Food just isn’t what it used to be. Back in the old days, you could buy food from the corner shop, or you’d grow it yourself. You were lucky if you had a refrigerator, so food was something you purchased every few days and ate as soon as possible before it went off. Now we buy food mostly from mega supermarkets, or perhaps fast-food takeaways, without really knowing where our food comes from, let alone what’s in it. Luckily, the resurgence in farmers markets over the years has helped many of us reconnect to the people actually growing our food, as well as help to remember what real food tastes like.
Much of what we get in the supermarket today has either been picked and shipped a week ago, often gassed with chemicals to ripen while in transit, re-constituted from last years frozen crop, or radiated, preserved, frozen, pasturised or processed – using ‘food science’ to give the products as long a shelf life as possible. Unfortunately most of these methods takes away the aliveness, taste and nutritional quality of the food. As a consequence, much of our processed food has added ingredients to try and reintroduce more taste, colour and ‘nutrition’.
“A potentially serious weakness of nutritionist ideology is that it has trouble discerning qualitative distinctions between foods. So fish, beef and chicken through the nutritionists’ lens become mere delivery systems for varying quantities of fats and proteins and whatever other nutrients are on their scope. Similarly, any qualitative distinctions between processed foods and whole foods disappear when your focus is on quantifying the nutrients they contain (or, more precisely, the known nutrients).” Michael Pollan
Edible Food-Like Substances
Michael Pollan is my foodie hero. He’s a well-known and influential journalist who has researched food and food-politics for the past 25 years, writing how food and farming, nature and culture intersect. He has written biting critiques of industrial agriculture and urges us to reconnect to the joys of growing, preparing and eating food. What’s actually in the food you’re eating? Have you read the labels lately, and can you pronounce the ingredients? Do all those ‘health claims’ really stand up? In this BBC radio interview from a recent talk at the LSE he speaks about food, and ‘edible food-like substances’ that increasingly line the shelves of supermarkets.
“The problem with nutrient-by-nutrient nutrition science,” points out Marion Nestle, “is that it takes the nutrient out of the context of food, the food out of the context of diet and the diet out of the context of lifestyle.”
Vote with your Fork: Cooking as a Political Act
It shouldn’t be this way. How is it that we gave corporations our food to prepare for us? We need to take our meals back from companies who operate on a profit-motive rather than with our well-being in mind. Food isn’t just fuel – a collection of vitamins and minerals and fats and proteins – food is also a social activity to be shared and enjoyed. What we buy in the markets and how we prepare and eat that food says a lot about the values we hold about our own health and our relationship to food, nature and politics. If we want to reclaim our bodies, our health, and our independence from the increasingly science-led corporatisation of food, then we might do well to follow some of Michael Pollan’s 10 Rules to Eat By for a healthier diet.
10 Rules to Eat By:
Rule 1: Eat mostly plants, especially leaves.
Rule 2: Eat animals that have themselves eaten well.
Rule 3: Eat your colors.
Rule 4: Eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself.
Rule 5: The whiter the bread, the sooner you’ll be dead.
Rule 6: Shop the peripheries of the supermarket and stay out of the middle.
Rule 7: Don’t overlook the oily little fishes (sardines).
Rule 8: Eat more like the French. Or the Japanese. Or the Italians. Or the Greeks.
Rule 9: Limit your snacks to unprocessed plant foods.
Rule 10: Avoid foods that have some form of sugar (or sweetener) listed among the top three ingredients.