Friday, March 02, 2007

Letter in response to "Unhappy Meals" -- NY Times

Here's the final text of letter I wrote in response to the article below (which was never published):
I was impressed by Michael Pollan's recent article on the American
diet and "nutritionism" ("Unhappy Meals"). I also enjoyed reading the
letters that commented on this article in last Sunday's magazine
(February 12th issue). That being said, I felt that, taken as a
whole, the letters offered a single take on Pollan's piece. Here I try
to offer a somewhat different perspective. Pollan's central thesis --
that Americans should move away from a science-based diet and toward
eating traditional, more natural foods -- is grounded in the
underlying idea that our bodies are carefully adapted to process
nutrients in the context of whole foods. These biochemical
adaptations stem from our development in Africa millions of years
ago. Note, however, that our bodies are adapted to thrive to the age
of reproduction -- not to old age -- on natural foods. The fact that
people are living so long now is as unnatural for the human species as
Pollan's notion of artificial foods, and a number of natural foods
beneficial to the young and growing are, in fact, completely unhealthy
from a longevity perspective. Moreover, many of the traditional foods
that Pollan extols are actually products of man's manipulation; that
is, many of staples of a traditional European diet ("Mom's food") are
not foods that our ancestors would have found grazing on the African
savanna, but rather are products of the later agricultural and
industrial revolutions. In particular, milk and dairy products
obviously relate to the domestication of animals. Many of the crops
that we routinely eat, such as corn, have effectively been genetically
engineered by thousands of years of breeding to be completely
different from what they first were. Thus, the original diet that
people were biochemically designed for is a far cry from what today's
vegetarian or adherent of the Mediterranean diet would eat. Thus, can
we really claim that it is imperative to move away from the human
manipulation of food?
Unhappy Meals
Published: January 28, 2007
Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.
That, more or less, is the short answer to the supposedly incredibly complicated
and confusing question of what we humans should eat in order to be maximally
healthy. I hate to give away the game right here at the beginning of a long
essay, and I confess that I'm tempted to complicate matters in the interest of
keeping things going for a few thousand more words....