FOOD. SCIENCE VS YOUR GRANDMA
Folate Enriched. Vitamin Fortified. A Great Start to the Day.
These are the promises made to our bodies by the market. These are promises – apparently based in science – that fail to deliver.Michael Pollan. Photograph by Jenelle Schneider, Canwest News Service.
Recently in Australia on a short speaking tour, US journalist, author and educator Michael Pollan has been asking questions of this cereal-box guarantee.
If nutrition is such a big deal, why, he wants to know, then why are we suffering overweight, chronic disease and malnutrition in greater numbers than ever before?
Pollan’s answer and passionate defence of food can be crudely translated as: “When it comes to food, don’t listen to science, listen to your grandma”.
Listen to your grandma and stop speaking like a dodgy food scientist.
I’ve certainly done the dodgy talk. Failure in high-school chemistry notwithstanding, Professor Razer has felt entirely confident in giving up gluten BECAUSE OF SCIENCE. Exactly what science, I’ve never been sure. But it must be some science.
Gluten, after all, is touted as evil on so many scientific-looking food packets.
“Nutrition science is where surgery was in about 1650; you know, really interesting and promising, but you wouldn’t want to have them operate on you yet,” says Pollan.
Speaking in Australian capital cities this week, Pollan startled many when he described the tentative nature of nutrition science. The supermarket and our conversation within it, says Pollan, might feel like it’s grounded in science.
In fact, its basis is in what he calls “nutritionism”.
Short on verified research and long on shaky promises, “nutritionism”, says Pollan, is what happens when we all begin to read, and believe, the cereal-box.
This new religion is driven by marketing and bolstered by our very human need to believe in salvation. Nutritionism is the widespread faith that the chief function of food is to offer nutrition.
In one reading, this last statement appears to be perfectly reasonable: the chief function of food is to offer nutrition. And, in a purely biological sense, of course this is the case. Pollan’s concern, however, and the central theme of his highly regarded 2008 book In Defence of Food, is that the idea of food as nothing more than a sum of nutrients has led to a sort of communal eating disorder.
Eating has become less of a pleasure or a communal activity and more of a chore in decoding food science fads. And this can be exhausting.
In my own lifetime, I’ve seen cholesterol, fat and gluten all take turns as the gastronomic bad-guy and heroes like antioxidants and bloody fish oil – which apparently can cure everything save for fishy breath – emerge to conquer the plate.
|Page 1 of 2||next >>|