I love Michael Pollan. His book, The Botany of Desire, forever changed the way I think about apples (Johnny Appleseed as a hard-cider swilling Dionysus), and marijuana (did you know your body naturally produces some of the same active chemicals found in weed?). His latest Food Rules rocked my world, too: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” Simple, elegant, pithy. As a former anorexic with a disturbing past tendency to punish myself around food, I would add the following corollary: “Not too little food, either!” Not too much and not too little is the secret to balance in everything. (I’ll discuss this more in terms of intuitive eating in a later post.)
Twinkies and Slim Jims do not count as “food”, according to Pollan; too many ingredients (he recommends eating things with less than five ingredients), half of which your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food… polysorbate 60, sodium nitrate, hydrolyzed soy protein.
I love the idea of my great-grandmother picking up items at the local Safeway and reading the ingredients with one eyebrow cocked up, lips pursed.
Maltodextrin? Emulsifier: E-471? In her flour-dusted apron, she'd politely place the Pringles can back on the shelf and wonder to herself when she’d stopped understanding English. Wandering down the baking aisle, after a brief mystified glance at the Betty Crocker section (What?! Cake in a box? She’d shake the box and think aloud, “Strange. It doesn’t sound like cake.”), she’d load up her cart with two 20 lb bags of flour ($2 off two with your Safeway club card!), a can of baking powder, and be on her way. Biscuits, pie, and the farm. What else does a family need?
Whole foods provide a nutritional punch processed foods lose—ahem—in the process. Vegetables and fruits normally require you to interact with them: peel them, often cook them, and sit down to eat and enjoy them. Processed foods are designed to be eaten anywhere, on the run, in the car, while pumping your gas. Of course, yesterday while waiting for a red light, I saw a twenty-something hipster stride by in the crosswalk eating a salad out of a plastic container with a fork. Maybe we’ll figure out how to cook and walk too. Sigh.
What does all of this have to do with loving your body? Your body evolved over millions of years eating whole foods. Modern processed foods have only been around for several decades. Whole foods are your body’s home base, its basic fuel source. Many of us have trained ourselves to survive on processed foods, and our minds and bodies may come to crave these foods almost exclusively. This is why the farmers market is a great way to bring more whole foods into your diet. In the outside air, away from the aisles of canned meat and sugar cereals, your body can experience what humans have experienced for thousands of years, since the first farmers grew a surplus to sell to their neighbors: a community brought together to feed their bodies from the abundance of the earth. Amid the stands of brightly colored seasonal produce, notice what the predominant color is: in almost every season, it’s green. Invite your eyes to take in the saturated green of the chard leaves, the silvery green of the dinosaur kale, and the feathery green of freshly pulled carrot tops.
If you’re a regular at the farmers market, just listen to what your body wants, let it choose what’s for dinner. If you’re new to the market, go and buy just one thing your body feels drawn to. Ask the person standing next to you how to best prepare it. Who knows, in Berkeley you might be standing next to Alice Waters or Jessica Prentice! Or Michael Pollan himself.