Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Eat Mostly Plants

I read Omnivore's Dilemma late in 2006.  Having belonged to a CSA for a few years already and living in Portland, the epicenter of the Localvore movement (Ok, really it was Alice Waters who initiated this, but Ptown has taken over the title through the likes of it's multitude of dedicated local-only chefs), I felt pretty darned smug about doing my part to eat locally, seasonally, consciously.   I even went so far as to buy half a lamb from a very small local producer, a friend-of-a-friend to tell the truth.  (For the record, half a lamb is not actually a whole lot of meat.  But there absolutely was a difference eating meat from a locally pasture-raised animal rather than the standard fare.  So tasty!) But then.

Today I heard an interview with Michael Pollan talking about his next book, "In Defense of Food."  He states that where Omnivore's Dilemma investigates the marketing, production, business side of food, this book explores the consumption of food.  In his summary: "Eat food.  Not too much. Mostly plants."  In the interview he gives advice that nutritionists have been saying for decades now.  A carrot is better for you than a beta carotene pill.  Shop the periphery of the grocery store, not the aisles.  Make your food yourself.  Leave the table just a little hungry. 

So what is new in this book?  Not having read it (yet) possibly more insight into the food industry.  For example, unstead of a warning to reduce the intake of red meat, we are told to eat more protein that is low in saturated fat.  Those are two very different messages.  

So now "In Defense of Food" will go on the library hold list.... of course reading this book in a reasonable amount of time is a blog post for another day. 


plumpy said...

If you want a sneak peak before you buy the book, this is an expansion of an essay he wrote for The New York Times Magazine about a year ago. I liked the article so much I've forwarded it to about a dozen people in the last year and summarized the article over cocktails even more frequently than that. So I'm super pleased he's turned it into an entire book.

He also wrote another amazing article a few months later about how the farm bill is ruining our diets. I'm not sure if that will also be expanded upon in the book, but it's definitely worth reading!

John Judy said...

"Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." I could not agree more. I cultivate the reputation of a strict carnivore mostly to piss off the "more vegan than thou" crowd. It amuses me. In real life? Meat is a small part of my diet.

The fact that we're omnivores has given us an advantage over similar primates, but take it with a grain (no pun intended) of salt. Eating meat started as a survival strategy, not a blue print to building a better animal. We ate meat because plants aren't dependable. We eat it now because we like the taste... and that's dangerous (see alcohol).

Here's how it went in the beginning:

Monkey 1 wouldn't eat that dead deer. Monkey 2 would. Monkey 2, regardless of the consequences to it's breath, won.

If we couldn't get enough plant matter, we killed and ate something that could. We're made to eat plants and we've adapted (poorly... we're much better adapted to killing meat than we are to eating it) to eat meat because it's an efficient way of getting the stuff me need into our bodies when plants were to hard to get. We're not carnivores.

If you're looking for a diet that produces a healthy body and gives you a better shot a long life (if you're into that kind of thing) then eat in way that agrees with the way nature works. Plants are easy, and there's lots of them. In a good environment, you can feed a whole family with no more work than bending over a bit, walking a lot, and carrying stuff (which in turn gives you a healthier heart). Hunting means taking the very best you have to offer genetically (the strongest males and by proxy the best females) and pitting it against the elements and other animals in a fight to the death. If you win, short term big bonus. If you lose, you die. Given easy access to plants (which we have) which makes more sense?

Meat is a great food, and arguably a more efficient way to eat plants, but if you take all the weird stuff we've come up with out of the picture (we're great hunters, but hunting costs a LOT more than gathering, even today) meat is not easy to get. It's a supplement, a sweet delicious supplement. A treat. A bonus. Kinda like cake. It should be consumed as such.

When you're hungry, eat. When you're not hungry, don't. Eat what you were made to eat. Your body is a pretty simple machine and it works pretty well when you follow the unwritten instructions. Eat the stuff you're made to eat. Consume a bunch of the bonus foods (bread, meat, booze) instead of the stuff that's easy prey (plants, babies... sorry, just plants) and you'll pay the price. Your machine will break sooner than it has to.

I now return you to your regular John who advocates a steak and vodka diet.

John Judy said...

Oh, and eat local. Restaurants, groceries, whatever. Support the people in your area who grow, raise, cook, and serve you your food. You know that helping out your neighbor is the right thing to do, so do it. There is just no good reason not to.... and no, eating sea bass when ever the hell you feel like it is not a good reason.

And while I'm at it.... Don't eat gross food. Pate is gross. Veal is gross. Yes, I know I've been guilty of this transgression, but I am learning and I would encourage my fellow omnivores to do the same. You can eat flesh without passively condoning torture. Needless suffering does not make meat taste better.

Sorry Brian, you kinda hit one of my sore points with this topic. Seriously, I now return to being regular redneck John.

Zatoichi said...

McMiller PDX talks an awful lot about food. Seems like every blog has a "food" tag. What, do you guys eat food everyday? You'd better watch out.

Can't wait to read the Pollan book, too. We like him very much. In particular, we liked that article Plumpy talks about, which sounds like a condensed version of the book.

Gotta go eat some food now. Nice leafy food. Not local though, because all our local food is potatoes at this time of year. Potatoes and onions. Mmm. And squirrel. Lots of squirrel.

Ms. A said...

Dear Mr. Zatoichi,
Would this this be the recipe you are following?
Ms. A

Caroline said...

I'm sorry, but right now I can only eat Helen Bernard's cinnamon rolls. if you go at the end of the day you can get 6 for $3.50. I've had...four. in 24 hours.

Kathleen said...

I think Zatoichi prefers sausageto pie:
4. Hang 'em High
Originally developed by the cowboys of the early 1950's, this treat remains a staple on soundstages throughout the Southwest. Partially deboned red squirrel, eucalyptus, and tin are layered over a graham cracker crust and baked in a kiln until the metal topping is bubbly and golden brown. It is often served with cheap English champagne.