Eater's Advice: Pollan Takes On Nutritionism

Ellen Haas Health Guide
  • I just finished reading Michael Pollan's best-selling book In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto and came away admiring a lot of what he says. But I think his discussion of the history of eating over the past three decades and his argument against the food industry's embrace of what he calls nutritionism doesn't tell the whole story.


    To begin with, I share his emphasis on food rather than nutrients. In fact, when was launched in 2000 we clearly differentiated ourselves from both the nutrition websites that were quite technical and expert-driven and the "foodie" and recipe sites that were mostly silent about healthy eating. For us, delicious, good food was a prioirity. Our Executive Chef Bonnie Moore and our network of chefs developed thousands of original, delicious, healthy recipes that also met nutrition standards. What we did then - and we do today is integrate nutrition, health and good taste throughout our content.

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    Michael Pollan's slogan that is featured prominently on the book cover also is a good one: "Eat Food. Not too Much. Mostly Plants." It is a simple guideline, focusing rightly on eating fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains. It also recognizes the importance of portion size and moderating what we consumers eat. His embrace of whole foods as compared to designer foods or techno foods is right on the mark.


    It is his berating of nutrition science for making us less healthy over the past 50 years where I part company with him. Over the past 50 years there has been a significant increase in nutrition research. This has been carried out by government agencies like the National Institutes of Health, universities as well as the food industry. Nutrition is an evolving science and we are learning more every day about how our diet relates to our health. For example, as we have learned more about the connection of diet and heart disease and we have consumed less fat, we have seen a decrease in the number of deaths from heart disease.


    No doubt about it, the nutrition-science complex has dominated a good deal of the policy history when there was a need for a simpler, more pragmatic approach to nutrition guidance. But the policy process is changing and more health and non-profit groups are involved in it.


    Unfortunately, much of the education and guidance that consumers have gotten over the years was far away from the advice I got from my Mother about a healthy, delicious dinner. What do you think is needed to change how we think about food? Do you think changes are happening today about how we think about what we eat?


    Unfortunately, Pollan's book is strident at times and skips over the enjoyment that can come from cooking fresh, seasonal and local foods - the excitement of shopping at the farmers market and sharing the bounty of seasonal, local foods with family and friends.



    When at the end of his book he describes his vision of a post-industrial era of food and champions the growth of farmers markets, the renaissance of local food and the increase of the organic movement, I do agree. Yes, food is more than being about nutrition. It connects us to so much. Food connects to taste, to the land, to our health, to farmers and to so much more. There is much to celebrate and much to enjoy!!


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    Here are some delicious, spring ideas for a healthy dinner that tastes so good. They are the delight of Ellen's Healthy Table and I hope you find them delightful too.


Published On: March 28, 2008