CHUCK DODD: In defense of food – not Pollan

Chuck Dodd, a veterinarian and PhD student at Kansas State University, writes:

I grew up in rural Missouri eating meat and potatoes, mostly meat, and quite a bit of it.

But my carnivorous mantra doesn’t match the advice of Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food—An Eaters Manifesto (right). He says:

“Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”

Most of the world already follows Michael Pollan’s advice—out of necessity.

Approximately 4.7 billion people, or over two-thirds of the world’s population, live in lower income countries where safe food and water is limited. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) now reports that rising food prices have contributed to a global increase in malnourishment and hunger. For people living in areas of poverty or conflict, it isn’t about food choices, it’s about simply eating. My wife, Lisa (with neighbor, left), and I lived among the poor in East Africa for six years. We’ve seen hunger, malnourishment, and the effects of diarrheal disease in children–not from the safe distance of a TV screen, but among our friends.  We strived to help transform lives in difficult places.       

Many of us who live in affluent societies enjoy abundant food choices. In the U.S., we have the luxury of being able to pick our diet based upon personal preference, individual nutrients, food production systems, origin, brand, and price. For those of us who have these abundant food choices, Pollan provides additional advice:

???don’t eat anything that your great grand-mother wouldn’t recognize as food;

???avoid food products containing ingredients that are a) unfamiliar, b) unpronounceable, c) more than five in number, or that include d) high-fructose corn syrup;

???avoid food products that make health claims;

???shop the peripheries of the supermarket and stay out of the middle. (processed food products dominate the center aisles); and,

???get out of the supermarket whenever possible.

Pollan’s recommendations are clever. But some of his other recommendations, like “pay more, eat less,” would offend our African friends, like Olendorrop (right).  Olendorrop faces daily challenges in feeding his family.  In the semi-arid savannah of the Rift Valley in northern Tanzania, he struggles to raise sheep and goats, grow corn, and survive.  He has learned how to use dewormers to keep his livestock healthy.  When he uses an antibiotic to treat a sick animal, he doesn’t care about organic food.  All of his animals are grass-fed because corn is people food.  He can’t go to the supermarket because there isn’t one.  He isn’t worried about health claims and ingredients because his food doesn’t have labels.  If Olendorrop paid more and ate less, his family wouldn’t survive.

My advice: if you can afford to choose what you eat, be thankful. Being able to consider what you eat is a luxury in itself. 

Our eater’s manifesto should be to help others simply eat.  Have we, the affluent with abundant food choices, finally arrived, or have we lost touch with global reality?  Do we really need to defend our food from food science and food production systems, as Pollan writes, or do we need to defend the 923 million undernourished people in the world  who don’t have food and help transform their lives?