Take that, Michael Pollan

A global-food expert says Pollan gets it all wrong

March 8, 2011

On the Zester Daily recently, global-food expert Louise O. Fresco posted a lengthy diatribe against Michael Pollan.

What’s the problem? Different priorities. Pollan has focused on changing America’s habits of food production and consumption, while Fresco’s interest is world hunger. So when Fresco picks apart Pollan’s most famous food statement — “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” — she does so on her terms, not his.

When Pollan says, “Eat food,” for example, his goal is to get Americans to focus on real, whole food. Fresco thinks the statement is dismissive both of the planet’s Third World underfed (who seldom get to see much in the way of real food, much less processed food) and of food processing in general, which usually ensures food safety.

Fresco interprets the statement “Not too much” as another insult to the starving masses, while Pollen meant it as a simple reminder about portion size for overfed First Worlders. And she thinks the conclusion of “Mostly plants” — a nudge towards eating more whole produce and fewer factory-farmed animals — ignores the fact that plenty of traditional peoples thrive on diets heavy with the meat of herded or hunted animals, including the Masai of Kenya.

Finally, Fresco finds Pollan’s ancestor claim — “Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food” — simply provincial. Pollan, of course, meant that eaters should avoid synthetic foods with unpronounceable chemical names. Fresco believes he’s just suffering from “misguided nostalgia,” and declares, “My great-grandmothers probably wouldn’t have recognized kiwi, tofu, broccoli, or tilapia.”

Commenters went wild on Fresco’s piece, tagging her as a corporate mole (chiefly for Unilever) in the guise of a university professor and dinging her for wishful thinking about the health of farms, people, and the planet. Check it out.

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1. by caleb bo baleb on Mar 8, 2011 at 10:44 PM PST

Interestingly, my browser calls out Zester Daily as malware - is Zester poisoning my computer, or has it just been labeled that way as part of this food culture battle?

I think it is always healthy to pick apart Michael Pollan - at least it shows you are reading carefully.

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