Recently, the blogging world and the healthy foodie world in general have been all abuzz with Michael Pollan's latest book, "Food Rules: An Eater's Manual". I haven't bought the book myself, though I did enjoy riffling through it at the airport while on a recent business trip.
"Rules" is a short book that is full of common sense. Probably the people who need it least are buying it and those who need it most either don't know it exists or think it's a bunch of hooey. Sad.
As I was leafing through the book, the rule about "eating food that rots" (I'm paraphrasing) really stood out for me. It makes me think of the term "edible food-like substances" and how "food that rots" is diametrically opposed to such "substances". I am feeling more and more like I just want to eat food--not something that looks like food, but has fewer calories --no, real food, like olive oil, fresh fruit or high-quality chocolate.
Recently, I bought a fairly expensive, large bar of 70% cocao chocolate. The calorie count per square was about 40 calories and the squares weren't big. My family and I (2 adults, 2 teenagers) went through the bar in about a week, eating 2-3 squares each at a time. The taste was so wonderful, so real and satisfying that no one felt the need to eat more than a few squares at a time. I can guarantee you that eating a box or two of Smarties wouldn't have been half as satisfying.
Our junk food nation runs on pseudo-food: food that is full of preservatives, salt and sugar. I suspect that it's easier to say one has a salt or a sugar addiction if the salt permeates a Big Mac or the sugar sits in a Twinkie. Yesterday, at a conference I had half a minuscule square of cheesecake. And it was enough. Because it was real.
What are people pigging out on? Fresh green beans or Brussel sprouts with some real butter on top? A loaf of whole-grain bread? Or that wonderful chocolate I mentioned above? I don't think so. They're pigging out on garbage.
As I was leafing through Scientific American Mind the other day, I came across an ad for a Scientific American cruise, featuring PhD speakers from a number of different areas. One of the speakers, psychologist Paul Rozin, will be giving a talk on the psychology of food, entitled "Obesity and Unhealthy Choices in Cultural Perspective: The French-American Contrast". Allow me to quote the blurb for his talk:
Americans worry about their weight and eat low fat food, and French eat a higher fat diet than Americans and worry less. Doesn't that make you wonder why obesity is much lower in France than in the USA? [...] we'll compare how French and Americans adapted to major changes in the food world and get the scoop on how the French have managed to be less afflicted by obesity and more engaged in the enjoyment of eating.
I don't care if you still think the French are surrender monkeys or if you prefer freedom fries, they (and the Italians, and probably the Spanish too) still know a heck of a lot more about eating fresh, real, quality food than the average North American or Brit.
I'm not going on that cruise, but I'm sure it will be interesting and if Paul Rozin convinces just one person to drop the "diet" food and eat reasonable portions of real food, he will be a saint in my book.