On Saturday night Michael Pollan spoke in Seattle. We were lucky enough to have acquired two box seats from a friend of a friend. The presentation was classic Pollan: thoughtful, intelligent, witty, and passionate.
He arrived on stage with a giant stuffed pea pod under one arm, carrying a bag of groceries from QFC. After carefully propping his pea pod against the podium, he unpacked the groceries, or edible food-like substances, as he called them, reviewing the health claims and marketing slogans on packages of Trix, Twinkies, breakfast bars, a shelf-stable turkey dinner, Coke, and many more items.
Pollan structured his talk around four main points: 1. That we have become focused on nutrients rather than food, 2. Thus, we feel that we need experts to interpret this nutrient information for us, 3. Nutrients have been polarized into good vs. bad (e.g. transfats are bad, Vitamin D is good), 4. People have come to believe that the point of eating is health.
This led him to discuss some more traditional reasons for eating, such as pleasure, community, and identity.
His core theme was consistent with that of all of his books: Eat food, not too much, mostly plants. But on an emotional level, I think his message could be summarized as, “Would everyone just calm down?”
This morning I heard a story on NPR about Walmart’s new nutrition initiative, to “make food healthier and make healthier food more affordable.” Now, no matter how much Walmart strives to increase the nutrition of their packaged food items, these are still highly processed foods. But they have also committed to reducing the price of fresh fruits and vegetables.
I hardly expect Walmart to solve our country’s problematic relationship with food. Still, I found hope in this story. Maybe this is a step toward solving the much-discussed problem of making healthful foods financially viable for all. Because if the once radical notion of rejecting edible food-like substances is going mainstream, surely the tide is starting to turn.