WARNING: Don’t hold your breathe, this is a long one. I got a little carried away..
I am currently finishing the last 50 pages of Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food and just wow. I thought that I knew a lot about food and nutrition and was making really smart choices for myself, but it turns out that I’ve kind of been getting it completely wrong. Well you know, not completely wrong. I eat pretty heathy, but until reading Pollan’s book, I ate “healthy” with the help of highly processed “healthy” foods.
I know a bit about food and nutrition thanks to my psycho pre-med and human biology focused friends who feel the need to recite facts that are entirely irrelevant to the conversation until they’ve forced you to commit them to memory (thanks Lizzy and Maddy). I also taken a few classes on health care and nutrition and the World Food Economy in college, so I like to think of myself as fairly knowledgable. As a result, this is what I knew for sure before reading Pollan’s book:
- It turns out the world food shortage problem is actually a food access problem not a shortage…(thank you World Food Economy professors)
- Americans have terrible nutrition and generally poor diets compared to other countries
- The American government subsidizes mass food production up the wahzooo, hence the absurd amounts of corn and soy that go uneaten every year.
- Generally, we eat way too much processed food.
- I deserve a pat on the back for the food choices I’ve been making over the past couple of years.
- The American diet leads to a whole host of diseases (diabetes, heart disease, and obesity to choose a few of the big ones).
- Post the introduction of the Atkins and South Beach diets, we are very afraid of carbs, but we love junk food and fast food.
- I think people are generally pretty sure about how many fruits, vegetables and carbs they should be eating, but meat kind of seems to be up in the air. (Disclaimer: I’m aware that this is a list of “I know for sures” but I do know for sure that I’ve been thinking about this, so there!)
It has been 15 minutes and for the life of me I can’t get to 10. It must be writers block and definitely not lack of knowledge. Well, we aren’t getting any younger so I guess it’s time to move on.
If you will kindly re-read number 5 on my list, you will notice that before reading Pollan’s book, I was feeling pretty good about my diet. Here is a typical day of food in my life PRE-POLLAN (I would call it PP for short, but then what do I do with POST-POLLAN?):
Breakfast: fruit smoothie (frozen fruits from Trader Joes, Vanilla Soy milk, TJs greek honey yogurt, orange juice) or an egg white scramble with tomatoes, mushrooms, spinach, bell peppers and bacon if I was feeling luxurious.
Mid Morning snack: usually an apple, or banana bread, OR on bad days a breakfast burrito from the closest place to me that sells them…
Lunch: veggie salad with soup (pre-made such as a healthy choice can of whatever or a TJs soup in a carton) or a turkey sandwich
If I need it a mid-afternoon snack: At this point in my day, I’m craving salt so I usually go for crackers, on bad days the crackers are potato chips, on really good days the crackers are almonds.
Dinner: Something to do with tofu or chicken over rice with vegetables and/or some sort of bean (usually kidney). I went through a big kale, butternut squash or sweet potato for dinner phase recently.
Many of fruits and vegetables I ate were not fresh and either came out of a can or out of a freezer. I had already been questioning this practice while reading Pollan and decided that I should definitely cut back once I flipped to page 149:
“Don’t eat anything incapable of rotting is another personal policy you might consider adopting.”
Come again? You mean I shouldn’t be eating those healthy choice soups I love so much for both their convenience and their calorie count?
And then of course there is p. 154:
“AVOID FOOD PRODUCTS THAT MAKE HEALTH CLAIMS.”
I guess that pretty much clears up everything I thought about the “Healthy Choice” soups.
Pollan talks a lot about the need to focus on eating whole foods rather than eating specific nutrients. Instead of thinking what can this nutrient do for me, we should be thinking what can this whole food do for me? The problem with this is that it’s kind of difficult to find a “whole food” in the grocery store today. Many foods are highly processed; even fruits and vegetables (think about all the pesticides, fertilizers, etc.). Even bread has ingredients we can’t pronounce. This I actually refused to believe until I read the ingredients in my beloved Milton’s bread and failed to recognize half of the ingredients. As a result, I tried to incorporate more whole foods into my diet. I ate more fresh fruits and vegetables, bought produce from the farmers market and tried to eat things with ingredients that I actually recognized.
The result after 2 weeks: I gained 5 pounds and had trouble fitting into my jeans.
Umm, what? I’m exercising, I’m supposedly eating better, aren’t these jeans supposed to be looser? Here’s another thing, I was eating more whole foods, but I was STARVING all the time! Typical diet on whole foods:
Breakfast: oatmeal with a glob of natural peanut butter, half a banana, and some honey
Snack: some sort of fruit or a snack bar with recognizable ingredients (thinkfruit or a fruition bar)
Lunch: salad or a turkey sandwich (the only part of my day that probably lacked whole foods because we order in at work for lunch)
Dinner: Something of green like kale or chard with chicken or some sort of protein (likely the 6 bean medley from TJs) and a whole wheat carb (bread, pasta, couscous, rice, etc.).
Well here lies the food eater’s dilemma. What the heck am I supposed to do now? The first thing I cut back on was carbs. I’m over pretending not to be afraid of them. I fear them. It’s fine. Here’s another thing: this whole food thing only works for me on some levels I’ve decided. I like eggs. I have high cholesterol therefore I must learn to like egg whites better than whole eggs. Done.
Fruits. I like smoothies. I’m okay with using frozen fruits or veggies to put in my smoothies. Done.
Healthy choice soups: I decided to say “screw you Pollan” and bought myself about 5 of my favorite healthy choice soups at the grocery store last weekend. So far, I have had to throw out 3 of the 5. Turns out people weren’t lying when they said you can taste the can. You just need someone to tell you what the can tastes like. Later healthy choice soups.
Frozen meals: I had Amy’s frozen mac and cheese a couple weeks ago. It was delicious and had recognizable ingredients, but it was also 450 calories. Goodbye “natural” frozen meals, HELLO processed lean cuisine.
Carbs Part II: As much as I loathe them I love them. I love salt. Therefore, I love crackers and chips and bread and toast, the list goes on. My new goal is to try to eat carbs with recognizable ingredients or make them myself. For instance, pita bread has 3 or 4 ingredients (I’m too lazy to get out of my bed and check). Milton’s has 15 or so ingredients. Solution: On Sunday, I went to the neighborhood market and purchased some yeast and whole wheat flour. I made my own wheat bread. Delicious! (Pictures to come). Done.
OATMEAL: I’ve decided that there is a reason it took me 4 years to teach myself to like oatmeal. I don’t care how good it’s supposed to be for you, the fact of the matter is that I can’t eat it plain or with minimal topics. I actually think the reason I gained weight is because I fell in love with oatmeal the toppings I could eat with oatmeal. PEANUT BUTTER, HONEY, BANANAS, SOMETIMES CHOCOLATE CHIPS. Is this breakfast or desert?? Where’s the whip cream? Oatmeal is officially a rare treat on my food list. Done.
As difficult as it is to try to figure out what you are SUPPOSED to be eating, I think the most important thing may be just being aware of what you are eating. In my 2 or 3 month long experiment, I became really conscious of what I was putting into my body and when I was eating food because it was good for me or when I was eating food because it just looked good and I wanted it (usually at a restaurant). As great as Farmers Markets are, they can sometimes be expensive (unless you are going for the free samples route, but that doesn’t give you groceries for the week) and lets be honest, when you are young, you have a social life. You can’t always expect yourself to willingly get out of bed at 9am on a Saturday morning to go to the Ferry building with a grocery list. You’re more likely to wake up thinking: advil, grease, please don’t be my mom calling, or shit, who is that next to me?
Despite what public announcements about nutrition or food commercials tell you, the truth is that there doesn’t really seem to be a perfect diet. I mean yes, cutting out a lot of processed foods is probably good. But when you get down to the specifics, it kind of varies by person, lifestyle, socio-economic class, etc. There are just so many factors and so much information that it’s kind of impossible to know for sure what is good and what is bad. It turns out that there’s a pretty large gray area. I guess food is kind of like the rest of life, you do the best you can with what you have.
Well, in the interest of avoiding writing a research paper and boring you (and I’m tired of trying to think of a good conclusion), I’m signing off. I’m still playing around with the blog layout so bare with me.
More things I plan on rambling about in the future: My first loaf of homemade bread, the world food shortage, and maybe jumping into some social media and the meaning of privacy these days.
*Feel free to suggest a random topic that you (for some strange reason) would like to hear my opinion on. NOTE: I don’t do anything that starts with “computer” or ends with “engineering”*
Weekly trashy television shout out:
You’re an idiot for getting rid of Gia.
Oh and don’t forget: It’s already Wednesday!