The Lighthouse

the lighthouse

03 September 2013

In defense of food

Did you know that food needs a defender?

It does.

And we need our food to be defended.

I've read many books about food lately, from Anthony Bourdain's food travelogues, to books about untrained foodies learning to cook, to manifestos of slow food, local food, and bee keeping.

After reading so much about what we're eating and how - mostly in praise of food in one way or another - I was very surprised by how startling, appalling, and even enraging, Michael Pollan's In defense of food turned out to be.  I've watched Food Inc. more than once... I didn't think I could be more appalled or enraged when it comes to modern western food.  Well, Mr. Pollan refers to western food, western food culture, and western diet, but I wonder if he really means North American. Surely much of Europe keeps to its traditional food culture? I'll forgive him that rather American myopia, and accept that 'western' food is in dire need.

It is in need of being left alone by food scientists, nutritionists, lobbyists, and massive companies. It is in need of changes to industrial farming practices, monocultures, artificial intervention of fertilizers and pesticides. It is need of returning to being actual food.

To me, this book is common sense expounded over the course of some 200 pages: eat real food; eat food your grandmother would recognize; food, what we get from it and what we need from it, is much more complex than we fully understand, much as we tend to believe in the supremacy of science and believe in our grasp of that science.

Messing with food by extracting bits and then adding other bits is causing all kinds of problems we don't even realize are problems stemming from our interventions.

When I first started reading about the 100 mile diet, I sank into a funk. I live in Canada. Think of all you know about Canada, and then ask yourself: what would Canadians eat if tomorrow all international transport ground to a halt? We have such a short growing season with long stretches of frozen earth. People used to eat only what they could grow themselves, or trade with neighbours. (Thinking back on my only attempt at potatoes so far, I wonder if I could have traded short stories for spuds back in the day?) It didn't seem fair to me that we wouldn't have access to pomegranates or avocados or many other 'super foods' we're supposedly supposed to eat for optimum health.

'In defense of food' reminded me that food cultures all around the world are limited because no one area grows - or raises - everything edible. Each region, faithful to their food culture and traditions, thrives, whether they seem to use pounds of butter in their cooking, or consume only blood and milk, or eat mostly blubber. Each region, over the many centuries, has figured out how to best combine and prepare foods local to them, such as adding olive oil to tomatoes, or eating beans with corn and rice. We have gone wrong by over processing our food and over complicating our relationship with food. We now have to eat more of a thing in order to get the same nutrition from it compared to our grandparents' generation. We spend less money for, and less time preparing, our food than Italy, Spain, and France (I'd argue we also enjoy it far less, and have less healthy attitudes toward eating than they do.) but consume more and suffer more food-related health issues. We spend more time thinking about food - snacks, advertisements, shopping, calorie counting, diet-obsessing - but less time actually eating meals than other countries.

Oops. Got sidetracked there. I was going to say, way back at the top of the last paragraph, that the book reminded me that though we rely so much on our knowledge of science to be the answer to all things*, God is a master craftsman, and no detail has been overlooked. If the human body needed the Mediterranean diet for optimum health, we'd all be blessed with the Mediterranean climate and soil. God designed the body to work the way it works. He knows about the omega fats and antioxidants and the vitamin spectrum and how it all works together for our good. He provides it all... it just looks different, comes to us in different ways, from one place to another. And His way of providing nourishment for us doesn't upset the balance of delicate things we do not yet understand, the way that lobbyists, mega corporations, nutritionists, and food scientists have done.

Faith and reason, boys and girls, they do go hand in hand. In other words, do not let blind faith in science blind you to the understanding found in faith.

Eat real food.

*the answer to life, the universe, and everything just might be 42.


  1. MMmmmm Hmmmmmm. Yup, uh huh. Interesting that Jason and I were on a strict "only real food" diet for a while, went off it for about two weeks, and I began craving was great!

  2. I'm hooked. Nothing fancy, no catchy diet slogan or complicated maths, just real food.
    I hope I'm as convinced come March when I'm bored out of my mind with root vegetables!