Why Does Michael Pollan Keep Shouting at Me When I Don't Even Know Him?

January 5th, 2009

The French Fries-ivore Dilemma

I haven’t read any of Michael Pollan’s books, and I’ve certainly never met the guy, but for some reason he’s been making a lot of noise inside my head lately.

Pollan wrote The Omnivore’s Dilemma which, as I’ve already mentioned, I’ve never read.  I have, on the other hand, read articles about it and about him.  (The secret to appearing to be more intelligent and well-read than you really are is to becoming conversant about subjects you’ve never actually studied.  Cliff Notes are a crude version of this.  I prefer reading book, movie, and television reviews–you’d be surprised how far a couple of issues of Entertainment Weekly and The New Yorker will take you when you need to make conversation at a  holiday dinner party.)

But I digress.  The point is, I read an article about Michael Pollan in which they printed his most famous quote–his advice for what to eat in a world where so many foods are risky, unhealthful, or bad for the environment.  You’ve probably heard the quote.  It goes like this:

“Eat food, not too much, mostly vegetables.”

Brilliant in its simplicity, right?  So much so that I can’t get this quote out of my head.  It’s like a mantra to me: I go to a restaurant and want to order something and suddenly I’m hearing, “Eat food, not too much, mostly vegetables.”

The only problem is, you repeat a mantra enough times, the words become meaningless.  So it goes with this: I find myself thinking the words without actually hearing them.  (I’m good at that.  I also think, “I should be more patient with the kids” on a daily basis and it doesn’t seem to actually be changing anything except to make me feel guiltier when I’m NOT more patient which is almost all the time.)

Hey, I digressed again.  I’m good at digressing.

I get annoyed at magazines and their articles about dieting (especially when they put them right next to “100 Fabulous Bundt Cake Recipes!”).  They go on and on about counting carbs and calories and glycemic levels when the truth is, if we all just followed Michael Pollan’s advice, we’d be thinner and the world would be better off.   

It’s simple, really.  Eat food (i.e. not processed junk but recognizable things like roast chicken and blueberries), not too much (don’t eat until you feel sick, folks, stop when you feel slightly full), mostly vegetables (how many studies do you need to see until you accept the fact these things are what’s GOOD for us, far better than any pills or medicines or colonics or herbal teas?).

So why aren’t we all just doing this?  We’re smart, we read the articles, we know what’s best, not just for our figures, but for our health and longevity.   Throw the environment in there, too, because the more vegetables we eat instead of meat, the better it is for the earth, too.  There’s every reason to eat well.  So why don’t we just eat the way we should?

Well, pop-tarts for one reason.  Highly processed, not particularly good for you, warm and delicious right out of the toaster.  And then there’s  steak, crusty on the outside, rare on the inside–an argument against vegetarianism if ever I’ve seen one.  And don’t forget that feeling you get on a wet, miserable day, when you’re starving and pre-menstrual, and a salad sounds about as appealing as a cold shower and all you really want are some salty fries and a ketchup-doused burger to go with.  Are you really going to stop eating because you’ve had “enough”?  No, you’re going to go on until you’re stuffed and vaguely sick, because you’re eating salty, greasy, delicious food and there’ s just no stopping until your plate is empty.

I’m not saying we should give into these ignoble cravings.  I’m just saying I DO from time to time.  Poor Michael Pollan shouts inside my head, “Eat food, damn you!  Not too much, you greedy pig!  Mostly vegetables, you meat-eating earth-hating troglodyte!  What’s the matter with you?”  And I ignore him.  I hear him, but I ignore him.

It’s almost like I’m married to the guy . . .

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