Friday, December 19, 2008

Big Trouble in Fat China- Ruminations on Michael Pollan

USA Today is reporting that obesity is on the rise in China, along with the standard health conditions that come with it, such as Type 2 diabetes. For me, this set off a series of contemplations about Michael Pollan.

For those of you who don't know who Michael Pollan is (and I'm assuming there will be only a few of you since he's quite famous right now), he's the author of The Botany of Desire, The Omnivore's Dilemma, and his latest, In Defense Of Food: An Eater's Manifesto. In Defense of Food was written as a follow-up to the Omnivore's Dilemma in which Pollan points out the disparities and hypocrisies in our food systems (including the organic industry). Apparently after reading 300-400 pages of expose, people wanted a solution. So Pollan told them as much, in small words: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

It's a pretty simple solution. He advocates short ingredient lists (also known as "nothing on the ingredient list that your grandmother wouldn't recognize"), buying local, growing your own, and a few other simple solutions. He talks about the need to get away from the "Western" diet which focuses on processed foods and a lot of synthetic corn. One of the things he points to, which I think is especially relevant given this new report out in China, is that as soon as the Western diet is introduced to a culture, obesity and the typical round of Western health problems follow (heart disease, diabetes, etc). It doesn't seem to really matter WHAT diet people are on, as long as it isn't ours.

SO, knowing what we know, why is it still so hard to follow? I think one reason might be that his directives run the nebulous knife's edge of both easy and particularly difficult at the same time. The solution is TOO simple. For people who are accustomed to the exhaustively minute details of the ordinary diet book, six words of advice can seem- well, it can seem a little baffling. There aren't concrete steps and there aren't levels of measurement to make sure that you're progressing the way you "need" to. It's also difficult because to live those six little words means you put a lot more time and effort into your eating habits (more time cooking, more time shopping, more time in a garden, more time planning). Doing that can be a huge lifestyle change and everyone (especially at Christmas) knows how hard major lifestyle overhauls can be.

This year, I tried to follow those six words. I planted a garden (and herbs), I cooked twice as much as I usually do, I went the the Farmer's market and shopped as locally as I could, and I planned out my meals better. I think the hard part for me is the letting go- the feeling that there's something more concrete that I should be gaining other than a feeling of generalized wellness. This upcoming year, I'll try even harder to stick with this- to believe that it IS what works- to stop believing that all the marketed "low fat" "low carb" "diet" "sugar-free" chemical stuff is better for my body than the stuff that grows in the ground. Viva la FOOD revolucion! Spread the word!

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