Processed Food as Poison

Every couple of years I seem to read a book that is really influential to my thinking and my life. A couple of examples from the past six years or so are Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky and Expect Resistance. I read another book recently that also falls into this category for me: In Defense of Food, by Michael Pollan. It is a really excellent book that has completely revolutionized the way that I think about food. Yes, I ate pretty healthily before reading In Defense of Food. I ate a close-to-vegetarian diet, got regular exercise, maintained a healthy weight, and regularly ate fresh, organic fruits and vegetables.

However, I am now able to think of food with a much more basic framework that makes a lot of sense. Pollen has three basic rules, which he has put right on the cover: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. Of course, Pollen gives lots of background and evidence, and goes into much more depth on these rules. But he has done an excellent job of summing up the whole book into these simple rules that will make it so easy for anyone to remember.

The key was really for Pollen to redefine what you think of as food. For all of the things that you think of as food, stop thinking of all of that processed, refined crap as actually being food. Corn is food. High fructose corn syrup is not food. The idea is to get to the basics. Think of a healthy, local, grass-fed cow as being food. Don’t think of a McDonald’s hamburger as food.

One rule that I have thought of myself that isn’t in the book is to think of this processed crap as actually being poison. After we got back from San Diego one week ago, which is where I read the book in a day and a half (it was that good… and I had that much time on my hands 🙂 ), I haven’t drank any soda. I had been in the habit of having two or three Diet Cokes (with its artificial sweeteners and other strange things that I didn’t really know what they were) a week and one or two ginger ales (with its high fructose corn syrup) a week. That went immediately down to zero when I got back. It didn’t take any effort, and I didn’t look at it as a sacrifice. I simply realized that that crap isn’t food, and in fact it is poison.

Yes, I am going to commit a writing faux pas, but I think it is helpful in this case. Poison, defined:

a substance that through its chemical action usually kills, injures, or impairs an organism b (1) : something destructive or harmful

This pre-packaged, processed, artificially flavored, artificially colored, artificially fertilized, unnatural crap is exactly that: poison. It kills through obesity, diabetes, cancer, and countless other ailments, not to mention the problems of industrial agriculture like global warming, poisoning of our land and water supplies, and workers’ rights.

Here’s to a healthier life through real food.

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  • Hi Stu-
    I have been wanting to read this book! Sounds great. You are such an inspiration to me in your pursuit of good health. Thanks for writing and reminding me to read this Pollan book.