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Pittsburgh Speakers Series: Michael Pollan

Michael Pollan is an excellent resource for anyone who is a beginner in the food politics/obesity/food issues discussion, and is equally entertaining and engaging for those who have more knowledge about the topic.  I haven’t read any of his books, but it is clear that he is well educated on his topics.  He is also keenly aware of the limitations of his knowledge, and doesn’t try to draw conclusions where he doesn’t have the factual foundation.  He’ll refer to scientific studies and surveys, but also acknowledges the high rate of error in such things in the field of nutrition.

Pollan’s books are concerned with the culture of food, the American food landscape, and political and industry issues surrounding food.    Pollan strives to make these topics navigable to the general public, and tries to equip his audience with basic tools to make good nutritional decisions.  Pollan’s mantra is: Eat Food.  Not too much.  Mostly plaints.  Pollan tries to distill the incredibly complicated topic of nutrition into simple and straightforward principles, and is surprisingly successful at it.

Pollan was a great speaker, and this is no criticism of him, but I’m burnt out on the “Food Wars” topic.  Obesity and food issues were my “hot button” topics in law school, I did a significant amount of reading and a fair amount of writing on these topics at the time.  I dashed to the theater as soon as Super Size Me came out, Food Politics was my bible, and I was outraged.

My outrage has given way to defeat.  I feel like these issues (and they’re not one issue, they are many and intertwined) are so much bigger than I am, and when I’m putting all my energy into getting through life with a busy job, a busy family, and a busy social life, I can’t tackle the problem of our nation’s simultaneous growing waistlines and nutritional deficit.

Pollan made an incredible point tonight– the availability of processed convenience foods blossomed when households transitioned from mothers staying at home to households of two working parents, or single parent households.  During the time where families faced the question of “who is responsible for the cooking, when both parents are at work?”  the food industry stepped in and said “we’ll take care of it, don’t worry!”  And then it gave us frozen ravioli, and instant mashed potatoes, and Chef Boyardee, and frozen pizza.

Pollan emphasized tonight that one of the easiest ways to take control of your diet is to cook as much as possible.  When I was in law school (and on my food kick) this was simple– I baked bread, I made massive casseroles and stews and froze them, it was easy to do all the things that lead to better nutrition. Now, I’m in the grown up world.  My time is often not my own, or at least not easily within my control.  Throwing things in the slow cooker might only take 10 minutes, but the number of “just 10 minutes” tasks that pile up daily is overwhelming.   Adding a new 10 minute task chips away at another. I only have so many 10 minute increments.   I do the best I can.  That’s all I can do right now.

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