Not! Actually! Filtered! As mystickeeper
says, "This shit is gonna get real." Well maybe.
So I used some of my few spoons this week to go to the Michael Pollan lecture
on campus. I haven't gotten around to actually finishing any his books yet, but I seem to have absorbed a lot of his ideas through reading articles and seeing interviews, and maybe just the cultural zietgiest. I went with a bunch of friends. antarcticlust
and I were whispering furiously and annoying the guy in front of us; yes-- I was being That Guy! Going to the Special Hell for talking in the Theater! Well, the hockey arena, in this case. Antarcticlust took notes. There were people there in t-shirts that said "In Defense of Farming", apparently as a protest, and we talked about that some. The t-shirts were the same color as the volunteer t-shirts, which we thought was Quite Interesting, since it seems to assume a defensive position--as in, they are trying to blend in and not be tossed out. But we also thought it was brave of them for coming and protesting, even if we thought it was misguided (see below).
Michael Pollan seems to like discourse, controversy, and arguing--he does not seem at all threatened by disagreement and does not seem to get ruffled. I kind of envy this trait-- it shows great security and patience and humor, I think, and also an equivocal mind that is willing to considering other points of view. He addressed the protesters and said he agreed with their slogan: "Eat food, be healthy, thank a farmer," or some such. He said he thinks farmers hold the key to 3 crises facing America: the health crisis, the energy crisis, and the environmental crisis. (At "environment," antarcticlust inhaled and mouthed "no".) Pollan is very pro-farmer in many ways-- what he is against is big agri-business. The most damning moment was when he said that the American food industry made over 800 billion dollars last year, and less than 10% of that went to farmers. A greater share went to people who make packaging for processed foods.
Pollan is an engaging and clear speaker. I liked a lot of what he had to say. He talked a lot about "the rise of nutritionism", how that benefits processed foods (and businesses) and how it contributes to moralistic eating. Since we can't sense nutrients, we must rely on experts to tell us how to eat. He compared this to a type of religion where if you can't sense God, you must rely on a priesthood to tell you God's will. Then there are "good nutrients" (calcium, fiber, beta-carotene), and "evil nutrients" (carbs, cholesterol, trans fats, saturated fat, etc), and we are looking for these instead of eating food. Also we are chasing after health (good or bad) with each meal, instead of eating for pleasure or community or other reasons.
He and many other people have gone after "high fructose corn syrup" because it's a marker for highly processed foods. But now savvy marketers have found a way around that: by advertising their products as having "real cane sugar". They are marketing their products by saying, Look! SUGAR! Which is bizarre.
He talked of many other things but that is what stands out for me.
On twitter @ThatKarenB said, "Was anyone protesting Pollan's attitudes towards fat people? AFAICT, that's more accurate than the "anti-farming" thing."
Which I think is a good point, and I am going to talk about that now.
I would say it's not Pollan's attitudes precisely, but that he is uncritically adopting the wider cultural attitude of fatness as a disease. Several times he said that the Western diet is responsible for "heart disease, Type II diabetes, and obesity."
I have been thinking and thinking about this, and I need to think about it some more, because it's complicated and it makes me uncomfortable. One thing that helps me is reading Kate Harding: Don't You Realize Fat is Unhealthy?
Also I think it's weird to pathologize a body type
. Diseases are socially constructed; what is and is not a disease is not so easy to say. And I think it's weird to say that being fat is a disease. I think it's OK to say that some things associated
with being fat are diseases, that being fat might make you more likely
to have certain diseases, but even then you should remember that it is not a one-to-one situation and does not apply to everyone: it's only true at the population level, and association does not necessarily imply causation, either. It is more complicated than that!
It's a false equivalancy: people like to think that being fat means being unhealthy, automatically. They like to think that being thin (but not too thin!) means good health. Well guess what, that is not always the case either. It's more complicated!
I'm not sure if Pollan would even disagree with me on these things. It's just that I want there to be less hatred of fatness and bodies, and I think his agenda (which I think is a good one) and mine can coexist. I've also been thinking about intersectionality with disability, since there is this fundamental concept of not assuming that disabled people need or want to be fixed. ("But surely-- surely being disabled is bad? Wouldn't you be fixed if you could be? Wouldn't you be thin if you could be?") (Say it with me: it's more complicated!)
Just things I'm thinking about. I'm aware not everyone will agree with me here.
ETA: there are some great comments at LJ!