Tag Archives: Michael Pollan

Ramen Breakdown

I’m not a college student who’s upset because I don’t have enough money to buy more ramen at the grocery store.  I’m a college professor and cooking teacher who has wondered for several decades about what happens to the edible food-like substances we stuff in our pie-hole.  Notice I didn’t say the word “food” but used Michael Pollan’s noun for stuff we eat that’s not really food.

Each food found or grown in nature has a means of being utilized by our body.  Animal and vegetable proteins are used for growth and repair; natural fats transport fat-soluble vitamins, create cell membranes as well as keep our skin and hair moist and healthy.  Carbohydrates are used to create muscle energy.  But what happens when we consume something like caramel coloringContinue reading

Food Rules by Michael Pollan Book Giveaway


Michael Pollan has been doing the lion’s share of work to wake sleepy Americans up and nudge them into understanding their relationship with food.    If you haven’t watched or listened to Mr. Pollan speak, this little video makes a great introduction.  I particularly enjoyed how he reminds us what a young science nutrition is, “sort of like where surgery was in 1690” and he urges us to wait for the inventions that will make application of the science less barbaric (like anesthesia?) Continue reading

Can Food Win by a Nose?

Top ten superfoods! Nutritious foods you must include in your diet!  My curiosity is piqued by such claims.  I usually bite and scan the list.  But why are we so enthralled by the magical nutrients concept?  Carefully chosen daily food can heal.  I’ve experienced it.  But how do we really know which foods have the most nutrients?  How can I tell if my broccoli is chock full of vitamin C without sending it to a lab?  Do I have to carry “Bowes & Church’s Food Values of Portions Commonly Used” in my shopping cart to get feel I’m getting the maximum nutrients for my dinner?

This from Michael Pollan’s article Our National Eating Disorder: “So we’ve learned to choose our foods by the numbers (calories, carbs, fats, R.D.A.’s, price, whatever), relying more heavily on our reading and computational skills than upon our senses. Indeed, we’ve lost all confidence in our senses of taste and smell, which can’t detect the invisible macro- and micronutrients science has taught us to worry about, and which food processors have become adept at deceiving anyway. Most processed foods are marketed less on the basis of taste than on convenience, image, predictability, price point and health claims — all of which are easier to get right in a processed food product than its flavor. The American supermarket — chilled and stocked with hermetically sealed packages bristling with information — has effectively shut out the Nose and elevated the Eye.”

When I first read this it sank in deep.  I mean, I teach for the nutrition department at a university.  Am I enabling this disorder?
I made a decision.  When students or participants ask me if they get more nutrients from their broccoli when it is steamed or if it is raw I ask them, “Which way tastes best?”  That’s right.  I’ve come to believe when a food is at its peak of flavor (fresh, in season, not too many miles on it, not under or over cooked) you are likely getting the most nutrients.  When enjoyment is added to the equation, I bet the absorb-ability of nutrients triples.  Raw broccoli tastes nasty to me, blanched is nice, but blanched with some groovy sesame dressing to dip in– now that’s a dish worthy of a smile.  Numbers be damned.

Cookus Interruptus Welcomes All Nations

What if all the nutri-brains were right about what YOU SHOULD BE EATING (and not eating)?  What would end up in your pantry?

In the past year we have had several distinguished food and nutrition experts come to Bastyr and speak.  One was T. Colin Campbell who wrote The China Study.  The findings? “People who ate the most animal-based foods got the most chronic disease … People who ate the most plant-based foods were the healthiest and tended to avoid chronic disease. These results could not be ignored,” said Dr. Campbell.  Advocates of a vegan or vegetarian diet such as the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine or Skinny Bitches gained more back-up for their already strong arguments.

Others preach lowering animal food consumption but are concerned from an agricultural, political or ecological point of view.  Mark Bittman is one and spelled out why in his Ted TalkMichael Pollan (who also made an appearance at Bastyr)  succinctly speaks of eating real food, not too much, mostly plants.  Softer and gentler than Mr. Campbell but the leaning is clear.

But whoosh there is a whole other wave of nutri-folks talking about our need for high-quality fat and protein.  Don’t shy away from a big steak and blue cheese, just make sure the steer is locally raised and grass-fed.  Both Nina 42-15622323Planck and Sally Fallon have enlightened readers of the misunderstanding around fat and cholesterol.  Sally spoke last weekend at Bastyr, Nina came in 2008.  I know many of our readers are devotees of Ms. Fallon and her traditional food philosophies which are derived from Nutrition and Physical Degeneration by Dr. Weston Price.  Organ meats, raw milk, fermented foods and plenty of coconut oil and butter are thumbs up in this world and they have the research to back up what they preach.  The newer (older?) Paleo Diet is somewhat related, warning against grain-eating and advocating consumption of ample animal food.  The Paleo experts boast oodles of research to support its recommendations.

Uh oh.  Now what?  What do we eat if both camps are right.  I mentioned this eaters dilemma to one of my students and said that I guessed that lettuce was the only safe choice.  She had attended Sally’s lecture and reported that Ms. Fallon’s closing comment was that salads would be the genocide of America because of all that awful salad dressing.  Touche.

What’s left? What can we conscientiously eat for dinner?  And that’s where Cookus Interruptus walks in with a smile.  We like everybody.  We’ve parked our ship in the “no preach” zone.  We’ve pulled the best threads of common sense from all of the philosophies and woven them into a loose pattern.  We welcome you if you are vegan – we offer plenty of vegan, even more vegetarian recipes.  Grains and beans rock.  Gluten-free? – come on in.  About 75% of our recipes are wheat-free.  Traditional-diet lovers – we love you too.  Though we tend to keep our animal protein in small portions (family budget you know),  we embrace grass-fed, pastured, humanely-raised and forgo participating in CAFO food.  Fermentation nation?  Bring it.  Sauerkraut and yogurt are awesome.  All tribes, all camps, all philosophies – we’ve got food for you.  Real food that tastes good.  We’re world cup.  The best of each nation ready for your knife, fork, spoon, chopstick or paw.

First Lady Shares Common Sense

A portion of the speech delivered by Michelle Obama at the National Governors Association meeting in DC, passed on to me by my friend Chef Ron Askew rang familiar bells.  How many of you remember running around outside twice a day when you were in elementary school?  How many of you don’t?!  I did.  I went to elementary school back in the dark ages when girls had to wear dresses.  We always had a spare pair of pants to put on for recess so we could spin around on the chin up bars.

And when you got home from school what did you do?  Like Ms. Obama – I was sent outside to play and told not to come back until dinnertime.  This spurred endless games among the kids in the neighborhoods.  Kick the Can, softball, jumping on old inner tubes.  I never remember watching TV until after dinner and only if I had no homework.  What did you do?  What do your kids do?

I also love what she says about home-cooked meals and fast food.  Michael Pollan says it is fine to eat all the junk food you want as long as you make it yourself. Ha! He knows.  Nobody can make Cheetos or Coke Zero in their kitchen.  French fries are quite a task.  Here’s part of the First Lady’s sensible speech:

“But we all know that there’s another set of statistics that have to be a part of this discussion — like how nearly one in three of our children in this country is now overweight or obese. Like how one in three kids today will eventually develop diabetes — and in the African American and Hispanic communities, the number is nearly half.

But we have to begin by understanding how we got here, what’s caused this crisis in the first place. And I have my theories, but when you all think about it, this is a relatively new phenomenon. This wasn’t something that we were dealing with when I was growing up. Back when we were all growing up, most of us led lives that naturally kept us at a healthy weight. We walked to school and we walked home, because we usually lived in communities where our schools were close. All of us ran around all day at school, doing recess and gym because everybody had to do it. And then when we got home, we’d be sent right back outside and told not to come back home until dinner was served. You know your parents didn’t let you in the house.

And back then we ate sensibly. We had many more home-cooked meals. That was the norm. And much to our dismay at the time, there was always something green on the plate. Fast food and dessert was a special treat. You had it but you didn’t have it every day, and the portion sizes were reasonable. In my family I remember a couple of pints of ice cream — this was a big treat — we’d get three pints of ice cream for a family of four and that would last us a week, because you wouldn’t eat a pint, you’d get a scoop, and that would be it. You’d savor that a spoonful at a time.

And these weren’t arbitrary rules that our parents just made up. As we know now, it was a way of life they imposed to help keep us active and healthy. They knew back then that kids couldn’t and shouldn’t sit still for hours. They knew that kids needed to run around and play. They knew that keeping us healthy wasn’t about saying no to everything, but it was about balance and moderation…but somewhere along the line, we kind of lost that sense of perspective and moderation. And we all want the very best for our kids just like our parents wanted for us.”

Uncomplicated Food Rules

Foodie guru Michael Pollan asserts that “nutritionism” has ruined America’s appetite.  His article Unhappy Meals (January 2007) spelled out his take on our lack of a stable food culture in the states and points fingers at kitchentablenutritionists, marketing and fad-chasing.  Fair enough.

Recently he posted a request for readers to offer their food rules on Tara Pope’s blog Well and received over 2,500 responses.  Pollan’s favorite 20 are posted and worth perusing.  One of my favorites is:

“Never eat anything that is pretending to be something else”  This is especially true of butter substitutes.  And from a whole foods perspective soy hot dogs don’t have much to brag about over the real deal.

Which one do you like?  And why?  Or do you have one of your own.  Would love to hear.

Missing the Point

Stirring Literature

This recent opinion piece from the Los Angeles Times had me feeling defensive when I first read it. The headline says it all: “Keep your self-righteous fingers off my processed food.” The author, Charlotte Allen, rails against several people who represent my own point of view about food, including Michael Pollan, Alice Waters, and the author of a recent book that discusses the “high cost of discount culture.” Ms. Allen is up in arms that these people are asking us to spend more on local, quality, “green” products in a time of financial crisis.

But then I realized just how defensive Ms. Allen’s tone was, and I understood that it’s her way of life that’s being threatened, while mine (and Pollan’s and Waters’) is gaining followers and national attention. Exhibit A: the topic of cheap food made it onto the cover of Time this week.

Besides making undue accusations that these social critics want to deprive us of affordable goods, I think Ms. Allen misses a couple of key points about the movement to make quality and ethics part of the consideration when we make any purchase, from beans to jeans. First, spending more on something of quality, like a piece of furniture, means that instead of having to replace that item every few years, it will be around for a while. This is what’s called “taking the long view” and it requires planning and patience, something many Americans are short on, what with all these cheap goods to choose from and lines of credit available to anyone.

My grandparents, who lived through the Depression, learned this lesson well and lived very frugally but surrounded by beautiful things they’d acquired over a lifetime. Speaking of the Depression, isn’t that when many people started growing their own food in their backyards as a way to save money?

Ms. Allen also disregards the hidden costs of her “cheap” food. She may not realize that she pays taxes that support subsidies for industrial farming and corporate subsidies that underwrite the manufacturing of cheap food. She may not know that the long-term health care costs associated with the many chronic, degenerative diseases that currently plague Americans are in turn associated with eating cheap, processed food. In addition, the price of cheap food is dearly paid by our entire ecosystem. If Ms. Allen would rather have a second pair of Nikes than a lifetime of good health for herself and for the planet and future generations, I reluctantly grant that as her prerogative, but I wish she would first consider the political, ecological and economical implications behind her choice that affect us all.

Though I, too, am guilty of taking the cheap way out at times, I don’t skimp on my food. As Slow Food founder Carlo Petrini says, “We have to pay more… Anything I eat, after a few seconds is Carlo Petrini. But Armani underwear is always on the outside.” Paying extra for clean food is one of my highest priorities because it’s good for me, my family, my community and the planet. Ms. Allen sneers at the concept of “exquisite fastidiousness about what you put in your mouth” – I say that this is precisely what will help get us to the next millenium.


Michael and Amy

Stirring Literature

Last week Amy Goodman interviewed Michael Pollan on Democracy Now.  Mr. Pollan has become the leading writer and spokesperson for what ails the food system in our country.  His book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, was pivotal in my life.  I had been teaching students about nutrition, food and cooking for many years when his book came out.  My relentless cry of “eat fresh, local, organic whole foods, foods that don’t have labels, here I’ll show you how, I swear, you will feel better” became national news thanks to the success of his book.  Better yet, Mr. Pollan is a journalist with a compelling writing style.  The way he weaves story and facts to describe the ripple effect of casually choosing to eat at Mc Donalds convinces the reader that we can and should eat better.

In the interview with Ms. Goodman he clearly connects the dots between our broken health care system, the impending gloom of environmental problems we face and what we choose to put on our dinner table.   It’s a no-brainer.  When he reminds us that the school lunch program was started as a way of disposing of the overproduction of subsidized agriculture, we must hang our head in shame knowing our children will be served chicken nuggets Tuesday at PS 125.  The catch phrase that emerged from his book The Omnivore’s Dilemma was “Eat food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants.”  We’re totally with that on Cookus Interruptus.  In this latest interview he goes a step further and tells listeners, “Don’t buy any food you’ve ever seen advertised.”  What about you?  Does he go too far?  Not far enough?

Food Resolutions

When I was in Kansas over Thanksgiving I visited Kenneth King’s farm.  He raises cows and chickens and provides the local community with rich, flavorful milk, butter, yogurt, eggs, beef and poultry.  As Kenneth showed me around the farm he talked about keeping the animals “stress-free”.  His cows were not just relaxed, they were downright friendly. The more I learn about food from pastured animals, the more I am resolved to buying meat and eggs from local vendors who pay attention to Kenneth’s practices.

What are your New Year’s food resolutions?  Are you planning to join a CSA, shop more often at the farmer’s market, learn how to cook dark leafy greens, get off diet coke (please do that), quit eating bread (sounds drastic)?  Maybe you are resolved to buy some decent cookware.  Or plan to cook more often to save money.  Do you agree with Michael Pollan that we should “Pay more and eat less”?  We make over 200 choices each day about food.  What routine food decisions are you thinking about changing? How can Cookus Interruptus help you in your quest?