Filed Under: Big Fat Lies Food Police

Mealtime Ménage Et Toi

Like a scene from a Harlequin romance novel, literary food activist Michael Pollan writes a sexy, but selective, account of America’s obesity bedfellows in this week’s New York Times Magazine. He blames the food industry, science, and the media for America’s inability to eat "healthily" (translation: the way he wants them to), but conveniently fails to mention the real key players.According to Pollan, the public’s confusion about food stems from "the institutional imperatives of the food industry, nutritional science and … journalism, three parties that stand to gain much from widespread confusion." However, if his list were an accurate inventory of groups contributing to nutritional confusion, then food activists would rank at the top.For example. The food fanatics at the Center for Science in the Public Interest boast about their exaggerated claims, and applaud themselves for "finding something wrong with practically everything." And the anti-meat goons at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine are notorious for misleading the public by linking commonplace foods like milk and meat to child abuse.But Pollan conveniently acts like these exaggeraholics have nothing to do with national nutritional bewilderment. Instead, he narrows his attack on alleged scientific shortcomings:

Scientists need individual variables they can isolate.Yet even the simplest food is a hopelessly complex thing to study … So if you’re a nutritional scientist, you do the only thing you can do, given the tools at your disposal: break the thing down into its component parts and study those one by one, even if that means ignoring complex interactions and contexts.

Scientific American was quick to post a response to Pollan’s assertions that science fails to address this complexity quagmire. Their response defends specific approaches used to tackle details and recognizes that analyzing "everything in our diet is a colossal undertaking that science isn’t close to accomplishing, but readers shouldn’t go away thinking that science is blind to the problem."Still, Pollan is too busy condemning fruits of the scientific method to notice that his own guidelines are grounded in decades of nutritional discoveries. Daniel Engber’s rebuttal in Slate sums up this hypocrisy:

Solid epidemiological work has validated the standard advice we get from our doctors: Exercise more and eat your fruits and vegetables. Pollan cites the same scientific research to support what he describes as his "flagrantly unscientific" diet plan: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

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