Saturday, April 17, 2010

Pass the Grassfed Butter

There's little love lost between John Robbins ("Diet For a New America") and the Weston A Price Foundation ("Nourishing Traditions"), but as I see it there is a lot of commonality in their messages. Both are concerned with sustainable agriculture, human health, and animal welfare, and both see (or should see) giant agribusiness as the biggest threat to these things. That's also been the constant thread I've followed from being a lapsing and imperfect vegetarian to a confirmed omnivore and "food-aware-ian."

Unfortunately for Robbins, one of his important pillars is the lipid hypothesis, the idea that saturated fat and cholesterol are the major causes of cardiovascular disease. This is looking more and more like a case of incomplete science become entrenched public policy. Perhaps the work of Uffe Ravnskov ("The Cholesterol Myths") shows this best.

Maybe the most compelling part of the Weston Price message is that the diet of our ancestors, the food that supported generations of humanity up until the last few, could possibly be healthy for us and the planet after all. Defining the traditional diet is where it gets a little trickier.

Staying away from the soy-vs-beef debates, but still taking aim at big ag, journalists Michael Pollan ("The Omnivore's Dilemma") and Eric Schlosser ("Fast Food Nation") teamed up with documentarian Robert Kenner to bring us the 2008 film "Food, Inc." If you haven't thought much about where your food really comes from, this film and these books should change that.


  1. My father spent his teen years on a farm where they ate and drank what they produced (and sold the excess for profit). Today, we feed our family from canned and frozen products, very often containing everything from bovine and human growth hormone to engineered genetics, the effect of which upon our systems is entirely unknown because impossible to ethically derive experimental results (so, we are all guinea pigs).

    The issues of the economics of agriculture, questions of economies of scale, and food safety - not just in the processing and sales end, but in production as well - become tied up with all sorts of issues from sustainable agriculture in the Third World to trade to economic regulation and the know becomes kind of super-Gordian. Yet, as we become more and more aware of the way food and eating are central not just to other societies and cultures but to our own, we should start paying attention to the ways what we put in to our bodies for nourishment can play havoc with our systems. Beyond this, I'm really not sure where to begin or how to proceed.

  2. Yes, it is complicated, but I think one can adopt principles that can be a guide. For instance, should 3rd world countries be encouraged to grow cash crops and import food, as has been done for decades, or should they emphasize local food self-sufficiency and sustainability? The same principle can be applied to urban and suburban neighborhoods in the USA. Where are victory gardens in the War on Terror? Michele Obama's White House garden is a powerful symbol, hopefully Barry is spending a little time in there weeding...