Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Free to Eat Food!

I took a break with Jane Austen's letters (which I will return to tomorrow) and read Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food. I don't agree with every single word he says, but overall I found the book exceptionally good and quite an eye-opener for myself. I had been well trained to check food labels but I was always looking at calories, fat, carbohydrates and fiber. Only relatively recently had I begun checking vitamins and mineral content. Pollan told me to look lower. As I checked the contents of my pantry and their list of ingredients my stomach turned with how many had sugar or "high fructose corn syrup" and how many had words I cannot pronounce. Now before you think my pantry is filled only with poptarts, oreos and jelly beans (none of which we have), these included Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, Cheerios and Cap'n Crunch, Nutrigrain Bars and Wonder Wheat Bread. I thought, "Oh my gosh, what am I eating?" and then I really panicked, "Good grief, what am I feeding my daughter?"

Just what makes food, food? I mean, I can eat paper, but that doesn't make it food. And suddenly the foodstore became an absolute nightmare of confusion. I shop with a 2 year old. I cannot stop to read every label to figure out what would at least me close to food if not food. Fortunately Pollan gave me some tips: If your great grandmother wouldn't recognize it as food, it isn't; don't eat anything incapable of rotting (this made me think of my dad who told me, during a boy scout camp out moment of scientific experimentation, he discovered that Pringles do not burn - what is in them anyway, asbestos?); Avoid food products with ingredients that are unfamiliar, unpronounceable, more than 5 in number (generally), or include high fructose corn syrup; avoid products with health claims; shop the perimeter of the store - dairy, meats, fruits, veggies, grains; whenever possible, shop at a local market or farmers market for the freshest foods; and eat mostly plants.

I also found a reminder about how to eat helpful: sit at the table, don't eat watching tv or reading as you will eat more, focus on if you are hungry rather than what is in front of you, and eat slowly - the brain takes at least 20 minutes to get the message that you are full, plus you will enjoy your food more if you take the time to enjoy it.

I know, all too often, juggling a nursing infant (often while eating) and caring for a 2 year old, I inhale my food and can easily end up overeating and sometimes even get the hiccups to prove it.  Pollan stresses eating meals and not snacking. This is where I dissent from him - I eat until I am not hungry and then stop and will not hesitate to eat again when I am hungry whether that is noon or 3pm. Maybe that is because I nurse a baby, but it is still a difference between us. He also advocates having one's own garden - I'd love to but can't yet as we rent and will probably not be here longer than another year and half or so, so that one will have to wait.

Overall I have to recommend the book. For someone like me who grew up with a massive selection of breakfast cereals and poptarts on tv and remember Fruit by the foot, it is a very fascinating and eye-opening book.


  1. I think when you are pregnant and/or nursing the don't eat between meals rule definitely does not apply. Men just don't think about such things. Of course you need to make your snacks healthy: fruit, yogurt, whole grains, etc. but you do need a few extra snacks to carry you and your baby through the day (and night). I do think that if you are snacking between meals, though, you need to do as you say, make sure the meals are modest in size, eat slowly, and do not overeat.

    I totally agree with shopping the perimeter of the supermarket (it's cheaper too!) and hitting farmer's markets. I only wish that the farmer's markets were open more of the year around here. I think the growing season is longer in Texas; but we only have farmer's markets from June to October. Winter is very long.

  2. domesticaecclesiaMarch 20, 2008 at 7:15 AM


    Happy to see you agree because for me simply to not snack right now would not only slow my metabolism but make my stomach hurt I'd be so hungry and then when I would eat I would be so hungry I'd gorge - been there, done that and it doesn't work - at least not for me right now. Generally my snacks lately have been fruit - watermelon or kiwi or apple or banana - I'm working on trying to get some veggies in there.

    I have never tried regular yogurt - only the low-fat stuff, which I hated. I was going to buy a couple today and see if I can eat them. Any recommendations?

    I second you about the farmer's market - wish it was open all year.