How to buy a book, and why the Western Diet is killing us (really)

As much as i love Apple and all their products, i’ve had one of almost everything they’ve made, i can’t seem to find a place in my life for the iPad. I’m close (i’ve really been working on it) but not there yet. Usually new releases are a slam dunk for me, and whatever it is, i have to have it.. right away (see this post). So, it’s almost as if i’m more annoyed with myself for not finding a use for this thing, than simply relieved to not have to spend the money. And judging by the sales (best selling new product in the history of products – like.. ALL products worldwide, not just Apple) i’m the only one that feels this way. Or at least one of only a handful of people. How this will change for me, is when DVD’s are no longer, and Netflix streams their content in a proper lossless (or uncompressed) fashion, not the blocky pixelfest that today’s streaming is, and when eBooks become cheaper than the paper ones. Right now Steve Jobs is fighting with the publishers to price their eBooks more aggressively to drive sales up, but it’s a slow process. Right now i can’t see paying $10-17 for an eBook, when there’s this site.
This is where i buy almost all my books, and because they are priced aggressively (as low as $0.75 + shipping) i buy a lot more than i would otherwise. This is what i’m waiting for in the eBook world – and it will happen – and THEN i can buy that stupid iPad and Jobs and i can make up. Phew.

So i buy quite a few books about food and cooking, and the most intriguing read of late has been Michael Pollan’s “In Defense of Food”. It’s an amazing document about the state of our food industry and the lack of food culture, here in the US. I would suggest you go here, buy it (it’s only 2.99 used) and read it.
While you wait for it to show up, i’d like to bring to your attention a few of the facts that struck me. Btw: You have to read it. I’ve tried the ‘buy, bring home and look at it’ technique, and it doesn’t work. You have to put in the hours.

One of his mantras is: ‘Just eat food’ (huh?). Interesting point, because once you’ve read the book, you’ll understand. You’ll see that, once in the supermarkets, most of the ‘food’ that’s in the middle is not really good for you. It’s mostly highly processed and highly un-natural. His advice to ‘stick to the edges’ of the supermarkets makes perfect sense. The good stuff is in the ‘unharmed foods dept.’, i.e. vegetables, fruits, meat, fish, dairy (and by ‘dairy’ i don’t mean yogurt in squeezable containers, that have more than 10 ingredients!). His advice is: ‘don’t eat anything that has A: more than 5 ingredients, B: ingredients you can’t pronounce, and C: anything your grandma wouldn’t recognize’. Btw: did you know that new ‘foods’ in the middle are being dreamed up at the rate of 17.000 per year? This means that 17k new cereals, crackers, snack bars and cookies are dumped on us every year. And one thing that’s a dead giveaway.. anything with a ‘health claim’ on the box – stay clear! It’s almost always a lie.. a loophole to allow these ‘white lies’ lobbied for by the food industry – like Trix, Cocoa Puffs and Lucky Charms getting the stamp of approval from the American Heart Association – WHAT??? (more on this in the book).

One interesting piece of data is the amount of time and money americans spend on food every day – or lack thereof. We’ve become so spoiled (literally and figuratively) by the food industrialization the last 60 years, that anything over $1.99 for a burger and anything taking more than 3 mins in the microwave is just too much to deal with. Some of my friends mock places like Whole Foods (calling them “Whole Paycheck” and whatnot) and complain about the cost of food there. Thing is, the quality of food made available to the public, in our supermarkets, has been on a steady decline for the last 60 years, and as an example: today we’d have to eat 3 supermarket apples to get the same amount of nutrients we got from ONE apple in 1950! This is due largely to the fact that the mass production of foods has robbed the soil and thus, the food grown in it, of most of its nutrients. So maybe Whole Foods isn’t such a bad idea after all?

While Americans spend less than 10% of their income on food (as opposed to close to 20% in the 50’s), people living in France, Italy and Spain are still btw 15 and 20%. And, on average – for three meals a day – people in the US spend a lame 30 mins total, preparing them! That’s per day people! The French, by contrast, eat way less, and take much longer doing it. We would rather buy crap in bulk (more ‘value’) than smaller amounts of healthy nutritious foods, and spend the time to prepare them ourselves. This disconnect with food, cooking and eating together only exists in the US. No population in the world has such a damaged relationship with food as americans. Sitting down and enjoying a home cooked meal (with dessert) without beating yourself up about the carb, sugar or fat content is becoming rare. On the one hand because the ingredients available to us have become diluted, and on the other because the act of gathering (shopping), preparing and eating has become a lost art. It should be an important part of the day, just as important as your work, your shower, your hobbies, but it’s taken a back seat to TV, to the internet, to video games and a myriad of other distractions. A large percentage of americans now eat 20% of their meals while driving. This is not food culture. This is calorie culture. No one pays attention to the taste of the meal, the way it was prepared, or how they feel during and after the meal. Example: a restaurant did a test where they hooked up a small feed line to the bottom of the customers’ soup bowl, to automatically refill it without them knowing. They were so unaware of what they were eating and how, that some of them ate as much as a quart, before stopping.. and when asked what they thought of it.. they didn’t comment on the taste so much, but simply said: well, it’s pretty filling. Christ!! How can we reverse this?

This is one of the reasons one of three americans is obese (not overweight, but obese!), and as a matter of fact, 9 states reported over 35% obesity. What is happening here is people are not only eating more, but the quality of foods is on the decline. Since 1985, the average american added 300 calories to his daily diet, and 92% (!) of those calories were from refined carbohydrates (white rice, white flour, processed corn, etc). So not only more calories but less nutrients. This results in children and teenagers showing up at hospitals, obese and at the same time, suffering from malnutrition (what??!!). There are even cases of diseases like Rickets and other ailments showing up, previously only present in africa and india, in severly malnourished children!

More importantly, while some of this food is not only less nutritious, some of it is downright harmful. In the years following WW2, as food became an industry, and pesticides and fertilizer became the norm, heart disease skyrocketed. As did diabetes and other ‘western diseases’ (a term that didn’t exist before this). Today, one of every three children born after the year 2000 will likely develop diabetes, and 80% of them will suffer from heart disease. The kicker: 80% of those kids would have been spared if they were on a non-western diet. That’s heavy, pun ‘n all.
The problem here, is that the money is not spent on the preventative, but on the treatment. There is a tremendous amount of money to be made making drugs to treat heart disease, diabetes, etc. but there’s “nothing in it” for these companies to make it so people don’t get sick. It’s become such a normal part of our lives, there are even magazines dedicated to ‘Diabetic Living’. These diseases that were so rare, are now the norm. A part of our society.
A great study was done in Australia in the 80‘s, where 10 middle aged overweight diabetic Aborigines were sent back to the bush to see if the recently ‘aquired’ diseases could be reversed. They had all contracted diabetes and showed elevated triglycerides – a condition leading to hypertension, heart disease and certain types of cancer – in the few years since moving to the city, from the bush. And after only 7 weeks back in the bush, they started showing major improvements, huge weight loss, lower blood pressure, normal levels of triglycerides in the blood. This is due to the fact that they changed their diets (no refined carbs or high fructose corn syrup in the bush) and got more excercise (no tv dinners or laptops). Something that would have been (and is) treated exclusively with drugs, in our western world of medicine and industrialized food. A pretty strong case for the power of natural foods.
One final note. Vitamins and supplements. A recent study showed that people that take vitamins and supplements on a regular basis are more healthy than the ones that don’t. The reason? The fact that they are more aware of what they are eating, and how it’s prepared, not because of the vitamins they were taking. In fact, when the vitamins were taken away, there was no change in their health. Only difference was that their wallets got fatter. So, eat whole foods, plants, raw vegetables AND meat and fish and dairy and all that too.. just keep it balanced. We still don’t know enough about food and how the nutrients interact with each other, to be able to successfully extract them from the foods and utilize them to our advantage. Why would we anyway? Why not just eat the carrot, instead of the Beta Carotine capsules? As a matter of fact, Beta Carotine ingested in capsule form has been known to have adverse effects – even increase the risk of certain cancers, not ‘more of the good’ as one would expect. So skip the vitamins and supplements, enjoy the fuller wallet, and buy and eat food. (do you think Julia Child ever had a vitamin? Nope.. She lived till she was 92 and that was not the Slim Fast diet, believe me.. it was the “I have a good relationship with my food and am going to enjoy the hell out of this meal” diet)

I could go on here, but i think you get the point. Basically be aware of what you are buying. Do your best to stay away from processed foods in boxes, and whenever possible, sit at a table (without a computer on it) and eat a meal with a knife and fork. And to quote Pollan: ‘Don’t get your fuel from the same place your car does’.

Bon Appétit!!

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One response to “How to buy a book, and why the Western Diet is killing us (really)

  1. Gudrun Hoskuldsdottir

    Heyr heyr! I love Pollan´s book and I read it regularly. Thank you for your post, it´s so important for us to go over what we put in our shopping cart. I find buying milk products, for instance, for Sigga Sól (18 months) so hard. I don´t want her to eat most of the ingredients, and the amount of sugar in most of the brands that we have over here is heartbreaking. I buy plain, organic yoghurt now and add a little bit of honey. It´s perfect and she loves it.
    And just to add to the comment on the time that we spend on making food, we have to look at it as family time and then it´s just not a chore. Sigga Sól gets excited when I go into the kitchen to prepare a meal. She´s right there, hanging onto the leg of my pants, with her mouth open, ready to try something new! But then I have the greates role models 😉

    Can´t wait to see the next post!
    Gudrun Hoskuldsdottir

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