The Politics of Food

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While food is typically thought of in correlation to comfort or nourishment, what I have found to be most interesting is the politics of food. In Michael Pollan’s book, In Defense of Food, he discusses the perils of Nutrionism, the ideology “that the key to understanding food is indeed the nutrient” (28). Nutrionism didn’t begin with average people attempting to distill health into important nutrients. It began with politicians working to tackle America’s health issues, such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. What may have started as a pure vision to make a healthier America, devolved into politics. Immediately after releasing guidelines that stated a healthier diet is low in red meat and dairy, backlash from these wealthy industries caused the health guidelines to be changed. This was the beginning of talking about nutritional aspects of food, condemning saturated fats and cholesterol instead of red meat and dairy.

Nutrionism isn’t just a way to condemn certain aspects of food, it can also serve as a motivator to eat certain types of food for their health value, such as blueberries for their antioxidants. While at first glance this may seem beneficial, it is more often used as a way to promote products that don’t really have much health value. Food lobby’s and corporations sponsor scientists so they are able to conduct studies. Unfortunately, when scientists are sponsored by certain companies or organizations that have motives that align with their profits, scientists find some way to make the business healthy for the public. For a fee, the FDA then qualifies this statement for the company.

This leaves the American people in a precarious situation. How do you know what is truly healthy? It seems impossible without dedicating your life to your own research, which shouldn’t be the only option. How can America do a better job of regulating the food system and the claims that companies are allowed to make regarding the health benefits of eating their food?

Invite Health. “Food Label Claims.” Invite Health, 28 Apr. 2015,

Pollan, Michael. In Defense of Food: an Eater’s Manifesto. Penguin Books, 2009.

3 thoughts on “The Politics of Food

  1. nvstaggs

    Yes, food politics is extremely interesting and scary too. Because certain foods are promoted as healthy based on sponsorship and financial gain, it is absolutely hard to know what is truly healthy to eat and what is not. I appreciate Pollan’s simple guidelines to eating healthy. Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly Plants. It is simple, and helps us to navigate through the convoluted guidelines that are provided to us through politics.

  2. jarose83

    Lauren, the oversight, influence, and power the government has (or more appropriately, the powerful industries you reference) over what we consume is shocking. I absolutely agree that this subject warrants examination, and I appreciate the question, how do we actually know what is healthy? Obviously, it would be ideal to eat a perfect diet which Pollan outlines; however, those shackles of the processed world are hard to break free from. I suppose it’s that messaging, precisely, by the government (FDA), marketers, paid scientists, etc., that has so ingrained this mentality. Great initiation of discussion.

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