Michael Pollan Has No Clothes


I’ve borrowed the title of this post from an excellent essay by David H. Freedman in The Atlantic about how “junk food” could help curb obesity. The essay begins with three smoothies. The first two are both expensive, heavy on calories, and take several minutes (one of them up to ten) to make. The third is cheaper, lower in calories, and ready in seconds. The first two are considered “healthy” because they come from “healthy” (vegan, organic, wholefood etc) establishments. The third is “unhealthy” because it comes from McDonald’s.

Freedman continues:

In virtually every realm of human existence, we turn to technology to help us solve our problems. But even in Silicon Valley, when it comes to food and obesity, technology—or at least food-processing technology—is widely treated as if it is the problem. The solution, from this viewpoint, necessarily involves turning our back on it.

If the most-influential voices in our food culture today get their way, we will achieve a genuine food revolution. Too bad it would be one tailored to the dubious health fantasies of a small, elite minority. And too bad it would largely exclude the obese masses, who would continue to sicken and die early. Despite the best efforts of a small army of wholesome-food heroes, there is no reasonable scenario under which these foods could become cheap and plentiful enough to serve as the core diet for most of the obese population—even in the unlikely case that your typical junk-food eater would be willing and able to break lifelong habits to embrace kale and yellow beets. And many of the dishes glorified by the wholesome-food movement are, in any case, as caloric and obesogenic as anything served in a Burger King.

I’ve previously commented on the absurdity of disallowing the corporate food industry to involve themselves in combating obesity, and on how food technology is actually much more fantastic than it is evil. I haven’t yet commented on what I’ve long considered the conceit of Pollan et al to suggest that home-cooked food is somehow magically unable to make us sick and fat, and that anything store-bought can only do just that.

Freedman’s essay does most of this important work. So go read it.