Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Women Who Wrote That Book Should Be Punished

So I'm going to go with 10 food things, probably heavy on the Michael Pollan-bashing. I finished the book so hopefully I can get it all out in one post and be done with it. I understand that he's trying to use his powers for good he just...rubs me the wrong way.

On to the listing.

1. Pollan kicks off with, "But most of these items don't deserve to be called food - I call them edible foodlike substances." And I call that smartypants humanlike douchebaggery. The thing is, he's so condescending. He's an organic fed, free range horse's patoot! Bad in itself but not the worst. The worst is that I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt. I thought, well, I'm pretty smart, so maybe he's not talking to me. (Wha?!?!?) Maybe he's talking to other people, people less smart and less well-read than I so maybe he has to talk like that. You know what that means? It means that giving him the benefit of the doubt made me into a condescending douchebag! Unacceptable.

2. He's got a lot of theories about eating like our grandparents and great grandparents. Perhaps his ancestry is French (his go to bad boy success story culture), Italian or Greek. Mine are all from England and Scotland. A lot of white flour, a lot of sugary syrups, a lot potatoes, plenty of oil in which to fry things so basically a whole manner of eating that he is writing a series of books against. You know how old my great grandmother was when she died? 1 month shy of 101. She made awesome pies every time we visited.

3. The other grandparent stuff has to do with quantity of ingestion. Apparently some grandparents counseled their offspring to leave a little food on their plates. In some circles, I guess, that's polite. I'm beginning to suspect that Mr. Pollan's people have always been comfortable financially. My grandparents lived through the Great Depression. Anything you left on your plate was tsked over and saved for another meal. My mother tells of being offered crusty, stale molasses cookies visit after visit to her grandmother because Grammy Allen didn't make any new cookies until the old ones were finished. To say that Grammy Allen was dirt poor is to make it sound as though she had two half pennies to rub together. She did not. We don't leave shit on our plates in my family. I have learned to put less on my plate but that, I think, is slightly different than the sort of teasing of oneself being advocated here.

4. Eat only food that will eventually rot, he says. There's a time commitment implied here. If you only shop once per week then you have to know in advance what you'll be hungry for, how much of it and what you'll be doing with it. You'll have to plan time to cook it, you'll have to eat it, whatever it may be, and you'll have to do all that before it rots. I live alone, I'm a picky-ish eater this is no small change in habits and not having food available that I don't have to deal with in a variety of ways keeps me from panicking. I keep things around that will, at the very least, take a while to rot so that I can be assured of having something to eat that I will actually enjoy when I hit a rotting food wall, if you will. It's a valid fucking choice.

5. Speaking of time commitment, Pollan wants you to cook your own meals. Again, time to cook which I resent the fuck out of and talk to you about all the time. You know where I come from on this. I do cook at least once a week and try to cook a quantity of things to keep me going for that week. Of course, that means I have to have a pretty high tolerance for repetition. I do, actually, but I get the sense that Pollan imagines us each shopping at an organic market every afternoon, strolling home to cook a meal out of those ingredients then eating it in moderation and junking the leftovers. Is this another sign pointing to a lineage with stable financial means? Maybe. At the very least it points to an assumption that none of his readers spends a minimum of 8 hours at a soul deadening job with a 30 - 90 minute commute on either end. Which is not even to speak of spouses, children, pets, volunteering, extended family, friends, hopes, dreams or any other human obligations that might keep us from throwing together a nice bouillabaise in the evening.

6. And while we're talking about time sucks we're to plant a garden or a window box so we're growing a percentage of our own food. I'll give him this, if I followed his rules I'd sure eat a lot less. I have killed every plant I've ever brought into this apartment. Co-op rules prevent me from installing and tending a window box. Plus, gardening takes time. I could, of course, join a community garden and tend a plot there. I think the nearest one is a 10 minute walk away. I assume there's some sort of selection process, you have to give x number of hours to general maintenance as well as your plot and there have to be meetings and group activities as well. So that won't take much out of me. If you dislike gardening or have other things to do with your life it is a huge burden and the returns? Not as huge as you might think, at least on a window box investment. We had veggie gardens the whole time I was growing up. A few teensy carrots, one quadrillion ginormous nasty zuchini, patchy lettuce and some really delicious corn. But corn is a grain, we're not supposed to eat much of that. Oh and rhubarb, lots and lots of rhubarb.

7. OK, here is the one that truly chaps my well-preserved, hefty, probably diabetes-riddled behind: "Be the kind of person who takes supplements - then skip the supplements." It's about how people who take supplements usually exercise more and eat less and eat a lot of vegetables and leave a little bit on their plate and shit promptly at 7am every day (8 during daylight saving). So, basically to follow this rule all one has to do is become someone totally different, right? Oh goodie, I'll get right on that, that won't make my life miserable at all.

8. I did look for things to agree with. I really did, I promise. I found that a lot of the rules, especially the ones in the final section about how to eat, were things I have done since I started Weight Watchers. I don't have any illusions that WW pulled them out of thin air, it's common sense. Common sense for which people are paying $11 per book (or $17 per month WW membership [online only]) packaged as exciting new revelations which corporations have been keeping under wraps in order to cut you off from your most authentic self (whoops, got caught up in the jargon there, I'll be back in a moment, please bear with). It reminds me of an old boss I had who wrote books about how he "discovered" a mind-body connection so that his body told him how and when to invest and he had learned to listen to it which was his secret to becoming a billionaire. Thousands of years worth of yogis and monks might politely disagree about the arrogant "discovered" part.

9. I think the book can be summed up for me in someone's grandmother's advice that Pollan passes along. It's basically that if you aren't hungry enough to eat an apple then you aren't hungry and shouldn't eat anything. It's meant to reduce boredom eating. I get it. I've used it on myself but it's all about deprivation. Dude, I'm fucking 41 years old, 10 lbs overweight and trying to remedy that, I don't need to get in any closer touch with a variety of levels of self-imposed deprivation. 64 rules and only one of them says that you can have whatever you'd like to eat on special occasions. It also includes 3 paragraphs about how on those special occasions you should raise, shop for and prepare those treat foods yourself. I get the feeling that he's not really in favor of special occasion foods.

10. Yesterday in the afternoon at work I found I was hungry. It usually happens around 3pm and I try to be prepared for it. As often as not I have some canned pineapple. It's canned and not organic and probably has added sugar but it tastes good to me, it's got high fiber and it doesn't rot so I can always have it on hand for hunger emergencies and eat pineapple instead of chocolate, granola bars or cookies. Or toast. With butter. Mmmmmmmmm. Sorry. Yesterday, though, I didn't have any on hand. For the same number of points I could have eaten approximately 6 cashews, one granola bar (of the 2 in the package), one measured cup of cereal, a banana, an apple, some berries or one square of chocolate. I'd had some cashews earlier, the granola bar gets eaten quickly so it tends to be less satisfying, bananas make me vomity, they buy the gross kinds of apples at my office (anything with "delicious" in the title is lying), the berries have been a little sour lately and one square of chocolate is my usual treat for the walk home. They have a variety of cereals at work and I can have one whole cup for 2 points since I don't like milk on my cereal. It's good finger food, has a satisfying crunch and you can make it last a while. On the flip side of the varieties of cereal they buy I really only enjoy the Frosted Flakes. They've got a lot of sugar in them and sugar tends to make one more hungry but they have all the other things going for them and there is some percentage of actual grain in there so perhaps as much as once a week I indulge. I indulged yesterday. But I went through all those rules in my head first. Took me a good 20 minutes. And now I've got 64 more to add to the process.


  1. Miflohny10:06 PM

    I hope someone knew how to make a good rhubarb pie with all that rhubarb. Hmmmm rhubarb pie!!! (And, no strawberries - just rhubarb - and I'm sure plenty of sugar!)

  2. Mmmmmm...rhubarb! I love rhubarb. Rhubarb pie (definitely no strawberries), rhubarb dessert, rhubarb sauce on ice cream...yum yum yum.

    I completely agree with each of your points. Mr. Pollan's ideas are fabulous for those who can afford to pay someone to grow and cook for them. The hoi polloi simply don't have time.

  3. Anonymous11:51 AM

    Really, did we read the same book? I don't think it came off as douchey at all. I think it made a lot of sense actually. I have struggled with an eating disorder for the last 4 years and I felt like his book was just a common sense approach to eating. I was vegan for 12 years so maybe the idea of eating plenty of veggies wasn't that annoying to me.

    Just because someone tells you the truth and you don't like it, doesn't mean they are a douche. Nothing you say you ate sounds bad, it all sounds healthy and delicious. It's true that eating mostly fruits and veggies will help you maintain a healthier lifestyle and weight.

    His point was not to obsess about food, just eat, but eat stuff that is real food, not junk. Yeah, super douchey. He should just kill himself.

  4. My grandfather made a lot of strawberry rhubarb jam that he and my mother ate straight from the jar with spoons. I think someone made pie sometimes but I'm pretty sure that usually had strawberry, too. I used to eat stalks of rhubarb dipped in sugar as a snack. That's not a snack for the weak of heart. Don't think I'd manage it at my current age.

    Anonymous, come out and say it loud and proud, no need to hide there in Albuquerque! As I said, he makes some common sense points indeed and yet in quite the douchey manner...as interpreted by me. The NY Times best seller list has already informed me that I'm in a minority, I promise, I'm paying attention. And I would certainly never request his death, but I would ask him some hard core questions about how he expects people who don't work from home or have high incomes and plenty of time to conform to his rules. And on an extremely serious note I fear his high profile rules that advocate thinking about food all day every day could be very dangerous for people struggling with eating disorders. Some people. Maybe not you. Maybe. I don't know. I don't know you and you didn't leave your name so I can't learn more about you. That's a problem I had with Weight Watchers when I started and one that I continue to work on. How do I develop a healthy and not obsessive relationship with food when the program designed to give me that relationship necessitates obsessing on food? It's not easy. And here we all are working on it. Some with more success than others.

  5. Hi, my name is Megan, I posted as anon yesterday because you don't know me, and I don't know you, but I came across your blog and wanted to comment. Didn't think it was necessary to leave my name since you don't know me, I stand corrected.

    I really think you need to grow up. Why pick up a book about changing your eating habits if you aren't willing to change your eating habits? What is so difficult about this book? The main points are, Eat food, not too much, mostly plants. This is not a raw foods macrobiotic diet you are being asked to try, with hours and hours, sometimes days, of prep work for one meal. His entire point is to NOT think about food all day every day, to just eat. Somehow you missed that point. Yes, eat mostly veggies, and less processed stuff, what terrrible, terrible advice.

    You are single, you live in Brooklyn and you are complaining that you just can't possible cook a meal or grocery shop for yourself? I live in the middle of New Mexico and have a family of 5 and somehow we manage to work and make meals and grocery shop. We must be magic. Your idea that eating a salad is somehow beyond your budget is just ridiculous. You really come across as a whiny, self-absorbed sad person.

    Grow up, buy some fruits and veggies, or if that is just too much work for a single person to accomplish for herself order a few meals from here:


    Too bad you don't live in one of the largest cities in the world where fresh and convenient foods are readily available on every corner. Oh wait you do.

  6. And too bad you didn't read enough of the archives to know where I get all my groceries.

    Thanks for leaving your name. I appreciate it. I thought Alburquerque was a pretty large city, too. Maybe I'm wrong.

  7. Miflohny9:29 PM

    Megan, just because Kizz wrote a review that you disagreed with, there's no need to be super snarky. I'm sure Polan made a lot of great points - Kizz admitted as much. It was the tone she objected to, but I don't know how it could be more douchey than yours. And being single doesn't mean that you automatically have tons of time or energy. You don't know what Kizz's budget is, so how can you know what she can afford? And just because NY is a big city, doesn't mean that every neighborhood is blessed with the availability of fresh food. Kizz does order from Fresh Direct, but for you to blithely suggest that she do so shows you don't really understand that economically, that is not possible for a lot of people. And, by the way, Kizz is one of the least whiny, self-absorbed people I know.

  8. I haven't read the book, but what I have heard from Pollan on the radio makes sense. Eat food, mostly plants, not too much. It doesn't sound that radical until you look at what people are eating. We are at the point where people think Hot Pockets and Breaded Deep-Fried reconstituted chicken parts (chicken nuggets) and Pop Tarts and Pizza Bites are acceptable food. That they are ok for children and other people. And they really aren't.

    I'm no saint, and God knows there are enough frozen pizzas in my life, though I try to keep improving. But fresh vegetables & fresh fruits are missing from SO MANY people's diets. When the rules about eating 5 servings of fruit a day were released, the average child was eating ONE. So.

    I think Pollan is out on the edge of the wedge. But he has pushed the discussion toward real, healthy food, and I appreciate that.

  9. ~annie3:47 PM

    I have read the book and I loved the term "edible foodlike substances." I took that to mean stuff like Wonder Bread, Froot Loops, CheezWhiz and such. You know, the purely fabricated junk. No matter where one lives, one can make better choices than those, and I'm sure you do.