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  • In Defense of Food

    I just finished watching Michael Pollan's 2015 made-for-tv movie, In Defense of Food. While generally agreeing with both his message ("Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.") and the facts presented on the evolution of how we eat, the show left a bad taste in my mouth. I've either become too educated about food, or else Pollan has found a way to gracefully sell out. Maybe both.

    There is a gaping - perhaps even cavernous - hole where he fails to acknowledge the existence of agribusiness. Two statements in particular caught my attention:

    "There are people who demonize meat, but there’s no reason to do that. Meat is healthy food. Humans have eaten meat for a very long time with great pleasure. I think our problem is we eat too much of it. So, and that’s why I say mostly plants."

    Pollan is blatantly ignoring the current state of meat production in America, perhaps enveloped in a naive fantasy where we're all outside gutting deer and slitting home-grown chickens' throats. To his credit, there is a brief mention at the beginning of the show about how cows are no longer fed a natural diet of grass. This means cow meat is significantly less nutritious for humans than it used to be. He also shows dedicated urging against the purchase of "edible food-like products" that are designed to be as cheap as possible and last for as long as possible. Unfortunately, ripping on Yoplait while simultaneously encouraging the consumption of factory-farmed meat is, at best, self-justification for his own one-way ticket to that sweet, sweet animal flesh.

    "There’re many aspects of our lives where we feel like we have very little power. But when it comes to food, we do have power.

    The rise of farmers’ markets, the rise of organic agriculture, the rise of the food movement, none of this was the result of government action. All of this was the result of consumers voting with their forks, signaling to farmers and the food industry they wanted something different. And this has created a multi-billion dollar alternative food economy."

    Organic agriculture? Zero government influence? Sure, those ethereal concepts are lovely, but words like "organic" hold about the same amount of depth as a pack of chocolate chip cookies claiming to be "fat free." The multi-billion-dollar value of that alternative food economy has wholly corrupted our very idea of alternative food. Hey Pollan, you can't encourage people to buy products without labels and simultaneously tout now-meaningless brand keywords like "organic."

    Finally, I realized the whole fricking movie is comprised of old white men who are experts on low-income neighborhoods, the nutrition genetics of Africans, and breastfeeding. No joke - he apparently could not find a single woman to speak about the science of lactation. Besides being just plain lame, I find it disturbingly hypocritical that he can make a profit off of a projected "alternative" lifestyle while simultaneously failing to uplift the very same minority communities he's presenting.

    Anyway. The overall message is important, but I say, let's make it better.