Where’s the Beef, in the Freezer? An Objection to Pollan’s Diet of Frozen Steer With Purslane!

Since the 2017 fall quarter, my friends and I have been working out regularly at the IMA, putting in about 1-2 hours every day.  There, we often overhear conversations about fats, carbs, and proteins. We also talk about food a lot, and we never realized we acquired a different way of talking and thinking when it comes to food.  What stands out to me the most is how nutrients plays a vital and political role in our modern society.

In Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food, he points out that “scientific reductionism” helped codify the official dietary language we speak today.  Now being more conscious of my food, I commodify whatever is on my plate into compounds, distinguishing what is protein, how much carbs I want to eat, and how much fat I have already eaten.   Visiting the gym where food is nearly always addressed in its basic nutritional forms, I had unconsciously adopted this classification as my way of looking at what I eat.

However, what I found most disturbing in Pollan’s In Defense of Food was his whole subchapter on “Pay More, Eat Less.”  I know this is a required reading for class, but once I reached that section, I thought it would be difficult for me to finish reading the book.  I am not sure why I felt so much distaste for Pollan’s eating strategies at the time.  Perhaps it was the digestion of previous sections like “If You Have the Space, Buy a Freezer” and “Eat Wild Foods When You Can,” that built up to my stomachache.  But I think the real reason is because mostly everything he said is unrealistic and unattainable, at least for me.

I think Pollan’s methods are so unrealistic because of many factors, such as time, money, and location.  I commute to school every day; I leave around 8:00 a.m., attend all my classes, and arrive back at home usually around 7:00 p.m.  Pollan wants everyone to cook their own meals, since he sees that as an indicator of how healthy a person is.  From discussions in class, cooking normally takes around 2-3 hours, depending on the type of food you’re making, and how much of it you plan to cook.  Given my personal schedule, this means after arriving home around 7:00 p.m., the earliest I could potentially be eating dinner if I followed what Pollan says, would be around 9:00 p.m.  Not only that, I would have to cook for my family of 5, which would take even longer!

Both my mom and dad work, sometimes coming home later than I do.  When we go grocery shopping, the money we spend is the money they earn.  I know for a fact if I asked my parents to switch to spending more money on organic food, which is more expensive, they would be angry, simply because why would we pay more for less?  And in terms of shopping at a farmers’ market, I can only think of Pike Place Market, PCC, and Whole Foods as the closest matches for a true farmers’ market.  Even so, those stores are still quite some distance away from where I live.  And they don’t sell the authentic Chinese and other Asian foods that we like – and if they did, it’s still over-priced.  Ultimately, I think Pollan overlooks how expensive and unrealistic it is for most people to live by his “dietary strategies” in modern society, particularly when it comes to buying and storing half a steer, or growing a personal crop of wild purslane.

2 thoughts on “Where’s the Beef, in the Freezer? An Objection to Pollan’s Diet of Frozen Steer With Purslane!

  1. Lucas Garcia


    I found your critique on Michael Pollan very intriguing, especially when I can empathize with where you are coming from. He really seems out of touch with the average working American household. Growing up in Seattle as well with both my parents working their butts off every day, I definitely understand what it’s like to want to be able to shop at farmer’s markets or at premium grocery stores like Whole Foods and PCC. Ultimately not having easy access to these stores or by not being able to afford to shop there really limits the types of foods we buy. To have more of an impact, I believe that Pollan needs to amend his novel to adequately address the fact that the majority of Americans cannot simply convert to his dietary recommendations and way of thinking. Since moving off campus, I have started working at Whole Foods on Roosevelt part-time to pay my rent and it has given me a new perspective on how pricey it is to lead an ‘organic’ lifestyle. To be honest, seeing people spend more than my monthly rent check in one trip to Whole Foods is quite shocking and depressing. This made me further reassess my thoughts on Pollan and his notions of healthy living.

    Response 2

  2. Anna C Maxwell

    Hey Han, I really connected to your comments on privilege plays a role in what we eat. I think Pollan really fails to address the place of privilege he writes from. Our economic means are the main determinate of what is available for us to eat. Food deserts disproportionately affect those who most disadvantaged and the dietary consequences of only being able to access highly processed carbohydrates is well documented. Because if a family can’t afford grass fed beef does that mean they should eliminate such forms of protein from their diet. I think Pollan’s inherently mean well, but he does not go far enough to address that he is aware he is coming from an elitest position and that the majority of people do not have the means to eat the way he outlines. I think Pollan’s elitism is generally representative of the elitism that is often invoked in discussions of the “green movement”. It hard to tell a family with a limited income to buy organic, and it is hard to tell someone they are bad for holding a job at a coal mine. We have often criticized the development of organic farms from small scale farms to industrialized organic farm; however, I think the benefits of economies of scale could help bring organic produce to a wider audience at lower prices. This class has been adamantly against scaling up, but economies of scale have benefits that can’t go overlooked.


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