Sometimes on the way to your dream,

you get lost and find a better one.

Friday, June 11, 2010

food for thought

I'm currently reading "In Defence of Food" by Michael Pollan.
This is the page I'm up to:-

"With the rise of industrial agriculture, vast monocultures of a tiny group of plants, most of them cereal grains, have replaced the diversified farms that used to feed us.

A century ago, the typical Iowa farm raised more than a dozen different plant and animal species: cattle, chickens, corn, hogs, apples, hay, oats, potatoes, cherries, wheat, plums, grapes and pears. Now it raises only two: corn and soybeans.

This simplification of the agricultural landscape leads directly to simplification of the diet, which is now to a remarkable extent dominated by--big surprise-- corn and soybeans.

You may not think you eat a lot of corn and soybeans, but you do: 75% of the vegetable oils in your diet come from soy (representing 20% of your daily calories) and more than half of the sweeteners you consume come from corn (representing around 10% of daily calories)."

"Why corn and soy? Because these two plants are among nature's most efficient transformers of sunlight and chemical fertiliser into carbohydrate energy (in the case of corn) and fat and protein (in the case of soy)- if you want to extract the maximum amount of macronutrients from the American farm belt, corn and soy are the crops to plant. (It helps that the government pays farmers to grow corn and soy, subsidising every bushel they produce).

Most of the corn and soy crop winds up in the feed of our food animals (simplifying their diets in unhealthy ways, as we'll see), but much of the rest goes into processed foods.

The business model of the food industry is organised around "adding value" to cheap raw materials; its genius has been to figure out how to break these two big seeds down into their chemical building blocks and then reassemble them in myriad packaged food products.

With the result that today corn contributes 554 calories a day to America's per capita food supply and soy another 257. Add wheat (768 calories), and rice (91) and you can see there isn't a whole lot of room left in the American stomach for any other foods. "

I've been concerned for some time about the number of additives and preservatives in the foods available to us, and I've been reading labels much more carefully and more often than not, choosing to make my own soup or baked goods over the pre-packaged kind. This book is a bit of an eye-opener, the extent of the government input into what should be left to the farmers for the sake of diversity and natural foods is a little upsetting. This book is aimed at exposing the faults in the American diet today, but we all know that governments everywhere value dollars over health.

I can see how this came about; more food was needed more quickly to feed more people who were living longer, but the problems with processed foods have been apparent for years, (according to this book, since the 1950s). I think it's high time governments realised that the health of their peoples is more important than the huge profits they gain, and started reversing this problem. It's no coincidence (in my opinion) that we are now seeing so many more cases of allergies and intolerances, adding vitamins and nutrients back into processed foods is not the same as eating whole, unprocessed (or little processed) naturally grown foods. Unfortunately for a lot of us, the processed option is the cheaper option, whole foods are time consuming to cook, organic produce is too expensive for many on low incomes.


  1. Pollan is very controversial, but I do agree that it is the 'stabilisers and emulsifiers' listed on the packaging that is scary.
    We swallow them without asking what they are.

    Trivia: his sister is married to Michael J Fox aka Marty McFly.

  2. Hi River,

    Sounds like an interesting read. Mrs PM shares your concerns about additives and processed foods.



  3. Ann, this book has reinforced my belief that the least processed of foods is the best way to maintain my health for the future. I've given up pastries and I haven't had a biscuit in months. I'm eating more fruit and veg, which I love anyway, but I don't see myself giving up chocolate anytime soon.

  4. Plasman, I firmly believe that generations of ingested additives have contributed to the many allergies and intolerances that we see today. Processed foods with all the goodness removed to prolong shelf life, then the same foods with vitamins etc added back in; it's just not right.

  5. I picked this book up by chance at the library about a year ago and it set me on the path to changing the way my family eats. We are all much better off for it, but it is a work in progress.