Let Them Eat Brussels Sprouts
Where the Pollanites get into real trouble—where their philosophy becomes so glib and wrongheaded that it is actually immoral—is in the claim that their style of food shopping and eating is the answer to the country’s weight problem.
The most obvious problem with the “let them eat Brussels sprouts” philosophy of affluent wholesome-food advocates involves the price and availability of wholesome food. Even if Whole Foods or Real Food Daily weren’t, say, three bus rides away for the working poor, and even if three ounces of Vegan Cheesy Salad Booster, a Sea Cake appetizer, and a vegetarian quiche weren’t laden with fat and problematic carbs, few among the low-income would be likely to shell out $5.99, $9.95, or $16, respectively, for those pricey treats.
A slew of start-ups are trying to find ways to produce fresh, local, unprocessed meals quickly and at lower cost. But could this food eventually be sold as cheaply,conveniently, and ubiquitously as today’s junky fast food? Not even according to Mark Bittman, who explored the question in a recent New York Times Magazine article. Even if wholesome food caught on with the public at large, including the obese population, and even if poor and working-class people were willing to pay a premium for it, how long would it take to scale up from a handful of shops to the tens of thousands that would be required to make a dent in the obesity crisis? How long would it take to create the thousands of local farms we’d need in order to provide these shops with fresh, unprocessed ingredients, even in cities?
And even if America somehow becomes absolutely saturated with highly affordable outlets for wholesome, locally sourced dishes, what percentage of the junk-food-eating obese will be ready to drop their Big Macs, fries, and Cokes for grilled salmon on chard? “Everyone’s mother and brother has been telling them to eat more fruit and vegetables forever, and the numbers are only getting worse,” says Steven Nickolas, who runs the Healthy Food Project in Scottsdale, Arizona. “We’re not going to solve this problem by telling people to eat unprocessed food.”
Next: What Big Food knows about weight loss »