A cultural conundrum

      6 Comments on A cultural conundrum

Image from Heritage Prairie Farms

Despite receiving some criticism on his book “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto”, Michael Pollan is quite passionate about the stance he has taken about food, nutrition, and the Western diet. Pollan points directly to unhealthy behaviors that many of us, to include myself, are guilty of, yet provides a straightforward solution. He says to, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants”. Despite this simple answer, he explains that the Western culture continues to become increasingly unhealthier. How can this be when we have access to more than enough food? In our culture, we are intrigued by the latest trends and fads, and this is true in our diets as well. In our journey to discovering exactly what our foods are comprised of, in order to reach optimal health and knowledge, we have created nutritionism, as Pollan calls it. By knowing what our foods are made of, we have established a lingo full of buzz words that convince our culture of the “nutrients” we need for our health. Pollan claims that this line of thinking is absurd, and we have overcomplicated something that should be fairly easy to achieve. He believes that “nutrients” are, more or less, a gimmick, and that we just need to consume real foods.

If the answer is so simple, how is it that we fail? Well, we require convenience, instant gratification, and want to exert minimal effort in order to be healthy in our daily lives. This is also a cultural issue. Then there is the cost of eating whole foods. Unfortunately, it requires more money to eat organically grown vegetables than it does to eat a highly processed, microwave meal. In many instances, the cheap option wins. Professor Beth Wheat highlighted this point, yet also spread a glimmer of hope that growing your own food does not have to be an impossible task. She is a Jill-of-all-trades it seems, yet with the right amount of heart and resources, she has convinced me that starting a farm is feasible. It could even fall within our culture’s love of all things simple.

Overall, our food system seems to be skewed in the wrong direction. Along the way of gaining knowledge about the nutrients we are consuming, we lost sight of the food we are consuming. The two are not one in the same. Those like Pollan and Wheat have created great reminders that we can simplify our diets, reduce the amount of processed foods we eat, and ultimately gain a healthier lifestyle.


Work Cited

Heritage Prairie Farm, https://www.heritageprairiefarm.com/gallery/, Accessed 14 Jan. 2018.

6 thoughts on “A cultural conundrum

  1. slandes


    I agree with you, Michael Pollan’s answer to eating healthier appears so simple and yet it is difficult to achieve. I suspect part of this difficulty would include marketing strategies of the “nutrient gimmick” that he refers to in his book In Defense of Food. These marketing strategies of low-fat, low carb, gluten free, etc. communicate to consumers that they are eating “healthier” which isn’t necessarily the case. With the cultural development around nutritionism within the Western diet it is easier to understand why eating healthy has become daunting, confusing, and complex.

    I appreciate that Pollan tries to simplify the answer of eating healthy with the three simple statements you mentioned: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” By following these instructions it helps consumers to focus on simplistic and realistic ways to eat healthier.

  2. jgalder

    I agree that the labeling of foods that came out of the “nutritionism” movement is culturally created. But where did this labeling and reductionism originate? You ask in you post, why it is that we fail at eating whole foods, and cite both constraints of time and money. I’d like to go further in that analysis. Since nutritionism followed the industrialization of our food system, wherein we were able to produce food faster and cheaper, what were the social conditions that facilitated and produced this move toward a reductionist approach to food? Also part of the move to label, categorize, and break down the foods we are eating, were political forces, scientific advances, medical considerations, and corporate interests. All of these combined to initiate a “cultural response” to limitations that inhibit people’s access and availability to healthy foods. Since we live in a society where growing inequality is a concern, where some people can’t get to a grocery store (with healthy choices), where there is little time to make meals (convenience), and dwindling resources to be able to afford those “whole foods,” it is unsurprising that more social issues are at play when we discuss our culture’s eating habits. And, as Pollan makes clear early on in his book, the main factor that’s driving change in the American diet “is a thirty-two-billion dollar food-marketing machine that thrives on change for its own sake.” (xvii) So, how can an ordinary citizen compete with mega-corporations that dictate what and how we eat? And how can we combat some of the social conditions that lead us to accept this “nutritionism” style of consumption?

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