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Michael Pollan And The Battle For Healthy Food

Author, journalist and food activist says we shouldn't obsess over eating healthy, or break the bank doing so; rather, he says eating real food --  organic or conventional -- is the key to good health. (Courtesy)

Author, journalist and food activist says we shouldn’t obsess over eating healthy, or break the bank doing so; rather, he says eating real food — organic or conventional — is the key to good health. (Jesse Costa/Here & Now)

Food guru Michael Pollan has some rules about food, so it’s somewhat ironic that he thinks we’re obsessed with what we eat.

Pollan says we should relax about eating, and it doesn’t need to be expensive. Just eat real food — organic or conventional — rather than food made by large industrial food complexes.

He joins Here & Now’s Robin Young to talk about what we can do to eat better without stressing over everything we consume.

Pollar is the author of books including “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and “In Defense of Food.” His latest is “Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation.”

Interview Highlights: Michael Pollan

On people becoming obsessed with healthy eating

“I mean, look at the gluten-free craze. People get obsessed about particular nutrients. Sugar, you know, is another current, or high fructose corn syrup. And to the extent that we are fixing on the good or evil nutrient at any one time, doesn’t contribute to a relaxed attitude toward eating.”

“We don’t actually see food anymore — we see nutrients, we see calories. You don’t need to know what an antioxidant is to eat well.”

On the need for a “food policy”

“Basically, we have an agricultural policy in this country. We don’t have a food policy, and they’re not the same thing. An agricultural policy is designed to keep agriculture healthy, ostensibly, though it doesn’t work very well to do that. But a food policy, if we had that at the White House level, would force us to align our health objectives with our agricultural policies, our agricultural policies with our environmental policies, because, you know, agriculture is a tremendous contributor to climate change.”

“It has enormous potential to help with climate change. About a third of the carbon in the atmosphere right now was originally in the soil. I don’t mean in oil — I mean it was locked in healthy soils before we began to till. I mean, climate change, in a way, goes back to the invention of the plow, because as soon as you plow, you release lots of carbon. We also, then, now redouble these effects with modern agriculture, because we use — nitrous oxide is a very serious greenhouse gas, released by the fertilizers that we use. And then we have these cattle feedlots that produce huge amounts of methane. So, all told, agriculture is responsible for about a third of greenhouse gases.”

On making healthy food available for all

“There is a danger that we will move toward — and, to some extent, we have moved toward — a system where some people can afford good food and some people can’t. But I think it’s important not to confuse organic and local food with healthy food. You can eat really healthy, leaving meat aside, with just simply eating the real stuff. Fruits and vegetables, however they’re grown, organic or conventional, are really good for you. We know that. We know that people that eat lots of fruits and vegetables have much lower rates of cancer and heart disease and obesity. So the idea that we have for everyone to have access to organic to improve our diets. We also know that poor people who cook actually have healthier diets than rich people who don’t. And cooking is available to everyone. Yes, we have enormous amount of time pressure, but you don’t have to be rich to cook. All you need is a pan and some olive oil.”

Guest

  • Michael Pollan, author, journalist, food activist, and professor at the University of California at Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. He tweets @michaelpollan.

Transcript

ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:

We want to spend a few minutes now on something you do every day: You eat. And we're joined by a leader in the sustainability move to eat less processed and industrially produced food. But lately, Michael Pollan has been wondering out loud: Are some of us maybe too obsessed with what we eat? There's a name for it: orthorexia nervosa. And he asks if it's getting us into vicious, unhealthy cycles.

Michael Pollan is author of seven books, bestsellers like "Food Rules," "The Botany of Desire," "The Omnivore's Dilemma." His most recent, "Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation," is now out in paperback, and he's here in the studio for a check-in on the food world. So Michael, start with this unhealthy obsession.

MICHAEL POLLAN: Yeah, orthorexia. It's not an official diagnosis yet, but it is this unhealthy obsession with healthy eating. I mean, I think people are - I mean, look at the gluten-free craze. People get obsessed about particular nutrients. Sugar, you know, is another current - or high fructose corn syrup. And to the extent that we are fixing on the good or evil nutrient at any one time, doesn't contribute to a relaxed attitude toward eating.

YOUNG: Is that part of your concern with something else...

POLLAN: Nutritionism.

YOUNG: Nutritionism, yeah.

POLLAN: Well, nutritionism is kind of the American ideology of food, in, you know, in which we don't actually see foods anymore. We see nutrients; we see calories. You don't need to know what an antioxidant is to eat well.

YOUNG: But let's go back to some of your concerns about people, let's say, cutting a whole part of one thing out of their foods, gluten.

POLLAN: Yeah.

YOUNG: If people cut gluten out, and suddenly they're feeling better, isn't that a good thing? If people realize that as you've said, food becomes sugar delivery systems, you know, someone wants to sell a lot of sugar there, people placing bets on how much sugar is going to be sold...

POLLAN: We're eating way too much sugar. There's a sugar arms race in the supermarket where, you know, the yogurt now has to compete with the soda for which can deliver more sugar per ounce. And the yogurt's ahead right now, believe it or not, yogurts.

YOUNG: Some yogurts, yeah.

POLLAN: Some yogurts, yeah. And, you know, gluten intolerance, it's growing at a rate that probably can't be explained purely by biology. You know, I don't mean to demean people who are really struggling with it, because it has gone up, and that's curious that it has. Why should this be worse? Celiac disease, which the more extreme form of a gluten allergy, basically, that's doubled in the last 50 years.

There are a great many people who think they're gluten intolerant, and some of them are, and some of them would like to be, and the reason is because it's such a nice, simple explanation for whatever problems they're struggling with. So I think people feel better when they get off gluten if they're getting off of carbohydrates.

If people are really careful and say I'm going to avoid gluten, that means they're avoiding bread and pasta, and that means they're avoiding the kind of carbohydrate roller-coaster of mood that you get into. Carbohydrates turn to sugar in your bloodstream, and so you have this roller-coaster of insulin that doesn't feel good. You get high, and then you crash.

YOUNG: Well, remind us how we got on that roller-coaster. At a certain point, suddenly all fats were bad.

POLLAN: That's right.

YOUNG: Well, but we just spoke recently with Fred Kummerow, who led the battle against trans-fats in particular. Trans-fats are the ones that occur a little bit in foods naturally, but most are made through a processing method. It was shown to be bad for your heart and cholesterol. Wasn't he right to lead that fight against fats?

POLLAN: He was absolutely right, but look at how we got there. The reason we got onto trans-fats is that we demonized saturated fats. These are the fats found in animal products like milk and beef. And we went overboard, really, in demonizing those fats beginning in the '70s with the low-fat campaign. And so we moved off of butter, and we got onto margarine.

Well, margarine was full of trans-fats, these hydrogenated oils. Basically to make a vegetable oil solid at room temperature, you need to shoot hydrogen into it and stabilize it. And so the public health authorities, our government, basically says get off butter, it's lethal, and get onto these trans-fats. They're fine because they're made from vegetables.

Well, it turns out that the saturated fats are actually not bad for you. I mean, they're not great for you, but they're very important. You brain needs saturated fat. There are only two studies out of hundreds that have actually linked saturated fat to heart disease, believe it or not. Everybody assumes. Their cardiologist is telling them, you know, stay off of eggs and things like that.

So we moved people off of those fats and onto a fat that in fact is demonstrably lethal, trans-fats. Trans-fats do - have created hundreds of thousands of heart attacks. So that's an example where our demonizing of a nutrient and an industrial solution as an alternative actually was worse than the problem.

YOUNG: Well, you and others also point out not only did we move on to trans-fats, but we moved...

POLLAN: We moved on to sugar and carbohydrates, that's right. What do you do when you take the fat out of a cookie or ice cream or some product? Well, you've got to replace it with something else because it tastes like garbage at that point. And so you add back in lots of sugar or lots of carbohydrates in other ways. And you see, as soon as you demonize one nutrient, you give a free pass to the other nutrient, its doppelganger, right.

(LAUGHTER)

POLLAN: So you will find that we cut our consumption of fat a little bit, and we started binging on carbohydrates because they were good. Well, they're not good, I mean not in great quantity. They're sugar, basically.

YOUNG: Well, and it's funny, too, because the original campaign was not only to protect the heart but to avoid diabetes, and everybody moving over to these carbs has increased diabetes.

POLLAN: Has created - yeah, and do you know how many cases of diabetes in children there was in 1980? Virtually zero. And now it's rampant among our kids. And the reason is that as a culture, we're binging on refined carbohydrates. I mean, there are other reasons, too. We're not exercising as much as we should.

But so our lurching from one good nutrient to another good nutrient, our demonizing of one, our celebration of another, this is a crazy way to eat. And so my argument is just eat real food. Don't eat food that's being cooked by large industrial corporations.

YOUNG: And stay away, if you can, from cycles, no fat to high carb to now gluten-free. Food writer Michael Pollan, his latest book is "Cooked." You are listening to HERE AND NOW.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

YOUNG: It's HERE AND NOW, and if you've just joined us, we're catching up with food writer Michael Pollan. His latest book, "Cooked," is out in paperback. And we're hitting on as many aspects of the sustainable, non-industrial food movement as we can while we have him. And Michael, in 2008 when a new secretary of agriculture was sworn in, you said we should have a secretary of food.

Now we have a first lady of food, but listener Joanie McFee(ph) tweeted us: Whatever happened to your secretary of food idea. So why do you think we need one?

POLLAN: Basically, we have an agricultural policy in this country, we don't have a food policy, and they're not the same thing. An agricultural policy is designed to keep agriculture healthy, ostensibly, although it doesn't work very well to do that. But a food policy would force us to align our health objectives with our agricultural policies, our agricultural policies with our environmental policies because, you know, agriculture is a tremendous contributor to climate change.

YOUNG: Could you talk a little bit about that, agriculture?

POLLAN: Sure.

YOUNG: How does farming - you say agriculture is the only industry that actually pulls carbon out of the atmosphere.

POLLAN: It has enormous potential to help with climate change. About a third of the carbon in the atmosphere right now was originally in the soil. I don't mean in oil, I mean it was locked in healthy soils before we began to till. I mean, climate change, in a way, goes back to the invention of the plow because as soon as you plow, you release lots of carbon.

We also, then, now redouble these effects with modern agriculture because we use - nitrous oxide is a very serious greenhouse gas, released by the fertilizers that we use. And then we have these cattle feedlots that produce huge amounts of methane. So all told, agriculture is responsible for about a third of greenhouse gases.

The great thing about agriculture, though, compared to, you know, coal, say, which you just kind of have to - you have to mitigate the problem with energy generation. With agriculture you can actually get that carbon back in the soil by farming properly. A great amount of the corn and soybeans we grow go to feed cattle.

If you put the cattle on grass instead and take some of that land and return it to perennial polycultures of grass, a meadow does amazing things. Basically as the cattle graze the grasses, the grasses stimulate the root system. The root system excretes sugars to feed the microbes, and those sugars go into the soil food web and become carbon sequestered in the ground.

And there is a lot of research that suggests that we could put a significant amount of the carbon back in the soil with proper agricultural techniques.

YOUNG: You mentioned cattle. Where are we on cattle? You came out and said you know what, I think I'm going to be one of those people that is going to have to have - eat a little bit of meat. And since I do, then my campaign is going to be about making the raising of cattle more humane for the animals and healthier for humans.

POLLAN: Well, avoiding feed-lot meat, that is the key. When you raise cattle in feed lots, which most of the cattle that you get to eat is - that's where it comes from, they're fed corn, a diet of corn, which is bad for them, it's bad for the quality of meat, and it's bad for the environment because it's produced using so much fossil fuel.

YOUNG: But has there been any big shift?

POLLAN: Yeah, there's been - since 2002, the growth of the basically grass-fed cattle, beef, and milk, the recognition of the importance of grass in the diet of these animals has grown exponentially. There is - you can find grass-fed meat at Whole Foods. You can find grass-fed meat at your farmer's market.

YOUNG: Ah, but see that's - there's the key right there, Whole Foods. I mean, as some people refer to it - it's expensive.

POLLAN: It's expensive, without question, but cheap beef is, I would argue, it dishonestly priced because the real cost of that meat is being charged to the environment and to public health. Yes, to grow meat in the proper way will cost more, without question, and that is a problem for people who can't afford it. But I think we have to re-examine this whole idea that everyone in the country, as they currently now are, are eating nine ounces of meat a day for every person.

The world cannot sustain that kind of meat eating.

YOUNG: Well, but we should address people who think we shouldn't be eating meat at all, but you're addressing the reality that people do. And you point to a big success with Chipotle.

POLLAN: They've succeeded astonishingly well in pork. Their pork does not come from these confinement hog operations, which if you've ever been in one of these buildings are one of the most hellish visions you will ever have. And their pork comes either from local farmers near their restaurants, or it comes from Niman Ranch, which grows pork sustainably in Iowa.

They've having more trouble doing the same thing in chicken, although they're trying, and in beef they're moving toward grass-fed. They're not all there yet by any means. So you do see big companies that are changing. Chipotle was originally driven by taste. I mean, confinement pork just doesn't taste very good. These animals are very stressed. They're too lean to taste good because of the low-fat craze.

And they found that sustainable pork tasted better. It added about a dollar to the price of a burrito, and they found millions of people willing to pay it. Look, I think we will have to pay more for sustainable food, and what that means is, you know, we'll eat less of better quality food, which would be good for us in many, many ways.

YOUNG: Well, but there are still people who aren't eating food at all. So do we have to accept things like genetically modified foods so that more people can eat?

POLLAN: Well, there's an assumption or a presumption built into that question, that genetically engineered food is more productive or has higher yield.

YOUNG: Right, that's the claim.

POLLAN: That's the claim, but there's no evidence of that. If you look at yields since we introduced genetically modified food, the products themselves, the GMO crops, do not yield more, on balance. What has GM given us? That's what we have to look at over the last 15 years. It's given the consumer nothing. It's given convenience to farmers. It's allowed them to get bigger. But they're failing now.

Weeds resistant to Roundup are - have been found now on 50 percent of American farms. So I think we should do the research. I think maybe they will come up with some applications that actually help people, and I'll look forward to that day.

YOUNG: Yeah, show me. Well, we've talked about things like gluten-free, the sugar craze, fats in and out. What's a trend that you are seeing in the future?

POLLAN: Well, you know, I'm very encouraged by what I see. I mean, you know, we talk a lot about industrial agriculture, and it's a big part of the story, but if you look at the growth of organic, and you look at the growth of local, and you look at the growing interest in real food and returning craft to food-making, I'm very encouraged by that.

There are picklers and local fermenters all over the country. There's American cheese, you know, which was really American cheese for a very long time, it's now some of the best cheese in the world. So there is a renaissance of artisanal food going on that's very, very exciting.

YOUNG: But do you worry, though, that we are two Americas that eat...?

POLLAN: Yeah, and there is a danger that we will move toward, and to some extent we have moved toward, a system where some people can afford good food, and some people can't. But I think it's important not to confuse organic and local food with healthy food. You can eat really healthy, leaving meat aside, with just simply eating the real stuff.

Fruits and vegetables, however they're grown, organic or conventional, are really good for you. We know that. We know that people that eat lots of fruits and vegetables have much lower rates of cancer and heart disease and obesity. So the idea that we have for everyone to have access to organic to improve our diets is wrong.

We also know that poor people who cook actually have healthier diets than rich people who don't. And cooking is available to everyone. Yes, we have enormous amount of time pressure, but you don't have to be rich to cook. All you need is a pan and some olive oil.

YOUNG: Michael Pollan, his most recent book, "Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation," it's now out in paperback. Thank you so much for spending some time with us.

POLLAN: Thank you, Robin.

YOUNG: And it's a terrific book. It's his personal quest to practice what he preaches and learn to simply cook. You're listening to HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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  • CircusMcGurkus

    Arrggghhh. Food is not “healthy” – it may be healthful but it has no ability to be healthy. People become healthier by eating foods that are grown and raised more naturally with an eye to protecting and nourishing the planet as well as participating in activities that stimulate healthy cells and life structures. If something is food, it plays a role in that process but neither creates “health” in the organism which ingests it nor is “healthy” in that its purpose is not to thrive but to surrender itself so that another organism can thrive. It’s NPR – the listeners actually know the rules of grammar. By misusing this phrase of “healthy food”, you are stressing folks out and that is unhealthy for everyone.

    • Greg Lauzon

      Oh stop it. From Merriam-Webster: “We conclude, therefore, that the distinction some writers have wanted to make between healthy and healthful is simply a fabrication that one may observe or ignore with impunity.”

      The same holds true for nearly every other “rule” pedants are always going on about.

      • bust_a_gut

        Greg,

        We have been trained, by advertising shorthand and political sidestepping lingo, to accept a “blurring” of speech terminology. I liken this to a “drive through window” approach to communicating as opposed to a “sit down meal” method. Guess which one of THOSE is going to be more healthful?

        I for one appreciate the distinction of the two concepts Circus brings up here. Another couple of examples where words are often misused are the difference between “less” and “fewer, ” and “good” and “well.” Language matters and it is important to communicate intelligently. Typos are one thing I can excuse, but a person with a journalism degree has a responsibility to lead not follow. Twitter is one thing, but there is a higher standard or obligation for the writer/editor in this case.

        • Greg Lauzon

          This has nothing to do with blurred speech and everything to do with common usage. English is full of words that used to mean their exact opposite. Once enough people start to use a word to mean something, it becomes a new usage, like it or not. This has been happening for centuries. Please consult a copy of Garner’s for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of examples. I will stand by you with less/fewer, but well/good is another example of pedantic 8th-grade English teachery–pure myth. Now stop it with the tut-tutting already.

          • bust_a_gut

            So, do you mean the tut-tutting in today’s parlance “literally?”

          • Greg Lauzon

            Your question mark should be moved outside the close quotes, and no.

          • bust_a_gut

            Please read at the link and give me your take. The way I read it, my punctuation could go either way.

          • Greg Lauzon

            Don’t need to. I’m a copyeditor. This is getting silly. Good night.

          • CircusMcGurkus

            Friends – I have a few pet peeves: “healthy food”, “none are”, “different than”, split infinitives and people not having a sense of humor definitely top the list. There is great value both in taking language seriously and in understanding that certain circumstances allow for leniency. Verbal communication is where “common usage” occurs – we say things we would never write (even I do not police grammatical errors in speech – that’s petty and rude and superior). But writing is an art and a skill and a means of communicating differently from the spoken word. Because it should take some time, thought and editing (so sad not to have the support of a copyeditor on this…) writing should preserve meaning and best usage whenever possible. So, yes, “peruse” means to read carefully but it has come to mean to scan leisurely (much in the same way “cool” and “hot” have been used through slang to mean the same thing). But, “healthy” and “healthful’ are different words meaning different things that are simply used inaccurately by some people. It does not make them right. That’s my thought.
            As an aside, I do grow some of my own food, buy eggs from a farm where I get to meet the chickens, eat more plants than animals, shy away from processed products and try to support local fare as much as I can (oh, if only coffee, coconuts and limes would grow in Boston!!) As Michael Pollan’s work demonstrates, choice words used well nourish and feed a storyline so it is long and fondly remembered like a delicious meal shared with good company.

          • Greg Lauzon

            It’s not a copyeditor’s job to enforce prescriptivists’ nonexistent “rules.” Shakespeare, Strunck, and White all broke these beloved tropes time and again. Please do consult Merriam-Webster and Bryan Garner or any other authoritative descriptivist to dispel this notion you have of English being some hidebound set of rules that “good” writers must adhere to. Languages evolve–deal with it. If we played by your “rules,” we’d all still sound like Chaucer.

          • CircusMcGurkus

            I think we fundamentally disagree about language and communication, Greg. I concur that the way people speak and exchange ideas is flexible over time (and influenced by everything from immigration to scientific discovery) – I also love the way Mark Twain and Theodore Geisl wrote by morphing language and making up words (note my screen name). But, I doubt anyone ever sounded like Chaucer any more than they spoke in iambic pentameter like Shakespeare or in whatever form with which Joyce was experimenting in Ulysses. Writing is different from speech.
            While writing DOES have rules (which predate the dictionary, whether it be OED or M-W; spelling is a relatively new phenomenon), creativity almost requires breaking rules, pushing limits and rebellion in order to advance itself. With all due respect to journalists, they are not creative writers and in my opinion should adhere to the rules. I am also not a creative writer (but writing plays an enormous role in my work) and I find that when my colleagues write poorly it is very confusing for everyone. People can both take pride in their work and play with language – they are not mutually exclusive. I accept your reliance on M-W, though I have never seen M-W as the end-all or be-all of the English language and I disagree with its capitulation on “healthy” vs. “healthful”.
            For someone whose job depends on language, you do not seem to have much fun with it and that, to me, is rather sad.

          • Greg Lauzon

            Argh. Again you are insisting that there are nonexistent rules. M-W is not “capitulating” on anything. It is only pointing out that many of these alleged “correct” usages exist only in the minds of pedants and always have. Also, thanks for commenting on my job and life as if you know me. I am done here. Go argue with M-W and Garner and Fowler if you like.

          • bananasmoothie

            Thank you!

          • Greg Lauzon

            For . . . ?

          • bananasmoothie

            Arguing against the prescriptivists so eloquently.

        • Lawrence

          I agree. Lead by example. This was an error of the English language. It’s sad when we become so habituated to the improper use of language that we began to accept it as correct.

  • Danielle Griffes

    I really like Michael Pollan’s view on food and I’ve almost finished reading In Defense of Food. A few of my friends have lost 5 or so pounds fairly quickly by joining the fad of going gluten free. They ended up cutting a lot of processed foods and obviously refined flour and I have a feeling that was the major contributor to their weight loss rather than the removal of gluten.

    • mrtwilight23

      Gluten is made of two proteins, gliadin and glutenin. One problem with gliadin is it triggers the production of another protein, zonulin, which causes intestinal permeability. Pharmaceutical companies are testing zonulin as a new drug delivery system. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2886850/

  • Soul Kitty

    Ask Pollan about Mc Govern PICKING the no fat scientist over the no sugar scientist to make the food pyramid…

  • Soul Kitty

    PLEASE ask him. Mc Govern was from the grain belt…

  • Soul Kitty

    1974

  • BowFarm

    Michael Pollen’s emphasis on eating real food is the way to go. And if you can, grow some of your own, or get to know a local farmer. You might be lucky and get eggs like this: http://wp.me/p44c6k-tU

    • ShellyWixtedipu321

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      Laura responded I’m amazed that a stay at home mom able to profit $7090 in 4
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  • Frog

    “Like many Americans, we also like to eat. We don’t have room for a cornfield in our backyard, so we buy food that is grown elsewhere, then shipped to Washington using more fossil fuels. In the traditional manner, we heat most of our food, using another natural gas machine, until heat-induced chemical changes have made it more palatable and digestible, and also killed off bacteria that might otherwise make us ill. Less traditionally, for a region that suffers freezing temperatures in the winter, we eat fresh fruits and vegetables year-round, rather than only in the four months out of every year that they are available in our local supermarkets. We could rely on salted and smoked staples, dried and milled grains, along with vegetables packed in brine and fruits richly preserved in sugar, but instead we go to the supermarket every week and fetch fresh and frozen things that taste better and are more nutritious but require a lot of energy expended on refrigeration.”

    http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2014-04-28/poor-people-have-carbon-footprints-too

    Changing the way we eat won’t be easy.

  • andrewgarrett

    Pollan is dead wrong: we have greatly increased yields using GM crops – we’ve been using them and increasing yields for thousands of years. While not a panacea, modern GM technology can help us continue to increase yields on a planet with rising seas, increasing drought, and a population headed towards 10 billion. Pollan and other anti-science zealots might sneer at them and promote conspiracy theories and fake science about them, but GM crops will help humanity and help preserve wilderness areas for other species.

    • nonyabizzz

      He’s also wildly incorrect about ‘only 2 studies link saturated fat with heart disease’. That’s ludicrous. That’s about the only thing that most all of the studies have historically agreed upon.
      But he is correct that ‘real food’ is the most important thing. Organic or not.

      • mrtwilight23

        No. All the RCTs done in the past decade on saturated fat show that it’s not the problem.

        • nonyabizzz

          IT is not THE problem. It is A problem. The RCT’s were no doubt funded by the food industry. With careful controls to minimize fat impact.

          • mrtwilight23

            Stanford University did a RCT putting people on an Atkin’s, Ornish, Zone or USDA diet. 311 women for 1 year. Atkin’s did the best for weight loss and all heart disease risk factors. It was called the A to Z trial. Paid for by Stanford and the NIH.

          • nonyabizzz

            That was for diets. You lose weight, all markers improve.

    • mike

      From what I’ve heard, gm has mostly made crops that are “Round-up ready”– the crop is immune to the Monsanto herbicide. That might indirectly increase yields, but it’s not the primary purpose.

    • it_disqus

      @andrewgarrett
      - I agree. His comments on GM were somewhat juvenile. I liked the majority of his argument, but to say that round-up ready seeds and then using round-up doesn’t improve yield can not be taken seriously. It was a good conversation though. I think he likes to push back on conventional thinking and that is imperative.

    • mngirl

      We’ve been using GM for thousands of years? No, you need to look up the definition of a GMO (which I believe you are actually talking about). We have been making hybrids maybe. In fact, nature has a tendency to do that on it’s own, but not a GMO. GMOs are dramatically different and yes, they have increased yields, but at what cost? The cost of the environment. The cost of nutritional value. The cost of an allergy epidemic. And producing too much food. Who benefits from that? Monsanto, that’s who, because they certainly aren’t doing that to feed all the people of the world.

    • http://www.EqualExchange.coop Rodney North

      You’re conflating two distinct practices. “GM crops” (aka GMO’s) are those that can _only_ be made in laboratory conditions (as when genes from Brazil nuts were inserted into soybeans –http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJM199603143341103)

      That is clearly distinct from the traditional practice of cross-breeding closely related plants, like different varieties of apples, to bring out desirable characteristics. With GMOs we are in a brave new world where genes are being moved back and forth, even across the animal/vegetable divide, creating modern-day chimeras with unpredictable long term consequences. For example, neither our ancestors, nor Nature itself, ever dreamt of cross-breeding safflower with carp (see http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/files/sembiosys-ea_comments.pdf )

      • Lawrence

        Rodney: Thank you for sharing your vast knowledge about this dangerous trend. It’s time people wake up before it’s too late.

    • bananasmoothie

      What will we do when we run out of top soil due to GM monoculture?

    • bananasmoothie
    • Greg Lauzon

      I don’t think Pollan is anti-science, but he also is not a scientist. Most people hear “genetically modified” and are instantly terrified. It does sound scary! But that doesn’t mean it is dangerous. An illustrative point: the inventors of the NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance) scanner had to change the name to MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) because nobody wanted to buy a NUCLEAR magnetic resonance scanner–the name evoked mushroom clouds and radiation, even though MRIs have nothing to do with ionizing radiation. (The “nuclear” in the original name refers to the nucleus of biological cells.) I feel the same thing is going on in the minds of many anti-GMO hippies. There sure is a lot of BS “science” being accepted as fact out there, even by people who supposedly “effing love science.”

  • Dave

    Half truths.
    Too many people.
    Having grown up in Montana, and lived and worked and ate
    on a Ranch during High School.
    The best tasting beef is corn fed, grain fed.
    Grass fed cattle is lean like buffalo meat, not real tasty.
    We can’t grow enough better quality meat only on grass.
    Not enough land, not enough rain.
    Half-truths ignoring the underlying problem:
    too many people.

    • mike

      Yes, the real problem is overpopulation. We’ll never catch up to feeding everyone, because as soon as you save one from starving, you then have several more babies to feed.
      Besides, who sends meat to starving people? Better to send birth control.

      And, yes, it’s the fat in the beef that makes it taste better.

    • Darren Stevens

      The “best tasting” isn’t the best for us. We need to eat beef from time to time, and the benefits of grass fed beef far outweigh the taste factor. Eat to live, not live to eat. After pasture raising, cows are moved to feedlots called Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFO. Why would anyone eat anything that lived in that kind of arrangement prior to slaughter? It’s a rhetorical question because for me the answer is I wouldn’t and don’t and haven’t for years now.

      • Dave

        People live in cement boxes in cement cities, why shouldn’t cows and pigs?
        People living in cement boxes, concentrated living feeding operations; should eat concentrated animals.

    • Ryan

      Hmm, I also think grain-fed beef TASTES pretty good, since I generally prefer fattier cuts of meat. BUT… I do make an effort to eat 100% grass-fed beef when I can. It’s better for the animals, better for consumers, better for the environment. Has anyone seen that TedTalk by Allan Savory on herd management and reverse desertification? Pretty cool stuff.

    • bananasmoothie

      More like too many people eating too much beef.

  • Majun3

    I find it hard to get enough protein on a plant diet, and it seems the go-to answer has long been soy-based protein. I tried whole grain soy meal, but it messes with my hormones. The only affordable option that is palatable to me is split peas. But not everyone has the means to prepare dried split peas. Natural peanut butter isn’t too bad as a second choice, but it can’t be practically consumed in enough quantity by itself, and is a bit lacking in some protein types.

    • mike

      There are other plants that are “complete proteins”– garbanzo beans, buckwheat.
      see:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protein_Digestibility_Corrected_Amino_Acid_Score

      • Majun3

        Garbanzo beans (chickpeas) need longer cooking times than split peas, generally, but at least they are pretty low on innate toxins, as are split peas. I can eat a lot of both of those, but only split peas are feasible for me since garbanzos cook too slow for me. Other things like oats (and wheat to an even greater degree), start to get too high in the carbohydrate/protein-fiber ratio, and if calorie intake must be of concern, especially as we get older and/or get prone to diabetes, that can be a deal breaker. Cost is also a big factor. Split peas are one of the only affordable things for me. I may try buckwheat to see how that works just as an experiment, since I know oats can’t replace split peas for me. Split peas have a great flavor to me for sure, and my body tends to like them in sufficient quantities to keep me functional.

  • it_disqus

    Good story. I really liked the guest. I didn’t agree with him on everything, but he sure made you look at things in a different light.

  • gillian march

    Today we are obsessed with the nutrient content of food – all my parents concerned themselves with was eating whole ‘food’ not a stew of nutrients.

  • Robert

    We are already at the point that good food is available only to those who can afford it. My main gripe with this is that you can’t relax about food, when so many bad options are the easiest to come by in everyday life. If I had enough money, then I could hire a personal chef, tell him my guidelines for eating, and then not worry about it.

  • Stewart Lowe

    Eating healthy fresh food is important, true enough, BUT genetic “good luck” is also important.
    I was surprised by the study of twins, where one set of brothers had completely different lifestyles: one drank daily, smoked, lived on junk food, never exercised…and sure enough had a heart attack.
    The other was “Mr. Clean;” lived on health food, never smoked or drank and exercised daily. After his bother’s heart attack he was urgently warned to get a health check.
    He ruefully complied and was shocked to learn that he was within six months of a heart attack himself.

    …and we’ve all heard the smokers’ story about their uncle Jack who smoked all his life and died at 86, haven’t we? But that is still no excuse to smoke.

    e.i. by all means do the right thing, but it’s no guarantee of anything.

  • BlueNH

    To stay healthy, especially in the older years, avoid processed foods and anything with GMOs. The sad thing is that unless you have a healthy local food movement and can afford to buy organic foods, most older people will eat cheap processed foods and restaurant (i.e. cheap) food. Too much salt, too few nutrients, too many GMO ingredients.

    We should be asking what GMO foods are doing to future generations, too. If kids and young adults are eating a standard American diet, they are surely ingesting GMOs in most of their meals. There are NO studies that prove this is safe. I admire parents who are doing their best to serve healthy meals.

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