Sunday, June 20, 2010

My New Superhero: Michael Pollan

Hero (-noun): a man of distinguished courage or ability.
Superhero (-noun): a hero possessing extraordinary, often magical powers.

Michael Pollan is my new superhero. Hero is all fine and good (with the exception of the incredible irony that a hero is also "the bread or roll used in making a hero sandwich" which might or might not qualify as food, according to Mr. Pollan - but more about that in moment). But superhero more accurately embraces the overwhelming brilliance and simplicity (with a nice dash of humor) found in Michael Pollan's book, In Defense of Food. Certainly both courage and ability were needed for such a great work, taking on nutritionism with clarity and depth. Michael Pollan is, however, more than able and courageous. In Defense of Food is an extraordinary, magical exploration of how we got ourselves into this nutritional mess and the practical, clever ways to get ourselves back to health.

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. But of course, you might think. What else should we eat but food and not too much of it? So obvious and yet so blatantly disregarded by our culture and the powers that be in the food industry. As Pollan explains, the "food-like substances" that fill our supermarkets, pantries, and shelves are not food in any real sense, but laboratory-concocted products that fake nutritional status with their claims but confuse our bodies and create a lack of well-being. Real food grows in the ground and walks the earth (or flies or swims). It's simple and whole. Food. Something we seem to have forgotten.

Twenty years ago I took up the mantra that I would not buy any food product with more than five ingredients. How charming to find this among Pollan's recommendations, along with similar suggestions about not eating food with ingredients you cannot recognize or pronounce. But even more charming is his recognition of the powerful role of mothers in the nutrition and health of their families. Yes! We, the moms, need to realize that we are responsible for the quality of our children's diets as well as their awareness about food and nutrition. Our children "won't eat anything but junk" if we offer them junk. If "food-like substances" are what our children are being offered - products whose sweetness or saltiness excites the palate with their chemical reactions - then what else can we expect? Our children learn about food from us as well as from our culture. Changing our relationship with food and what we classify as food is integral to the survival of our planet and to our own health and vitality.

Just last week my son had to listen to me rant about how the "play sushi" his class made in school, consisting of rice cereal and Twizzlers candy, was indeed decidely not food and had nothing to do with "cooking" (which was the reason for the demonstration). It was no short rant. He rolled his nine-year old eyes with an "Oh, Mom. It was just for fun." As a mother, I could be worried. But he gets it. He can read a supermarket sticker and identify GMO, conventional and organic produce. He proudly tells me about store items that have only two ingredients and loves winding our way through the farmer's market to see what we can discover. He happily heads out to the garden to pull fresh herbs for dinner and delights in identifying them as he eats them with gusto. He is not your average American child. And I beam with pride about that. We are defenders of food. I think we should all have our own superhero costumes and march our way through convenience stores to raise awareness. C'mon Mr. Pollan - you'd make a great caped crusader!

Seriously, though, this is an important crusade. Children's obesity is on the rise in alarming rates. We are plagued by illnesses that have been cultivated in the food industry factories and on the shelves of our supermarkets. Our children do not understand where food comes from or why it matters, much less how to cook or grow food. We need to start at home and take up the challenge of becoming defenders of food - real food. Eat food - real food. And lots of it. Learn how to eat local and organic. Teach your children the difference between food and food-like products. They naturally embrace what they can feel, taste, smell, and touch. Guide them and they will follow.

And do check out the first issue of Holistic Mom's newly reformatted e-magazine, The Wise Mom. The Wise Mom is the digital voice of our members and this issue happens to highlight local, real food. Become a defender of food. The next generation could use a few more superheroes!

1 comment:

  1. We're big Pollan fans here, too. And I couldn't agree more about the importance of teaching kids where our food comes from, how it affects our bodies and why it all matters. In fact, that's the exact focus of my blog, which is called Spoonfed: Raising kids to think about the food they eat. Hope you'll check it out:


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