Thursday, January 7, 2010
I was catching up on episodes of The Daily Show and Monday's guest was the infamous Micheal Pollan. He was on to promote his new book, "Food Rules". This book is a continuation of his other food related work, which is light on science/facts and heavy on oversimplified advice based on a false premise.
The book is meant to be a series of quirky do's and don'ts that will help you lead a healthier lifestyle. One example of a rule he gave to Jon Stewart was not to eat any cereal that colors your milk. It sounds very sage-like and quaint but is not based on science.
What is he saying? Is he saying that the food coloring used is harmful to your health? Is he saying that those foods tend to be higher in calories? Is this another high fructose corn syrup warning? He isn't clear, but to leave to be sure, allow me to settle each of these issues.
I've already been over this. it's the same as sugar. No worse.
Too many calories are bad for anyone's health. The problem comes in demonizing a specific foods. It's not a specific food and it's not one meal, it's all meals over a long time. It takes 3500 calories to make a pound and many pound to cause health problems. An adult will burn at least 1800 calories in a day and up to several thousand more if they are very active or have high metabolism. A 3,000 calories Aussie Cheese Fries appetizer from Outback Steakhouse isn't something you should eat every day, but it isn't intrinsically bad. If you haven't had those, by the way, please do and be sure to share! It will have be a great source of fat, sodium, starch, protein, and other vital minerals/nutrients. A bowl of cereal, on the other hand, might have 200 calories including the milk. You have to eat a lot of cereal for it to make you fat. If I were trying to gain weight, it would be very low on my list of foods to eat.
No credible studies link ailments to the use of food coloring, certainly not in the quantities used in production. This is one of my examples of the Illusion of Fact. it's said enough that people don't question the information, they just assume it's true because people are still saying it. 'Oh sure, everyone knows that.' is the response that you can get to these statements that aren't even true. Actually, Pollan's entire career of food writing can be attributed to this phenomenon.
This interesting exchange came up in the interview where Jon Stewart asked if there is going to be some big finding that shows food industry leaders lied and withheld info about how bad their food is just like with the tobacco industry. Part of Michael Pollan's response was to say that Food Science is very sophisticated.
I find this to be a very remarkable admission on his part. The context of the question was about proof of danger to the public health. He is either saying that food science is over his head or that 1,000's of food scientists the world over are involved in a vast conspiracy. He's making a ton of money doing this, folks. This isn't just a hobby for him.
He has the means to go to UC Davis in California, or to Cornell in New York, or even to my Alma Mater, Ohio State and learn from world class food science departments. He doesn't. Michael Pollan chooses to be willfully ignorant about food science. Think about it; what happens when he learns that what he's been telling people isn't true? He has now built a career on his claims about food and the food industry. He would be ruined. No more appearances on Good Morning America or The Daily Show, or Conan. His credibility would be shot.
And make no mistake, his credibility would be shot to hell because he is wrong about food. I think I should start an online petition for one of the schools I listed to give him a free ride scholarship so he can be a food science student. I'd love to see his face when they burst his bubble, and believe me, it will get busted early and often. I've seen it in students that have similar beliefs about food. Usually, they'll assert themselves and very matter-of-factly make some statement about food that they know to be true. The class pauses before the professor very calmly and patiently shows how that is false. And the instructors won't belittle them at all. They'll use math or draw pictures of chemical structures or refer to studies that they have been privy to and slowly the misinformation, like so much plaque on the brain is removed.