Got Milk, Anyone?

      3 Comments on Got Milk, Anyone?

I was a child of a single father whose signature dishes included boxed mac’ and cheese with hotdogs and ramen noodle stir-fry. McDonald dinners were a regular occurrence. I carried this diet into my young adulthood. After taking a nutrition class during my first year in college, I was dismayed to find that most of what I considered food was actually a processed, Frankenstein-esque edible creation meant to mimic food. Artificial flavors and colorings enhance the appeal of meals laced with additives and preservatives to manufacture the sensation of a tasty dish. Thus began my quest to rebuke the diet of my childhood and eat healthy. The problem is that the definition of “healthy” eating changes constantly. Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food, calls this confusion about what is or isn’t good for the human body “nutritionism”. By reducing the definition of a proper diet down to finding the the right combination of nutrients, the distinction between real and processed food becomes irrelevant. Yet, as our societies fixation on nutritionism intensifies, so does the frequency of diseases related to diet like diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. As more people around us become ill, our search for the healthy food options becomes more frantic, thus creating a feedback loop that fuels the creation of more processed foods that hopefully hold the key to wellness.  Pollan argues that this “age of nutritionism” is profitable for many industries at the expense of the consumer. Because of this, the latest, supposedly scientific claims of what we should eat cannot be trusted without scrutiny. His solution to the question of the human diet is to “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”—sounds simple, right? I’ll let you know how it goes.

National Milk Processor Education Program. Rebecca Romijn Stamos Times Square Milk Advertisement. 1999.

Pollan, Michael. In Defense of Food : an Eater’s Manifesto. New York :Penguin Press, 2008. Kindle edition.

3 thoughts on “Got Milk, Anyone?

  1. hpoppie

    This was a great blog, full of personality and self-reflection. I grew up on a rather different diet than you, one that was composed of mainly home cooked meals. My mother was very vocal about her dislikes towards chain restaurants and fast food places, so I hardly ever ate at one and our family rarely ate out. Because of this, I grew up eating fairly healthy and have never had those “fast-food” cravings. It is interesting how much our childhood shapes our future selves when it comes to diets and which foods we choose. Now that I live on my own, I still cook meals from home 6/7 days a week and the meals I make are primarily healthy. I love your term, “Frankenstein-esque”. I completely agree with you on that statement and it is quite gross what different additives and ingredients are put into foods to satisfy our taste buds. It makes me think though, are we really satisfying our taste buds by creating these alien concoctions or are we just so used to them? Or is it society or a placebo effect, leading us to believe this is what we want? Referring back to my childhood and how I ate rather healthy, I never craved processed foods and still don’t. I would choose vegetables over a bag of chips.
    It is true that “healthy foods” and the definition of that are always changing. A big part of this I believe is due to fake news. I actually just saw an article circulating on Facebook that was talking about how unhealthy Avocados are. I was shocked at the comments of people saying they were upset by the “news” and were going to stop eating them. Similar to your comment that scientific claims of what we should eat can’t be trusted, many news reports (that are reporting these claims) can’t be trusted. This makes it incredibly difficult to stay properly and accurately educated.

  2. robman56

    What a well crafted, thoroughly thoughtful post! I think you’ve really nailed a huge part of the problem in understanding and truly grasping what is wrong, or misleading about healthy eating – being rooted in the so called feed back loop. It’s disheartening to think that so much time, energy and resources are plunged into this constant battle to be healthy and thin, and yet so much of what’s being marketed as a solution is creating false hope and making things worse for us the consumers, while corporate bottom lines continue growing astronomically… “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” So simple and yet so incredibly difficult for majority of people, especially given that most everything we buy nowadays has some element of sugar added, and most of us have unknowingly become addicted to it!

  3. Rick Gentzkow

    Hi Melanie – your post caught my eye for the fact that, like your father, I too am a single dad working to transform a dependent son into a healthy adult. In contrast to your father though I, like you, have shunned the pressure to rely on cheap processed foods in order to do so. You used great imagery – “lacing” foods with additives to “manufacture” what nature has been completely capable of for the past 70,000 years or so – producing a tasty, healthy meal. Beyond the alchemist trickery that creates the illusion of such an experience, I think your main discussion of the confusion caused by a food industry more concerned with profits than human health and welfare is spot on. In my view, the crisis is further exacerbated by the distribution of marketing the likes of which are evident in the provocative supporting image that you used, that do nothing more than incentivize a global community to make choices based not on what their own biological systems dictate, but on the perception that those images foster.

    Relatedly, my 13 year old son responded to my out loud reaction as I perused the Nat Geo hidden water website by saying , “It’s all about money!”. He’s right. The quest for profits has altered the way people see (or don’t) everything, including the very things that keep us alive. Or conversely, as you point out, the things that seek to undermine our health.

    I hope you do actually keep us posted about your own dietary travels! I can attest from personal experience, and from cooking for my son that eating good food doesn’t have to be as complicated as the industry wants to make it. In fact, it’s super easy. The only trade off is, as Pollan recognizes, that you will spend more time and effort in the connection with real food. To me, that’s pretty cheap compared with the alternative.

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