What the Foodies Get Wrong
An enormous amount of public discourse has been dedicated to promoting the notion that processed food is making us overweight. In this narrative, the food-industrial complex—particularly the fast-food industry—has engineered its offerings to addict us to fat, sugar, and salt, causing or at least heavily contributing to the obesity crisis. In virtually every realm of human existence, we turn to technology to help us solve our problems. But when it comes to food-processing technology, it’s widely treated as if it is the problem.
“The food they’re cooking is making people sick,” Michael Pollan, bestselling author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food, has said of big food companies. “It is one of the reasons that we have the obesity and diabetes epidemics that we do … If you’re going to let industries decide how much salt, sugar, and fat is in your food, they’re going to put [in] as much as they possibly can.” The solution, in his view, is to replace—through public education and regulation—Big Food’s engineered, edible evil with fresh, unprocessed, local, seasonal, real food. Pollan’s world view saturates the public conversation on healthy eating. You hear much the same from many scientists, physicians, food activists, nutritionists, celebrity chefs, and pundits. Pollan’s peers, such as Mark Bittman, the New York Times’s lead food writer; Michael Moss, author of Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us; and Melanie Warner, Times reporter and author of Pandora’s Lunchbox: How Processed Food Took Over the American Meal, are all well positioned to spread the message. Thousands of restaurants and grocery stores, most notably the Whole Foods Market chain, have thrived by answering the call to reject industrialized foods in favor of a return to natural, simple, nonindustrialized—let’s call them wholesome—foods.
If the most influential voices in our food culture today get their way, we will achieve a genuine food revolution. Yet despite the best efforts of a small army of wholesome-food heroes, there is no reasonable scenario under which these foods could become cheap and plentiful enough to serve as the core diet for most of the population—obese or otherwise—even in the unlikely case that the typical junk-food eater would be willing and able to break lifelong habits to embrace kale and yellow beets. Besides, many of the dishes glorified by the wholesome-food movement are as caloric as anything served at Burger King.
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