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By Lisa Browdy
Though some people resent him because he is a journalist and not a scientist, Michael Pollan's curiosity about why Americans have spent the last few decades getting sicker and heavier in spite of the tremendous growth of the diet and exercise industry led him to uncover some real eye-opening information about how our food system and policies have literally shaped our nation. His eater's manifesto boils down into seven words. "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly Plants." It sounds simple enough, but requires a little explanation.
Eat food is what we do all day, right? Well, not exactly. Our diet has become so heavily processed that we often ingest what Pollan calls "edible food-like substances." Things that come in bags, boxes or cans and have more than five ingredients (or any that can't be pronounced) often belong to this category. Edible food-like substances have done good things for the bottom line of many multi-national corporations, but the "bottom" line of most Americans has not improved for the better, if you catch my drift.
Not too much: Plates have gotten bigger, portion sizes have gotten bigger, and our propensity to graze and snack all day long has trained us to simply eat more than we need to. Snack food is more fun than balanced meals (ask any preschooler) and the meals we eat are layered with fat, salt and sugar to make us want more. You've probably eaten a whole sleeve of Thin Mints, but have you ever polished off a whole quart of strawberries? I find that when I'm eating a snack of fruit or a meal of fish, vegetables, and other healthy stuff I rarely overdo it.
Mostly plants: "If it grew on a plant, eat it." Pollan quips. "If it came from a plant, don't." If there is one thing we get too much of in our diets, it's protein. (And also sugar, but I wrote about that last week.) If we cut down on our meat consumption in this country, our health and the environment would both improve. Meat is tasty and easy to cook, but for most of us it becomes too much of a good thing. We have been observing Meatless Monday at our house, and have been pleased to learn that we can extend it to Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and not miss it much at all.
So does this inspire you to do a little cooking of some real food? In order to encourage people to "Eat Real" today on Food Day and all year long, a group of celebrity chefs (Rick Bayless, Mario Batalli, Mark Bittman and Elle Krieger among others) have created a free mini cookbook with some easy, healthy and fun recipes. Download it here, and have a happy Food Day!
Learn more about Food Day at www.FoodDay.org. We're going to be cooking Rick Bayless' tostadas for our Food Day feast tonight. If you try any of the recipes, please comment below and tell us how you liked them!