Saturday, May 22, 2010

Our National Eating Disorder


I've recently been reading The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. I haven't finished it yet, but am already changed by its contents. The book describes the food industry, focusing on how corn has invaded every piece of food we put into our mouths and why that is harmful. Mainly because our food is so stripped of nutrients that we are never fully satiated.

I don't want to do a book report - you'll have to read the book yourself, and I recommend you do - however, I do want to quote a piece of the introduction that for me, shed light on why America has such a problem with food and weight.

Pollan poses the question, "How did we ever get to a point where we need investigative journalists to tell us where our food comes from and nutritionists to determine the dinner menu?"

He then goes on to highlight the absurdity of the situation, bringing up such instances as the disappearance of bread from the dinner table back in 2002, when carbophobia seized the country. The cause of this national spasm? A "perfect media storm of diet books, scientific studies, and one timely magazine article."

But before then, red meat and fat were the culprits. That was because in 1977, under the Carter administration, the Senate issued set of "dietary goals", warning us to lay off the red meat. And we obeyed. Until, of course, we were told, it wasn't fat that made us fat, but carbs.

"Within months, supermarket shelves were restocked and restaurant menus rewritten to reflect the new nutritional wisdom."

No wonder we don't know what to have for dinner.

Pollan claims that, "So violent a change in a culture's eating habits is surely the sign of a national eating disorder."

The problem, he points out, is that because we are a relatively new nation, we don't have a deeply rooted culture of food. A culture with deeply rooted traditions surrounding food would not need the government to determine the nation's "dietary goals" or the shape of the anomaly known as the "food pyramid." Nor would it need to shell out millions of dollars for a slew of new diet books every January. A country with a stable food culture wouldn't fall victim to the dizzying pendulum swings of food scares and food fads, every few years championing one food group and demonizing another.

How did we ever create so much stress, anxiety, and uncertainty around something as simple as eating a meal.

If we lived in a culture where we didn't confuse protein bars with meals, or diet drinks with a healthy lifestyle, we wouldn't be nearly as fat, or unnaturally skinny - living fearful of grocery store shelves and restaurant menus.

And we wouldn't be surprised to find that other countries, such as France and Italy, determine their dinner menus "on the basis of such quaint and unscientific criteria as pleasure and tradition," eating all manner of "unhealthy foods" and winding up much happier and healthier in their eating than we are.

Delving further into the book, I found that most of our food fears arise out of how we process food. We no longer go out to our garden and pick a tomato. We have an entire shelf of tomatoes, from stewed to diced, and from organic to vine-ripened. No wonder we're confused. We have no idea what things are made out of! Not to mention the fact the the corn industry has taken over everything for the sake of cheap production - even the production of meat.

But like I said, I don't want to do a book report. I want you to read the book.

For me, The Omnivore's Dilemma has helped me see that natural foods are always good. I can eat a piece of spelt bread slathered with almond butter and honey, and not think twice about how it might make me fat. I simply enjoy it, having confidence in eating the food that God has created. I don't have to feel guilty that I didn't drink a fat-free, sugar-free shake for breakfast instead. I can eat a juicy piece of grass-fed beef and not worry that I didn't buy the extra lean turkey meat. Grass-fed is the natural way cows grow, and I can trust in the way God created our food.

I don't need to hide or be ashamed for eating chocolate because all the diet books make it the national sign of a "careless and unhealthy eater". I don't need a magazine article to tell me what's for dinner. I can trust in my inner hunger signals, and know that it's OK to slow down and take pleasure in food.

I wish that our nation could back to a much more natural way of eating. If we could just trust in what was created for us to eat (naturally grown and naturally raised food), our fears would be eliminated and our national eating disorder absolved.

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