New York Times magazine article on ‘our national eating disorder’

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Society
October 18th, 2004 • 11:31 pm

The New York Times magazine has an excellent article by Michael Pollan titled “Our National Eating Disorder“, which covers everything from the Atkins fad to the “French paradox”.

As a French national living (and eating) in Canada (now a Canadian national too), I can only confirm the fundamental difference between a North American society driven by guilt and a French society driven by pleasure. While things are obviously not so simple — obesity is becoming a problem in France too — on the whole the fact remains, as Michael Pollan points out, that there still is a dramatic difference in the attitude towards food. North Americans are anxious about food, rely more on pseudo-scientific data than on instinct, and end up ruining their health in the process. The media has a big role in this, of course.

I cannot count the number of times I have heard some mainstream reporter talking about how the latest studies show that such and such a food “might” be good/bad for your health. Surely a professional journalist should know, based on recent history, that this is almost always highly debatable “scientific” information, which is very likely to be proven wrong in the next study. Why report on it then? I find it highly unprofessional.

The bottom-line is that this guilt-based approach to food and eating is essentially what makes North Americans sick. I don’t eat junk food, not because I would feel guilty about it, but simply because it doesn’t appeal to me at all. Its taste is usually sickening to me. Why? I guess it’s just a matter of training (or untraining) your taste buds. And, while I can understand the temptation to “binge” and am not completely immune to it myself, most of the time I simply don’t feel the need to indulge. When food tastes great, you don’t need tons of it to feel “satisfied”.

I also cannot help but think that there is a strong parallel between this guilt about food and the fact that so much in American politics these days is driven by fear. Here again, moderation — i.e. perspective — is required. But there’s little of it to be found in American society as a whole, and at the top levels of its administration in particular. And I find that quite sickening.

2 Responses to “New York Times magazine article on ‘our national eating disorder’”

  1. Paul says:

    I couldn’t agree more with your attitudes toward food. Too me, food is a pleasure as well as a necessity. I think I may have been the only one at the Thanksgiving table this year that wasn’t overstuffed before the deserts came out. There is very little in the junk food aisles that appeals to me, although I have a weakness for chocolate, and there aren’t many healthy foods that I dislike. I think we could all benefit by remembering the mantra: Everything in moderation.

  2. Pierre Igot says:

    Real chocolate is not junk food :-). It is rich and has to be enjoyed in moderation, of course, but that’s fairly easy to do if you eat the dark, “intense” kind. A single square piece is enough to satisfy one’s craving (for a while :-)).

    Here again, I find that the popular, “industrial” chocolate that can be found in junk food aisles is only a rather poor substitute, and it too can be sickening. Fortunately, there appears to an increasing amount of imported chocolates from France, Switzerland, Belgium, etc. on store shelves here in Canada. It’s expensive compared to what it would cost in the country of origin, but it’s usually worth it. It’s a matter of educating one’s taste buds. I was fortunate enough to be brought up in an environment that values taste and in a region (Alsace) with a rich culinary tradition. It’s harder to find such an environment over here, though, and I see too many kids and young people who grow up eating the worst possible kind of food. I don’t know what it would take to correct this rather sad state of affairs: taxing junk food? banning junk food advertising? banning junk food in schools? etc. I don’t have kids, so my opinion doesn’t matter much…

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