Do You Care What Is In Your Food?

November 4th 2014

Lindsay Haskell

When Michael Pollan's book "The Omnivore's Dilemma" was published in 2006, it made quite a stir in the culinary world around the authenticity of food we put in our bodies. 

One of the most revelatory sections was on corn. From what farmers grow, to what they feed their animals, to what companies put in processed foods, to what you see in the grocery store, our entire industrial food system is centered and based on corn production.

So what's the problem with corn constituting the foundation of the American diet? For one, it contains sugar in the form of high fructose corn syrup. As Michael Pollan notes, "since 1985 our consumption of all added sugar - cane, beet, HFCS, glucose, honey, maple syrup, etc - has climbed from 128 pounds to 158 pounds per person." Considering the addictive nature of sugar, as explained in our recent piece comparing its similarities to cocaine, this steep rise is alarming. And as John Oliver noted in his recent viral rant on sugar, the sugar industry has fought doggedly to make it difficult for consumers to know how much they are consuming. 

And that's exactly what is at the core of "The Omnivore's Dilemma" -  the fact that while we are consuming more calories than ever before, but we have little idea of what comprises these calories. We have become detached from what we put in our bodies and thus, a good portion of our supposed nourishment is a mystery to us.

Another section of Pollan's book discusses hunting and gathering and the complicated ethical relationship we have with what we eat. "I really don't think I could do it. I don't think I could pull a trigger and kill a deer," says a woman in the video. And she's not alone--millions of Americans are happy to turn a blind eye to the process of slaughtering out food. We have no problem picking up a slab of meat from the grocery store - where the piece has been chopped up and stripped of any aesthetic hints that it was once a living, breathing animal - but we recoil from the idea of shooting animals. The ironic element of this is that often in hunting, animals are killed in a more humane way than in slaughterhouses, where animals are frequently subjected to what can only be described as brutal torture before succumbing to their inevitable deaths.

So what is the solution to this detachment? Empowerment. As Michael Pollan freely admits, "I didn't tell you what to do in this book. I was very kind of, not prescriptive ... well, one meal at a time is, I think, how you turn the ship." What we have to remember as citizens and consumers is that with every purchase  we make, with every vote we cast, we can make a difference. Every choice we make at the grocery store holds power, not only for our health, but for the country. We can also demand transparency from the FDA, and show that our health trumps big industries' bottom lines. 

Taking the time to learn more about where your food comes from is the first step. 

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To learn more about American food and how we differ from other countries, click here

To learn about the widening inequality around access to healthy food, click here