dates on most products. Which brings to the last rule he left us with and the one that resonated with me the most:

Do not eat anything you saw advertised on television.
Simple enough. That effectively eliminates nearly every processed food product out there.

I do not need to preach to the choir here. Just use common sense. If it came from the ground = good. If it came out of a box = bad. If it came out of a technicolor box with any cartoon character emblazoned on the front and claims to now contain fiber, whole grain, calcium, vitamin D, omega-3, antioxidants, no trans-fat, or any other such buzz word of the moment = put the box down and run for the produce section!

In the end, he received a standing ovation and I immediately rushed the stage for an autograph. It was like a rock concert for foodies. Although when he threw the Twinkies from the stage, there were no battles in the crowd to catch them. I say, rock on Michael Pollan... rock on!


Eco Yogini said...

yep- bread is our next step on buying fresher (or at least being able to bake it without turning the dough into clumps of

Lucky you!

The Mom said...

Oh, I'm so jealous. The call of those junky foods can be strong for my kids, but they know I don't buy them. (Daddy is another story) I don't know how many times I've said "There's no food in that food!"

Green Bean said...

Pretty crazy what we now call food. I just saw a commercial on TV for 7Up with anti-oxidants. Really?? Thanks for giving us a seat in the room when you visited the slow foodie rock star.

Farmer's Daughter said...

Very cool! I wish I could go see him speak.

As for the "Will it rot?" question, I have a container of french fries in my classroom that will turn 5 in December. My students 5 years ago saw it on Super-size me and wanted to see how long before the fries would rot. They're going on 5, and my then-sophomores are now juniors in college.

I always say: "If bacteria and mold don't consider it to be food, should we?"

Jessica Nichols said...

The french fry story above is really frightening. No mold at all yet? Just sitting out in the open? Wow. I really have dramatically cut down on the fast food in the past several years, but it was motivated by fear of the meat. I sort of didn't worry about the fries, I mean I know fries are not good but I still find them hard to resist. I am scared to admit this on this blog though I am going to anyway.

daharja said...

Ummmm, since when was this guy "THE" authority on food? I dislike the whole "expertisation" of food and nutrition.

Isn't that part of what this guy was protesting and part of what got our food chain into this mess in the first place?

His books were very average, in my opinion. Great titles and marketing, so-so to low-grade content. Kind of like a twinkie. Just my thoughts.

daharja said...

Sorry, my post came across as a bit more critical than I intended.

I did think his books were very average, although I agreed with his message.

But I do dislike the whole hero-worship thing that seems to happen (especially in the US), the moment someone states the bleeding obvious and markets it well.

I understand that some people love his books. I just found them very ordinary, and not particularly pithy or intelligent.

Kristin said...

We don't buy bread from the store anymore. I took a look at some of the ingredients and among the 20+ listed is high fructose corn syrup. Why is there HFCS in BREAD!? I would love to see him speak as well. I haven't gotten a chance to see Food, Inc. yet. I live in Iowa and the nearest showing was 5 hours away :(, so my mom and I are excited to see it when it comes out on DVD in November.

Heather @ SGF said...

VERY exciting! I'd love to get to see him speak in person!

Kelly said...

whatever it takes i reckon. id love to hear anyone who is a good , passionate speaker on the subject. luckily i was brought up by poor hippies, whole foods were my life(rather unhappily as a self conscious kid) now, its just a part of life so its a bit easier for me than for others perhaps. home education about food is so important. i feel so sad for those babies at the stupormarket whose parents are tossing in the prepackaged baby food. tastebuds in training for non-foods. its a battle.

Daisy said...

A long time ago, when the Wonder Bread day-old store was down the block, we bought low-fat Twinkies - as a joke. At least we recognized how ludicrous the whole concept was!

Billie said...

I have lost 10lbs just going with one rule - try not to eat anything packaged in plastic.

I don't exercise more, I don't eat less - I just eat different.

I have to say that my plastic is not down to 0 but I have substantially reduced my plastic intake and I think I eat a lot better than I used to.

rnmr said...

Corn is not only used in cheap food it is also put in a lot of new 'natural' soaps as an ingredient called decyl glucoside. It won't make you fat but the processing of corn into soaps creates another problem. More processing requires heat, chemicals and overuse of water to breakdown the corn product and isolate the surfactant.

I have uploaded a video called " Are You Washing With Corn?"-

ecofriendlyfoodlover said...

this really grossed me out... it just goes to show how fake this stuff is!

Amanda said...

Thanks for sharing this!
I, too, am horrified by the number of ingredients in bread! When I make my own at home, it has 4 things in it and tastes tons better.
@ Farmer's Daughter: Can't believe about the 5 year old French Fries in the classroom... I'm sure that made an impression on the kids!


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