The title of this post is a response that Michael Pollan says he gets when he advocates: “Eat Food. Mostly plants. Not too much.” Well of course, Michael, we are eating food- what else is there? “Edible foodlike substances”, that’s what, Michael replies. I feel that I can call Michael by his first name because I have read his three food-related books, have admired them, learned from them, quoted from them and been throughly grossed out by them. Michael was the guest on Tom Ashbrook’s On Point radio program this morning (Jan.19th, 2010) and when I turned on the radio, they were discussing the latest nasty-ness found in food- pink slime. Don’t know what pink slime is? I’ll tell you. In meat-processing plants, when they’ve finished cutting up Bessie, all the really nasty bits left on the floor, that they used to sweep up and put into cat and dog food, is now put into people food. See, they found a way to kill the pathogens in this “meat”, like E.coli and salmonella, and supposedly make it safe for human consumption. How? By lacing it with ammonia. Yum! Burgers, anyone?
You wouldn’t feed this stuff to your dog, right? Guess what? If you have a child in school and they are eating the burgers and meatloaf and whatever else they are making with hamburger there, they may well be eating this pink slime. Why? Because schools use it to “cut” the meat, sort of like hamburger helper only nastier, to make feeding your kids cheaper. Want to read more? The New York Times published this article on pink slime: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/31/us/31meat.html?_r=1
But I digress. Michael was on Tom Ashbrook’s show to promote his new book, Food Rules, which I just read a few days ago. Subtitled “An Eater’s Manual”, it’s a distillation of rules, actually more like helpful guidelines, from his two previous books: The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food. I recommend reading both of these books for a more in-depth look at our food supply, how it got the way it is and our government’s role in it, and how we have all become so confused about the supposedly simple act of eating. Which brings us back to the title of this post and the response to it- a lot of people today aren’t even aware that the “food’ they are putting in their mouths, and their children’s mouths, is not really “real” food. It may be food in the sense that you can put it in your mouth, chew it (or in the case of pink slime, let it slide down your throat) and it will keep you alive, but as Michael says, it’s not food that deserves to be called food:
“I call them ‘edible foodlike substances’. They’re highly processed concoctions designed by food scientists, consisting mostly of ingredients derived from corn and soy that no normal person keeps in the pantry, and they contain chemical additives with which the human body has not been long acquainted. Today much of the challenge of eating well comes down to choosing real food and avoiding these industrial novelties.”
Here’s one of Michael’s food rules to help us identify real food: “#14- Eat foods made from ingredients that you can picture in their raw state or growing in nature. Read the ingredients on a package of Twinkies or Pringles and imagine what those ingredients actually look like raw or in the places where they grow: You can’t do it. This rule will also keep all sorts of chemicals and foodlike substances out of your diet.” Here’s another: “#20: It’s not food if it arrived through the window of your car”. And another: “#30- Eat well-grown food from healthy soil.” Which brings us to discussing gardens.
According to Michael, many more people, whether for health reasons or economical reasons or whatever, are growing their own gardens this year than before. He says that some seed catalogs are even running out of seeds (so order now!) I’m paraphrasing here, but on the radio show, Michael said: If you are growing your own garden, you’ll be getting local, fresh, organic low-priced food right in your own backyard. I take issue with this because I have heard from people (co-workers and neighbors) that have gardens that they use Roundup to clear their gardens of weeds and chemical sprays to get rid of bugs. So, for any new gardeners out there, here’s my simple rule: If you wouldn’t spray it directly into your mouth, don’t spray it (or shake it or pour it or whatever) into your garden. Because it will eventually end up in your mouth, not to mention other living being’s mouths (wildlife, your cat or dog) and the earth and the water and the environment. You might as well eat pink slime.