Healthy Hero: Michael Pollan

When we first embarked on our healthy journey here at The Holist, we were desperate to learn more about nutrition, our food chain and what we should eat and why and wished someone could point us in the direction of sound advice that we could trust.

In this new series here at The Holist we’ll be doing just that and introducing you to a few of our favourite wellness personalities to help you on your quest to educate yourself on your own healthy living journey. First up is the amusing and astute 'real food' activist and writer Michael Pollan.

Image: Michaelpollan.com

Image: Michaelpollan.com

Pollan is a multiple New York Times bestseller and award-winning writer and journalist who has spent the last twenty-five years writing “about the places where nature and culture intersect: on our plates, in our farms and gardens, and in the built environment”. He has been named one of the world’s most influential people by TIME magazine in 2010 as well as one the Top 10 “New Thought Leaders” by Newsweek in 2009. 

Pollan’s In Defence of Food was one of the first books we read on our journey towards a healthier lifestyle here at The Holist. His message, that the incredibly complex and contradictory vortex of advice on what to eat could be boiled down to seven basic words, Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants”, instantly had us hooked. The book’s message is simple, reject the “edible food-like substances” that we have been conditioned to consume, in favour of real food. Basically, “don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognise as food”, he argues. Humans have been deciding what to eat for time immortal and yet somehow today we have found ourselves at the mercy of the unholy trinity of the omnipotent food industry, nutritional science and the media who rule the simplest decisions of human nutrition. 

The result is 'the American paradox' (equally applicable to us in the rest of the developed world): namely that the more concerned we become about nutrition and health, the sicker and fatter we seem to become. 

Pollan blames the ideology of ‘Nutritionism’, essentially the belief that the nutritional value of food can be reduced to the sum of the individual nutrient values therein. The problem with the widespread adoption of this ideology, Pollan explains, is that given that nutrients are invisible to the human eye, we are reliant on the ‘priests’ of Nutritionism (nutritional scientists and journalists) to interpret the latest orthodoxy for us. Both the food industry and nutritional science therefore have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo of public bewilderment surrounding nutrition, which perpetuates the vicious cycle.  Unfortunately, due to the inherent reductionist bias within science, studying each nutrient in isolation rather than as a composite whole ignores key contextual factors related to how we eat such as diet and culture. As a result, policy makers can’t make up their mind as to what constitutes good and evil resulting in dangerous and contradictory public health advice (the fat fallacy anyone?) which in turn has led to the development of some of the worst chronic diseases of our time such as obesity and diabetes.

In Pollan’s view, the question of our health is a inseparable from that of our food chain. Therefore, we need to reject Nutritionism and instead look back to a time when the prevailing ecosystem was for people to eat real, unprocessed food, they sourced from locally, grown sources.

One of the reasons we started The Holist was to provide our readers with a trusted haven for health news and information, somewhere that will do the hard work for you, digesting and distilling the most important advice from the constant barrage of contradictory health messages peddled by the media and food industry. For us Pollan's values are the perfect starting point and serve as a vital reminder that, despite the stereotypes, living a healthy lifestyle is a realistic and attainable goal for us all. In fact, In Defence of Food is one of the first books we recommend to family and friends when we are trying to convert them to our philosophy! So if you’re looking for a powerful manifesto to help you navigate the shifting sands of what really is good for you, delivered with the eloquence and wit that you'd expect from a former Executive Editor of The New York Times Magazine, then we suggest you turn to Mr. Pollan.

No need to take our word for it, have a look for yourself! Speaking at an event chaired by Tim Lang, professor of Food Policy at City University London, in this video Pollan argues that cooking is one of the simplest and most important steps people can take to improve their family's health, build communities, fix our broken food system, and break our growing dependence on corporations. If you liked this, also check out his TED Talk 'A Plant's-eye View' here.

Here are a couple of our favourite books by Mr. Pollan, (you can buy them here) which we'd strongly recommend as a great starting point for getting back to basics and understanding where your food comes from. An abridged version of  In Defence of Food’s main message can also be found in Pollan’s New York Times article ‘Unhappy Meals’.  Pollan's works will also give you the chance to arm yourself with some pretty powerful ammunition to reply to all the haters that criticise your lifestyle choices. He also has links to many of his articles and some really useful FAQs on his website michaelpollan.com.

What are your thoughts on Pollan's message? Let us know below!

We are in the process of building out the Resources section of the site so you’ll have all of our favourite healthy living resources and recommendations in one easy place. Watch this space!