What’s Wrong with What We Eat

A lot of people ask me what my philosophy is on food. I guess they expect an answer like, “I’m a pescatarian,” or “I only eat organic.” The truth is though that I have not found one philosophy that can sum up my views on food. I think this might be because I was looking for a single word to define my views.

Meanwhile, the truth is that I eat everything. I eat organic food; I eat all kinds of meat; I eat food from the farmer’s market; I eat food from other countries. I eat food. It was only after I watched Mark Bittman’s speech on “What’s Wrong with What We Eat” that I realizedmy philosophy: I try to eat food. Good food.

I’m a pretty easy-going guy, but when I heard some of the stats in this video I was pretty shocked. And let me add that I’m not one to typically be swayed by a single video, but I do respect Mr. Bittman and his work and we have very similar takes on food so I was drawn to his presentation.

The video is about a year old and hasn’t been viewed all that many times. I thought I would spend a post outlining some of the better points he makes and that I agree with:

Organic Food is a bit of a red herring

What does “organic” even mean? How can you have an organic chicken that was shipped across the country? It may be organic by definition of what it has consumed or been subjected to, but it is not “organic” in the larger sense. Eat organic if you want but don’t be all high and mighty about it. (I added this last part.)

Quality of life for animals

I agree that animals should be treated humanely. But we currently kill 10 Billion. BILLION. Animals in the US alone every year. It’s impossible to treat them humanely when we kill that many. As he says so succinctly: cut back on the number of animals we eat and then we can worry about their qualify of life. Doing the later before the former is impossible.

Note that this is not to say, “Be a vegetarian.” The guy making this argument has posted recipes like this and this. He is just saying be mindful of what you eat and reduce the amount of meat you consume. The average American eats 3.5 pounds of meat a week. And I don’t eat that much so all of you other meat-eaters are eating much more! (Joke!) Seriously though that is a lot. Let’s get that number down before we all die of heart failure.

Diabetes, Heart Disease, and Stroke – OH MY

Due to a Western diet, these things are all way more prevalent in the US than anywhere else in the world. This is directly linked to the sheer amounts of meat, dairy and refined carbs that we demand. Mr. Bittman is right to say demand because we don’t need this stuff, we just want it.

We simply don’t eat enough vegetables and fruits in this country and it is killing us. It has been crystal clear for years and years that eating plants leads to a longer life. And it isn’t just the vitamins or nutrients, but the actual plant itself. As Mark says, “It isn’t the beta carotene, but the carrot.”

A Piss-Poor Pyramid

When the people in charge came up with their genius pyramid that we all grew up learning, they finally acknowledged that people needed 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. But they also presented a pyramid around more carbs and they never specified the difference between good carbs and bad carbs. This led to millions of people thinking they are being healthy by eating a loaf of processed white bread a week.

The people presenting the pyramid (USDA) also never said that we should eat these fruits and vegetables instead of all of the junk food we were consuming. This led to people just supplementing their current diet of crap with more veggies and fruits. This led to a diet that had way more calories than people need.

Good Food

Mr. Bittman makes a ton of very solid points in this twenty minute video and I would encourage everyone to watch it. There is one point that he made which I think is incredibly important. We need to start eating real food again. Good food.

To me that means that you should try to eat things without an ingredient list on it. Why? Because it is the ingredient. Don’t eat processed minute rice when you can buy real rice. One ingredient: rice. Don’t buy an empty loaf of preserved white bread when you probably have a bakery around the corner where you can get an awesome loaf of wheat bread with probably four things in it.

The second part of eating good food is even simpler. Just be mindful of what you eat because there are billion dollar industries out there trying to trick you. Yogurt is good for you. But a lot of yogurts you can buy in the store are closer to ice cream than to real yogurt. Granola is good for you. But a granola bar you can buy in the store is closer to a Snicker’s bar than it is to homemade granola.

Note that you sometimes might consume slightly more calories by eating this good food. One classic example is butter vs. margarine. I only eat butter even though I know it is more caloric and fatty. But it is also good food. Tastes good and in moderation isn’t all that bad for you. And I know how to make it which gives me peace of mind.

What can YOU do?

Simple. Check out the stuff in your fridge and pantry. See how much real food you have. Try to make small changes to eat more good food, mostly veggies.

Be aware of what you are eating. I love a good Snicker’s bar every once in awhile, but don’t eat a granola bar every day and think you are doing something great for yourself.

Shameless self-promotion

While I don’t always make the healthiest stuff here on Macheesmo, everything I make is real food. It is rare that I use overly processed stuff. In fact, sometimes I try to reverse engineer my favorites into something using real food (Doritos). Everyday I will be here talking about food, writing about food, but most importantly cooking food. The here is to really explore food, healthy or unhealthy, but always good.

I want to hear from all of you on your thoughts on food in our country (or your country if you don’t live in the US). Leave a comment!

4 comments on “What’s Wrong with What We Eat

  1. Though I don’t know Mark Bittman, a number of things you’ve commented on here remind me of Michael Pollen, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and An Eater’s Manifesto. The manifesto can be summed up in three rules: 1) Eat food. (Read: Not chemicals, preservatives, etc.) 2) Not too much. 3) Mostly plants.

    He also sorts the wheat from the chaff when it comes to the organic vs. local “debate,” including this tidbit, on how our food consumption could *really* affect environmental quality, in an open letter to the next president in October 12’s NYTimes Magazine found here.

    If all Americans observed one meatless day a week, it would be the equivalent in greenhouse gas emissions reductions as if we had removed 20 million mid-sized sedans from the road for the year.

    Now that’s food for thought.

  2. Hey Bill. Great comment. Yes that manifesto is basically the deal.

    That letter is also a fantastic read. I definitely recommend everybody check it out if you haven’t already.

    Thanks,
    Nick

  3. Hi Nick — love your new blog — Carolyn turned me on to it and I’ve been surfing it for good ideas for the dinner parties I’ve been squeezing into my Soviet studio over here. Anywho, I love this post because, while I always thought of myself as the “mostly healthy” eater back in the States, being abroad in a land that has never heard the word fat-free and likes its sour cream like no other, I’m realiying just how processed and fake American eating is. Especially how little produce we eat: people think of Hungarian food as heavy and fattening — and it is — but the people here look great (although if they could kick the 2 pack a day habit, they’d be healthier still) and I think it has a large amount to do with the culture of cooking from whole, real ingridients and abundant, cheap veggies. Every week here, I go to a huge market hall, buy tons of fresh produce and usually spend around 5 USD. Hell, I even have a “regular” tomato guy and butcher now.

    So it’s not just French women who don’t get fat, I guess… :-)

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