Sunday, September 27, 2009

Michael Pollan's visit to UW Madison

Thursday evening started off with a delicious sustainable dinner at Pop’s, the southeast dining hall. The food was all locally grown and cooked in honor of the Michael Pollan lecture later in the evening. I wish we could have more dining hall meals like that.
Next on the agenda was the Michael Pollan lecture. You can tell he’s going to be a big deal when you have three different people get up to introduce him. At the beginning of his lecture, you could tell he was a little nervous because he kept drinking the provided water next to the podium. As the lecture progressed however, he definitely was feeling more comfortable speaking to some seven thousand people filling over half of the Kohl Center. During his speech, he predicted the statement, “Omega 6 fatty acid would be the next nutrient attacked by scientists.” He believes “that the nutrition scientists will think that omega 6 fatty acid will try to push out the blessed omega 3 fatty acid molecules out of vital body cells.”
At one point during his presentation, he asked the audience members to list off some key nutrients that scientist are promoting at this time. One audience member’s response was “olive oil.” Pollan responded jokingly “that olive oil isn’t a nutrient.” Pollan did agree however, that nutritional scientists are promoting the use of olive oil over vegetable oil. Another point in the evening was when he brought out the food he purchased earlier in the evening to talk about. He talked about how the fewer ingredients it has the more organic the food is. Pollan also discussed how packaging plays a huge role in selling food. He explained that manufacturers can manipulate the labels to say anything they want it to say. For instance, he held up an ice cream and the label said now made with only five ingredients. He then stated that even before people found out about the fewer ingredients the healthier it is for you, the ice cream still only contained five ingredients in it. He made some very thought provoking points throughout the evening. Another one of these points is when he brought up the farmers. The farmers who do the most labor intensive work in creating the food is the people who get paid the least. The people who create the packaging receive more profits on the food by an outstanding percentage in the billions than the farmers receive. The farmers in the audience were so appreciative of him bringing up this topic, that at this point during his speech all the farmers wearing the green t-shirts responded with tremendous clapping and whistling. The points he brought up were not only expanded thoughts on his book, but also new insights as well. The speech was very informative, but also fun and intriguing to listen to at the same time.
The audience response to Michael Pollan was overwhelmingly positive. He received two standing ovations. One was right after his speech and the other was after the brief question and answer portion of the evening. Overall, I would say the night was a complete success.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

"In Defense of Food" Insight

In Michael Pollan’s “In Defense of Food,” he talks about observing food as a whole instead of stripping food down to just nutrients and minerals. I would have to agree with Pollan’s philosophy. Certain foods just can’t be classified into a one hundred percent nutritious category. Take for instance the January 1977 committee’s advice to Americans to “reduce their meat intake.” Senator McGovern of South Dakota had a large constituency that had consisted of cattle ranchers; the committee had no choice but to change their tune to “choose meats lower in saturated fats.” This has left an impact on scientists by examining each nutrient individually and not looking at food as a whole.

Another example where industry beat out health was the margarine incident that Pollan referred to. Margarine paved the way for processed foods in America. Margarine manufacturers claimed that by containing polyunsaturated fats and by adding vitamins to its formula it was healthier than butter containing cholesterol and saturated fats. The manufacturing industry can manipulate foods to add any vitamins and minerals they please to enhance their sales figures. Manufactures have brought the margarine scandal to new heights with genetically modified and processed foods, because with the right marketing spin and “health” promotions these foods can be sold to unsuspecting consumers.

Nutritionism is another point that was brought up in the beginning of this book. Nutritionism is an ideology that the nutrient is the key of success in understanding foods as a whole. Pollan goes in-depth and explains more about how scientists study nutritionism and also talks about the public’s awareness of this growing problem in America. Upton Sinclair’sThe Jungle” also made aware of the food industries scandals and has brought about public reform with the laws and the Food and Drug Administration. Even if you don’t agree with Pollan’s philosophy, you do have to admit he makes a pretty compelling argument.