Sixty nine percent of adults age 20 and older were overweight during the period 2011 – 2012, according to the Centers for Disease Control. We hear constantly from medical professionals, dietitians, mass media, politicians, friends and family: to do something about being overweight — and we should — moderate our caloric intake and move.
Despite such commonplaces, something is amiss. It goes beyond notions of eating a “proper diet” and exercising, and most of us don’t really understand what’s right and what’s wrong. Many don’t even learn what is required to live well in the contemporary food culture.
As people move to urban areas — disconnected from how food is grown, processed and marketed — another layer is added to our food system. It includes dining out more often, claims and assertions in mass media about food and food products, and the reduction of daily life to a restricted set of patterns involving less exercise, more processed and prepared foods, and an abundance of food everywhere — unlike in many other places in the world.
Fixing the obesity problem requires more skill than eating and drinking until satiated. What guidance exists among food writers, health professionals and scientists comes under fire from almost every direction.
In the end, we must each make decisions about a personal cuisine or diet. Where will food be sourced? How much cooking will I do at home? How much should I rely on the convenience of an ingredient-based industrial food supply chain? How do I determine the difference between food that tastes good and food that is good for us? There are no easy answers and as time passes we make decisions and live our lives as best we can — making decisions by default.
The film In Defense of Food aired on public television Dec. 30, 2015. In it, author and food writer Michael Pollan takes nutritionism to task.
“Nutritionism is an alleged paradigm that assumes that it is the scientifically identified nutrients in foods that determine the value of individual food stuffs in the diet. In other words, it is the idea that the nutritional value of a food is the sum of all its individual nutrients, vitamins, and other components,” according to Wikipedia.
Pollan’s message in the film is we should “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants,” and pay less attention to nutritionism. While he has his critics, this seven word statement is as good as any other guidance I’ve heard as help for developing a family cuisine.
Pollan encourages people to eat meat, which is a bone of contention in urban circles, especially among vegans, vegetarians and environmentalists. He neither embraces nor rejects genetically modified organisms in the film, perhaps recognizing that the anti-GMO movement is more marketing than science. If one has been reading Pollan, his affection for bread is well known.
I follow Pollan and a few other food writers. What matters more is the choices made in our kitchen: how will we process the abundance of garden and farm? What cooking oil should we use? Should we buy lettuce at the grocer during winter? Should we eschew making big batches of food in favor of making enough at a time for a single meal? The questions can be endless, each decision of some importance.
For our family, getting started with local food has been an answer to these questions and more. It is easy to know the face of the farmer when it is visible in the bathroom mirror each day. As the circle of food producers and processors expands beyond our lot lines, it gets more complicated, but not impossible.
What’s needed most is to turn off outside influence from time to time and do what seems right. There is nothing to be afraid of. Food itself will help us find a better diet, especially when combined with the complex understanding of the world that comes with being human. Instead of trying to understand food culture, we may be better off to just go on living and take what comes. Going forward, that’s what I plan to do. That is, in addition to moderating caloric intake and moving.