An evening with Michael Pollan

An evening with Michael Pollan…

By Dylan Willis

Last month we recommended you attend a special presentation on food by world famous author Michael Pollan. For those of you that could not attend, I thought I would I summarise what was covered in the presentation and expand on Michael’s insights into the role food in today’s society.

Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.

With such a simple yet profound philosophy, world famous author Michael Pollan (Omnivores Dilemma, In Defence of food) sifts through the barrage of information and debate out there to provide his readers with a most simplistic approach to eating.

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to see Pollan speak at the Melbourne Town Hall in an event hosted by the Wheeler Foundation. Pollan polarises people with his simple philosophy because as he puts it – ‘The carnivores assume I’m anti-meat and the vego’s think I don’t take it far enough!’ To clarify, Pollan is a meat eater, he enjoys eating meat and understands human’s have evolved by eating animal flesh. He does however feel it should be enjoyed sparingly (ie 3-4 times per week) and as a side dish only, with the majority of your food coming from plant based sources.

Pollan’s presentation focused primarily on the celebration and or condemnation of the nutrient. For example he featured a full range of uncle toby’s cereals with the following options – ‘99% fat free’, ‘high protein’, ‘high fibre’, ‘omega 3 rich’, ‘high in antioxidants’ and so on. He believes as a society we have become so focused on the nutrient profile of the food that we don’t stop to think about what we are actually eating and where it came from. He also laments the fact that eating for pure pleasure and enjoyment is becoming a thing of the past and that we are becoming increasingly desensitised to the origin of the food we are eating.

Pollan introduced us to the concept of ‘Nutritionism’ – coined by an Australian sociologist, he explains that ‘Nutritionism’ is an ideology that makes the assumption that the key to benefiting from a food is understanding its nutritional profile. As nutrients are invisible to us, we of course need intervention from the scientists to tell us what we should and shouldn’t eat. After all when you’re eating nutrients you can’t see, you need a lot of help right? He goes on to discuss the ‘french paradox’ as an example of how eating for pure enjoyment of food can make people no less healthy and in fact enhance your relationship with food. Perhaps we have taken Hippocrates famous oath ‘let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food’ a little too far!

Today I thought I would breakdown his philosophy into it’s 3 sections and expand a little on why it does resonate with me…

Eat food: Sounds like a no brainer right? Well the truth is there is food and there is ‘food like substances’. If it wasn’t here 10,000 years ago then it is not a real food! It may well be a food like substance that gives the body energy, but anything that has an ingredient list that looks more like a science experiment will have a very different affect on the human body. When you consume food that has undergone repeated processing, the food becomes denatured (ie dead). The more ‘alive’ the food you eat, the more alive you will feel. Does this mean you need to eat 100% raw? No. A great tip when shopping at the supermarket is to stick to the perimeter, where the perishable items are usually kept. If the food has a longer shelf life than the life expectancy of your favorite pet then it should probably be kept to a minimum.

Not too much: We live in the world of over consumption. With a global food shortage possibly humanity’s greatest challenge of the next 50 years with an ever increasing population, not to mention the environmental impact associated with the energy required to manufacture and transport food all over the world, this is a real concern that we must all address. The poorest tread lightest on earth. If we can learn to eat sustainably, become efficient with our meal planning and eat until a feeling of satiety is created (…not a feeling of extreme fullness) then both you and the planet will benefit. This will be different for everyone, fine tune and adjust accordingly.

Mostly plants: If there was one thing that nutritionists around the world would agree on it would surely be – eat more plant based foods. Whether you’re a hard core ‘paleo’ diet fan or at the other end of the scale a strict vegan, nobody can dispute the fact that plant based foods need to be greatly increased in the modern diet. A great tip when shopping for plant based foods is to create as much colour to your shopping trolley as possible. There more colour, the more variety. The more variety, the more antioxidants and nutrients you will ultimately consume without thinking. Where possible shop at farmers markets and with local producers….or maybe even grow your own. Many plant based foods found in commercial supermarkets are devoid of nutrient due to commercial farming methods and long term food storage techniques.

I feel this simple philosophy is a great place to start if you like most of the population are confused about what to eat. From there it is simply a case of becoming more intuitive with your eating habits and adjusting accordingly. Listen to your body, it will give you the answers. If you feel you need to fall asleep after a large steak for instance adjust the portion sizes at your next meal and monitor your response. Your requirements may even differ from day to day. Personally, on days when I am lifting heavy in the gym, I feel I need more animal protein. If you break down flesh in the gym, you may need to take in animal flesh in order to repair. On days I am not training, or when I get in to bad habits of not training for days on end (…it happens) I don’t feel I can absorb animal protein very well and my digestion suffers accordingly

In closing, I urge to take this philosophy on board, listen to your body, refine your intuition on a daily basis and you will find what YOU need.

Eat what makes you feel good and for the pure pleasure of it. Life is too short to worry about calories and macronutrients.

Above all always remember – Health is a journey, not an event.