Michael Pollan Speaks to Full House in Troy, NY

Michael Pollan’s fundamental and simply-stated food rules have become well-known, especially his easy-to-comprehend mantra: “Eat Food, Real Food, Not Too Much, Mostly Plants.”  Mr. Pollan, the author of one of the most significant books of the new century, The Omnivore’s Dilemma (The Penguin Press, New York, New York, 2006), in an often humorous and crowd-pleasing presentation at the Maureen Stapleton Theater at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, New York [www.hvcc.edu] also voiced a less familiar position which rejected “nutritionism.”  He maintains that “nutritionism feeds into industrial agriculture’s food marketing machine.”

Strolling on to the stage with two bags of food just purchased at a nearby Price Chopper supermarket, Pollan began his talk by displaying to the attentive audience his supermarket purchases of “Products I haven’t seen before,” including a cereal “modeled on candy,” Reese’s Puffs Whole Grain [http://generalmillsfoodservice.com/products/cereals/Bulk/General-Mills-Bulk-Cereal/Reeses-Puffs_35_oz].  It was the “Whole Grain” designation on the colorful package that drew Mr. Pollan’s withering eye to lend support to his contention that the food industry borrows the halo of nutritionism to “muddy and confuse.”  Instead of focusing on “nutritionism,” which now undergirds the marketing of so much processed food, Mr. Pollan presents a forceful argument that any traditional diet of real food is superior.  In his view, why a carrot or an apple is good to eat is a continuing mystery.  This mystery cannot be solved by merely analyzing the nutrients:  A carrot is more than the sum of its nutrients.  (Still, it must be noted that researchers from the Centers for Disease Control have recently confirmed the benefits of eating carrots [http://knowwhereyourfoodcomesfrom.com/2010/12/27/eat-your-carrots-a-carrot-a-day-keeps-the-grim-reaper-away/].)  Pollan makes a logical argument that merely incorporating certain nutrients found in carrots into “edible food products” does not equal eating a real carrot.  The recent news that Vitamin E has not proven to be beneficial when taken as a supplement would seem to support Mr. Pollan’s position that the silence of an apple is much more appealing than the noise of food marketers promoting “cheap farm commodities with added value” by incorporating vitamins and nutrients [http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/10/11/more-evidence-against-vitamin-use/].

But not a mystery to Mr. Pollan is that humans should not eat too much.   His advice is clear:  if you’re not hungry enough to eat an apple, you’re not really hungry, and the corollary principle, stop eating before you feel full.  Mr. Pollan points to the ancient wisdom of the Japanese that humans should eat until feeling 80% full and the comparable Chinese proverb, to eat until feeling 75% full.  In other words, Mr. Pollan advises: stop eating the moment you no longer have hunger, not until you’re full.   His message found a very appreciative audience, which responded with a sustained, standing ovation. [FW Barrie, 10/26/11]

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