In Defense Of Food

Michael Pollan book ISBN:0143114964: for an intro, you could read his "UnhappyMeals" article Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants. (his Three Food Rules for a Good Diet)

The story of how the most basic questions about what to eat ever got so complicated reveals a great deal about the institutional imperatives of the Food Industry, Nutrition Science, and - ahem - Journalism, three parties that stand to gain much from widespread confusion surrounding the most elemental question an Omni Vore confronts.

Nutritionism and other macro-change history

  • 19th century, William Prout: protein, fat, carbohydrate

  • Justus Von Liebig: 3 Macro Nutrient-s (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium): thought this was all we needed

  • Casimir Fund, 1912: vitamins

  • 1961: American Heart Association started recommending "prudent diet" low in Saturated Fat ("LipidHypothesis")

  • 1973: FDA repeats 1938 law requiring that "ImitationFood-s" (e.g. processed) be so labelled

  • 1977: George Mc Govern-led SenateSelectCommitteeOnNutritionAndHumanNeeds

    • no scientist or doctors on committee (though they took testimony)

    • original guidelines said to reduce consumption of red meat and dairy

    • after outcry from Food Industry, immediately rewritten as "choose meats, poultry, and fish that will reduce Saturated Fat content"

      • never again see policy that says to EatLess of anything: that industry won't allow it

      • talk about nutrients instead of specific foods to dodge lobbies. But this feeds Nutritionism habit of thinking we can engineer food.

  • 1982: National Academy Of Science research on diet and cancer: talked about (good and bad) nutrients instead of food, over objections of 2 members. (Much of the research at that time was from population studies, so based on food differences: nutrient factors were imputed, not directly studied.)

Nutritionism ideology

  • term created by GyorgySrinis in 2002 article

  • ideology: "shared but unexamined assumptions"

    • foods are the sum of their nutrient parts (Reductionism)

    • the point of eating is to maintain Health: this seems ok, but actually results in obsessions with food, resulting in seeking complicated solutions.

    • nutrients can be categorized as "good" and "bad" (eat lots or none: no middle/balanced ground)


  • Frank B Hu (and Walter Willet?): "Types of Dietary Fat and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease: A Critical Review" (2001):

    • "LowFat campaign has been based on little scientific evidence"!

    • the only thing they maintain support for (warning about) is TransFat... which we've increased our consumption of because of Saturated Fat warnings!

  • earlier critique of the Hypothesis: Mary Enig (warning TransFat in 1970s), Fred Kummerow (Bad Carb-s in 1970s)

  • fresh critique: Gary Taubes

    • even at time of Mc Govern committee there was contradictory evidence, plus competing theories

      • and the AMA had warned of "potential for harmful effects for a radical long-term dietary change"
    • but Pollan says Taubes' GoodCaloriesBadCalories book falls prey heavily to equally-bogus "CarbohydrateHypothesis" (that Bad Carb-s are the real evil).

  • people actually tried to follow the Mc Govern new-rules: but they didn't eat less fat, we just made it a smaller portion of our intake: we replaced Saturated Fat with TransFat and Poly Unsaturated Fat, and ate more Bad Carb-s (for an increase in total calories).

  • but didn't we reduce Heart Disease? No, we reduced deaths from Heart Disease (via improved treatment, plus reduction in Smoking) but not the disease itself.

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