Defending real food

These thoughts are brought to you after digesting Michael Pollan’s book “In defence of food” and also my own research.

Takeaways:

  • Simplification is not always a good thing
  • Eating vs Feeding
  • Fat is not bad for you

Simplify at your cost
The complexity of food, in its chemical composition, its relationship with other foodstuffs in human diets and its relationship to the environment in which its grown means ‘food science’ is very much an immature science. We only have to
look to the diets proposed by experts which recommended margarine as a healthful food (it’s now been linked with heart disease) to know that we must be cautious with future health proclamations. Having worked in close contact with top entrepreneurs across the world for several years I know the value of simplicity when it comes to explaining a vision and executing on a business plan. However these rules do not apply when growing food. An American influence towards increasing yield, portion size and shelf-life have come with a new loss of diversity of available food and a reduction in its overall nutritional value. Provenance and growth environments are important – it pays to be snobby with food.

Eating ecology
The way in which we eat is nearly as important as what we’re eating. The French, typically, eat fatty food and drink lots of red wine and yet have small (by Western standards) waistbands. Traditional cultures have subsisted exclusively on a very narrow range of food, in some cases nearly completely carnivorous or vegetarian or pescatarian. And up until around 30 years ago Westerners spent a higher proportion of their income on food, took longer to make it and longer to clean up after themselves. Today, microwaves, drive-throughs, and TV dinners have replaced eating as a collaborative affair into a mindless activity. Taking longer over food is both a more enjoyable activity but also gives your brain time to realise your stomach is full. It’s a matter of prioritisation, if we spend so long on the internet or in front of the box we surely have time available to eat well, if we cannot always eat together.

The fat myth
Perhaps this is already better known than I appreciated, but saturated fat is nowhere near as harmful as the press it receives suggests it is. For example the brain is 60% fat. We need it to survive. At the mercy of mega food-corporate lobbying and marketing budgets fat was singled out as a culprit for chronic diseases, primarily CHD. Over decades food monoliths convinced governments and the general public of this ‘fact’ and introduced far more lucrative and notional-based diets into the mainstream. Ironically all the fat replacement additives used in food since (e.g. corn syrup, hydrogenated vegetable fats) and more highly processed foods have made populations fatter and more prone to what are termed Western diseases (e.g. Diabetes type 2). We are now in a situation, a global first, where people are overfed and undernourished.

In Pollan’s word “Eat food. Not much. Mostly plants”. And never trust ‘nutrition’ labels on food or anything with claims to health benefits!

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