The Problem with Michael Pollan

I've got a beef with the people who have problems with beef. Buckle up your seatbelts, kids. I'm about to criticize someone you likely hold dear: 

His name is Michael Pollan.

Before you close your browser window, personally I like the guy. I mean, I don't know him personally but he seems nice. I studied "human rights and food politics" in college for crying out loud. 

And his purposefully vague description of how to eat is awesome: 

eat real food
mostly plants
not too much

He seems like a good guy with good intentions and I think we pretty much agree with each other.

He's trying to dismantle the food industrial complex.  He's trying to stop big bad corporations who make it worse for the planet and the people in it. As an Earth-and-people enthusiast, I am ALL about that. 

BUT..... people are taking his well-written and researched work to the 1000th degree. 

We've taken Michael Pollan's seminal texts, etched them in stone and given them to Moses to espouse an entire morality around food. Many believe any white food is bad. You shouldn't bother eating vegetables unless they're organically and locally grown. If you ever eat fast food, you'll likely burn in the deepest levels of hell. And buying packaged food? Pssshh, well you might as well just cheat on your husband and kick your dog. 

By demonizing certain foods, we create a culture of SHAME around food. I think shame may not be the best method for developing healthy habits. 

Here are the problems: 

1. Perfection can get in the way of progress. 

With a maniacal relationship to eating, we might stop well-intentioned people from making small and simple improvements. For example, many people think that canned and frozen vegetables don't meet the standards of "real food" because they come in packages.  While this food may not meet the standards of strict Pollanites (Pollanics? Pollanists?), it still counts as vegetables. 

 Even though I know someone who can't really eat vegetables all the time, eating vegetables is usually good for anyone who likes pooping. Vegetables have fiber. Fiber helps you poop. Even the canned vegetables have fiber. Ergo, even the canned vegetables help you poop.  Harvard agrees with me: eating more vegetables is good for you.

2. We stress ourselves out trying SO HARD to get it right.

Here's a new little fact I just read in Linda Bacon's book Health At Every Size: stress is a major cause of weight gain. Also, it hurts your sleep, which also leads to weight gain. On top of that, both stress and lack of sleep increase your risk for heart attacks.  

Worrying about whether or not the burger you ate had too much high fructose corn syrup can raise your stress levels which over the long term could be more harmful than one burger.

3. Obsession with clean eating can turn into a serious mental health issue.

In the '90s, something called orthorexia was discovered. It's basically a fear of eating certain foods that are deemed "unhealthy." When this fear continues to grow, it can lead to a full-blown eating disorder. While orthorexia has not yet been included in diagnostic manuals for mental health professionals, it still can lead to "unhealthy" restriction and preoccupation with food. Both of which can lead to a whole host of other medical problems. 

There is still a place for activism and it's absolutely worth trying to make our whole food system better.

We can make food better-designed for humans and the Earth. But I don't believe it's worth sacrificing your life or your health. Instead of subscribing religiously to the Pollanisticas?, I would advise this:

  • eat MOSTLY real food 
  • eat MOSTLY plants 
  • Listen to YOUR body about how much to eat. 

Honestly, I think Michael Pollan would agree. 


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