When did we get to the point of eating food-like substances, believing added "nutrients" are as healthy as a whole food?
According to Wikipedia, "Nutritionsim is the idea that the nutritional value of a food is the sum of all its individual nutrients, vitamins, and other components."
Journalist, Michael Pollan, explains in his book, In Defense of Food, “Nutritionism, like most isms is a reductionist, contextless ideology. Nutritionism divides our food into nutrients and pits them against each other: fats versus carbs, carbs versus proteins. Moreover, it has trouble discerning qualitative distinctions among foods, allowing marketers to avoid thorny issues of how food is grown and how humans process it. Nutritionism is a boon to food marketers, not only because it helps with splashy packaging but also because it lets them advise buyers to eat more of a particular food, exacerbating an already imbalanced, unvaried diet."
Our kids and some food service managers have been swayed by this marketing, diving into a pool of salt and fat. Advisers say that it will take creative marketing, colorful signs by the salad bar or healthy express lines, to steal back the palates of our kids.
This brings us back to the foods we feed our children, at home and in our schools. Is there a difference between whole grain bread (with natural fiber and vitamins) and white bread (with added fiber and vitamins)? Why go through the process of refining flour, removing nutrients and adding them back in, if its natural state provides the ideal result: a nutrient and fiber rich product. Pollan explains that foods are more than the "sum of all of their parts." This is one of the problems with school lunch and processed foods alike. Just because a child is eating macaroni and cheese (or a cheese-like product) with added fiber and vitamins, does not make it akin to vegetable stir fry with brown rice, for example. Studies have shown that antioxidants taken out of their natural form (whole food) cease to function effectively as free radical killers. Meaning that taking Vitamin C supplements or adding Vitamin C to a processed food is not as effective as having an orange. The ultimate nutritionism, was the proposal during the Reagan administration that would have reclassified ketchup as a vegetable because it met the nutritional requirements at the time.
If we consume beef, cheese or milk from healthy grass fed cows grown in nutrient dense soil, those nutrients are passed on to us. However, if we eat beef from a cow that has been confined and is fed corn by-products that make it necessary to give them antibiotics to prevent illness, what is being passed on then?
The same idea is applicable to fruits and vegetables in terms of the nutrients in the soil and how they are processed. Fresh picked green beans or even flash frozen green beans contain many more nutrients than their canned gray counterparts filled with sodium and preservatives.
It is easier for companies to villify particular components of certain foods and alter their marketing rather than change their business model. That creates an adversarial relationship with our food. More than ever now, there are young farmers, urban farmers, chefs and parents wanting a connection to their food. A little more time and effort during preparation can aid in reinventing our relationship with food. It can be an enjoyable experience, gathering family, chopping and chatting.
It is time to reject "edible food-like substances", as Pollan likes to call them, and return to simple foods. Why buy applesauce with corn-syrup and preservatives when you can give kids an apple? Overall, one of the reasons many give in to these substances is convenience. It is much easier to microwave chicken nuggets than to actually cook chicken.
Cooking and learning about different foods can be an adventure to share with your children. Go to the University City Farmer's Market and buy a fruit or vegetable you have never tried and experience it with your children. The farmers at the market are more than happy to advise you on how to eat or cook them.
One way to ensure you're eating locally and organically is to grow food yourself. Take your little patch of land (my tiny balcony afforded me 8 tomato, 5 basil and 1 pepper plant), you can't get more local than that. If you are intimidated by the idea of starting a garden, have Brick City Gardens in University City do it for you. If you want to dig in, University Gardens on Delmar will provide you with the tools and knowledge to do it yourself.
Rejecting nutritionism and taking pleasure in eating once again is possible. Eating is not like filling up your gas tank. It is like the French paradox — the fact that the French eat fat laden food but don’t get fat. The French and Europeans in general take great pleasure in eating, for hours in fact. Eating as a whole - a whole family, whole foods, cooking together, eating for pleasure, and becoming a community (our schools included) can change it into a different experience. Mindful gardening, preparing and eating creates a by-product of healthy kids and parents.