Michael Pollan on Kicking the Junk Food Habit

By: Michele Wolfson

It's kind of telling when Michael Pollan comes out on the stage and I am as excited as if I was seeing a rock concert. Either age has set in, or the Pollan's thought-provoking reports on where food really comes from is a palpable topic that many of us Americans want to hear more about. I love being an American, but lets be honest here- we have been very careless eaters for a long time. I'm guilty of mindless eating, myself!

Usually we Americans seek food that is quick and easy. After working a long day, countless people don't want to cook, but still want to eat healthy well-balanced meals. Often the solution to this problem is to purchase frozen dinners labeled "healthy" or "low calorie" because it seems to be a healthy alternative, but just because something is labeled "healthy" doesn't always mean it is. The frozen food marketing is highly individualized, there is food designed for kids, for the meat-eating man, and for the woman who is watching her weight. They want to break us up, because they'll sell us more food that way, but we, the general public, need to push back against that. If we all start eating the same thing at the table, our health can dramatically improve as a nation.

In an interview with The Washington Post this week, Michael Pollan explains why the wisdom of our grandparents might have more helpful things to say about how to eat better than the recommendations of science or industry or government. Rule number 11 in Pollan's latest edition of Food Rules says to "Avoid Foods You See Advertised on Television." This statement seems like such a simple revelation that could have positive effects on reversing childhood obesity, but food lobbyists and numerous large companies are up in arms about this rule and many others.

Many of the foods advertised on television are processed. Pollan explains, "The history of better-for-you processed foods is that it doesn't work... When you come up with no-fat processed food, people binge on it and think they can eat a lot of it. That's part of what the industry is up to and it's very, very clever." One of the main challenges that this country faces is to find a way to offer pleasure food that isn't much more expensive than fast foods and will improve the health of a child.

There is a difference between what the food industry is labeling as "healthy" and products that are "organic" and locally grown." It's refreshing to read that even in the tough economic times that our nation faces today, sales of organic products are growing and farmer's markets are increasing, even popping up in food deserts across the country.

It's not cheap to buy organic, but many American's feel that it's really important and even if they can't afford it- they are digging down to do so. With that said, McDonalds had a 14 percent increase in revenues to $7.1 billion in sales, with a profit of $1.5 billion in the third quarter alone. It's evident that more people are trading down from more expensive eats when they can get their food from cheaper restaurants. This is still a fast food nation and there is a lot of work to be done on food reform as well as the food movement. However, the mainstream food industry is threatened by folks like Michael Pollan and is terrified that consumers could turn on them at any moment.

For more on snacking in America, read our article A Nation of Snacking, here. 

Photo: aschweigert 

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