Michael Pollan examines the rise of the concept of “nutritionism” and how it’s shaped our habits, attitudes, and relationship with food. He implies that this modern concept of eating stresses a reductionist perspective; that nutrition is not about a whole food, but it’s individual parts. Some of those parts are unhealthy, yes, but Americans do not need to shop only for “low-fat” foods or alternatives like margarine. What is unnerving to me about the nutritional discourse is that we have become, as consumers of the “Western diet,” generally disconnected with the food we eat. Although eating is a biological imperative, shopping, preparation, and the eventual consumption of meals has evolved into a sort of shorthand. Pollan asks in his introduction, “what is driving such relentless change in the American diet? One force is a thirty-two-billion-dollar food-marketing machine that thrives on change for its own sake.” (xvii) Though our capitalist society has made many contributions to health, Pollan also suggests that it’s invented even more problems. And the solution, according to him, “is to create a broader, more ecological—and more cultural—view of food.” (66) This relates to the way our society is structured; American life is not conditioned to support a culture with a healthy relationship to food and eating.
In order to return to the pleasure of eating, we must shift our everyday practices. When I was little, my mother used to tell me, “eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full.” As useful as that saying was, I think something better might be, “always eat and make food that nourishes your body and that brings you closer to yourself and your community.” Food revolutions are partly about re-connection. Being healthy is more than just about what we put into our bodies, it’s about the cultural formation that happens around meals, the associations we make with food, and how that resonates throughout the rest of our lives. Pollan puts it beautifully that “more than many other cultural practices, eating is deeply rooted in nature- in human biology on one side and in the natural world on the other.” (118) This exploration is complex, but taking the time to condition ourselves toward deepening those relationships and altering our behaviors will likely produce more balanced, happier life outcomes.
I enjoyed reading your post regarding Michael Pollan’s examination of nutritionism and culture. You included a quote that talks about the food marketing industry that “thrives on change for its own sake” which really exposes a large piece of the problem with the social disconnection to food. It is true that the food industry creates new “foods” every year. These “foods” are possible through the reductionist nutritionism that envelopes the processed food industry, as real food is replaced with an edible product. Because of the rapid changes that occur to grocery store shelves as new “food” products are brought in, there is less and less of a social connection to food in general. Snack foods chip away at the importance of meals, or just add more in-between meals to daily intake. Also, having respectful regard for food, including acknowledgement that an animal gave its life, or that farmers or agricultural workers toiled, or even the suffering that brought chocolate to the shopping cart is completely removed from modern food consideration.
I agree with you that we need to change our relationship with food and reconnect with a deeper food culture.