Michael Pollan Berates Nutritional Science and Gets It Wrong

It took us more than a few wine laden conversations to figure it out. Michael Pollan is getting confused.  In his NY Times Sunday Magazine cover story www.nytimes.com/2007/01/28/magazine/28nutritionism.t.html?ex=1176955200&en=108422e8afc956dc&ei=5070   the normally brilliant social critic missed the boat, the dock and landed on the wrong coast.  What Pollan did was especially upsetting to NBN, as his leadership in issues around food production, organic methods and buying local has been transformative.

In the essay Pollan urges Americans to eat more fresh foods, unprocessed foods with a focus on plants.  He also dismisses nutritional research as a waste of time; scientific reductionism that only fuels the spiral of more and more processed foods posing as healthy.

Pollan’s absolutely right to criticize the cynical attempts of food manufacturers who think that anything can be marketed as a healthy food, regardless of how much it has been processed.   NBN has echoed these points as well, especially in regards to food marketers never ending and often shameless–think General Mills sugar bomb Lucky Charms cereal touting whole grain goodness–attempts to make consumers believe their products are healthy, better for you and what you really need to live the life you want.

Yet Pollan’s disability to distinguish between the end result of many nutritional studies, namely the addition of nutrients and corresponding health claims on otherwise lousy products versus the efforts of many scientists to better understand disease and treatment of diseases through nutrition is sloppier than my bedroom closet.

Pollan engages in uncharacteristically lazy thinking.  His statement that everyone knows “vitamins and supplements are virtually worthless” is thoughtless.  It sounds more like something from someone who is either woefully ignorant or working on behalf of Big Pharma, rather than the author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma.

Pollan cries over the loss of our cultural relationship to food.  No longer do we eat as an expression of culture, family, ethnicity.  This relationship that once made eating together an essential part of our humanity and a daily celebration of our relationship to the gifts of the land has been replaced, Pollan notes, more and more by highly processed, culturally irrelevant food products.

Yet at the same time these processed products resembles plastic more than something that grew in the ground, they have begun to claim that they’re healthy. Through the addition of nutrients, processed foods have become so-called ‘functional foods’, a way to lose weight, reduce cholesterol, increase heart health or strengthen bones, fictions that Pollan notes have nothing to do with the act of eating.

Yet more and more people are cooking less.  And these folks aren’t about to head out to the nearest farmers markets in the summer either.  They’re looking for fast food, microwaveable meals, food in a box and rice that can be cooked in less than a minute.  Is it any wonder Americans are obese and or diabetic and facing so many other lifestyle diseases?

Yes the trend of the “kitchen stranger” has been hastened by food manufacturers, who have for more than a half-century advertised that the drudgery of home cooking could be replaced by new products in a box.

Yet regardless of the causes,  this trend isn’t stopping anytime soon. As noted by the Hartman Group, 2007 will mark the 16th consecutive year of sales growth for the restaurant industry.

Are these facts the fault of research into nutrition?  Or is nutritional research, the kind practiced outside of the Oscar Mayer R & D lab, part of the solution?  Pollan says it isn’t and we don’t agree.

Furthermore Pollan fails to note the large number of breakthroughs in public health that have been created by through ‘nutritionism’.  From the huge success in reversing the Pellagra epidemic in the late 1930’s by the mandated addition of Niacin to all wheat flour, to the great reduction in birth defects through the administration of folic acid to pregnant women, the science of nutrition has and will continue to be essential towards improving the quality of life for people everywhere.

Despite our disagreement here, we are grateful for Michael Pollan, grateful for the new conversations he created and grateful for his kicking John Mackey’s proverbial  butt into waking up and making Whole Foods a little bit more than just another wondrous feel good food emporium**.

So we have an invitation to make.  We invite

Its More Than Antioxidants In Cereal, You Know!

Michael Pollan to talk to Richard Kunin, MD, a nutritional doctor in San Francisco who has been providing breakthroughs for patients for nearly 50 years.  Or maybe he’d like to meet Dr. Abram Hoffer, who first treated schizophrenics with mega doses of Vitamin C and Niacin in the 1950’s and has successfully treated more than 5,000 patients that traditional Western, non-nutritional medicine failed and left living like zombies.

Because you see regardless of how much Kraft Foods distorts the science, nutritional research looks like one powerful key to providing well being here and throughout the world.  Like Pollan we can’t stand all the


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