In Defense of Food (2015) by Michael Pollan, an American author and journalist and advocate of a non-western diet. “The healthiest food in the store is in the produce section,” he says. Yet, healthy foods are not necessarily what we humans crave and like. The Food Industry know this.
I tried out a diet for one week, called a whole foods plant based diet, in pursuit of healthier eating. As one prominent site, “Forks Over Knives,” explains it: “A whole-food, plant-based diet is centered on whole, unrefined, or minimally refined plants. It’s a diet based on fruits, vegetables, tubers, whole grains, and legumes; and it excludes or minimizes meat (including chicken and fish), dairy products, and eggs, as well as highly refined foods like bleached flour, refined sugar, and oil. ”
During the one-week trial, I took out dairy—milk, cheese and eggs—but I still ate chicken and fish. Although I only lasted a week (more on that below), there is a reason why such diets are becoming popular in America. The western diet, where processed foods forms an appealing choice for us, is also one that is very unhealthy for us.
Such is the argument that Michael Pollan, an American author and journalist and advocate of a non-western diet, puts forth. He means well and he speaks to large audiences, probably because the statistics seem to support him. Almost 40 percent of American adults and 18.5 percent of American children are obese (BMI of 30 or higher), the Center for Disease Control reports. Americans are undoubtedly getting fatter and perhaps sicker than they were a generation or two ago. Today, the western diet is to blame.
Our diet, Pollan’s argument goes, should consist of real food that is unprocessed or minimally processed. Michael Pollan’s seven-word dictum is good and makes a lot of sense, appealing to our hearts that something ought to be done: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” Yet, I will take it with a grain of salt (which I enjoy), because much of what is called food science is not science in the traditional sense like physics, biology and chemistry, although it tries to be. While diets like the whole foods plant based one described above might work for others, and it might have turned their lives around, it did not for me.
For one, I found it too restrictive and not pleasing to my palate; in short, boring. It left out foods that I like and have eaten my whole life. I say this as someone who is not overweight (my BMI is around 23), has never been overweight, has never suffered from diabetes and has the good fortune (or genes) of not suffering from any coronary disease. It is said that sugar has no nutritional benefit, and the more we consume, the more we crave. Yet, I will keep sugar and eat foods that contain sugar. One muffin is OK. Six might not be. I think it is important to have whole-fat dairy in my diet, since it tastes good, and it is not bad for you. As does some red meat, some chicken and some fish.
The key point that I would like to make is that eating is more than nutrition or health, it is also about enjoyment, community and the gathering together of family and friends. This is why I have decided to return to “The Yiddisher Diet,” which has been around for many generations. It is true that it is neither new nor trendy, yet it is heymishkayt. I can eat all the traditional Jewish foods I enjoy without too much guilt or zorg. It includes lots of fruits and vegetables and eating in moderation, except perhaps during the hagim. But that’s another matter for another time. L’chaim.