Nutritionism

One of the things I said I’d address in this blog is health and nutrition.  The topic is a rather broad one and not at all simple, so I’ve had a hard time deciding where to start.  There are plenty of misconceptions I want to rail against, but I think a better starting point is to lay the groundwork of how and why nutrition related posts fit the overall theme of this blog.  There are actually a couple of reasons for this.

The first is simply that health care costs will eventually reach a breaking point.  There’s this perception that modern medicine is allowing us to live longer and that’s why health care costs are so high.  That’s not exactly true.  We have a longer life expectancy than non-Westernized cultures, but that’s mainly attributable to infant and child mortality.  Once an individual in a non-Westernized culture reaches adulthood, their life expectancy is just as long.  If such healthy, long-lived, isolated cultures did not exist, we would not have studies such as the Blue Zones.  True, most of our health care costs are spent at the end of life, but this is still spent mainly on the degenerative diseases.  I need more research on this but my understanding of adults in the non-Westernized cultures is that they pass well into old age with little to no manifestation of our degenerative diseases.

The second and I believe more important reason is that our nutritional beliefs tie directly together with our wealth creating and wealth preserving social structures.  We live in a world (as Michael Pollan put it) of Nutritionism.  The secret to health is supposedly counting calories and avoiding fat.  Never does the mainstream talk about the quality of food or the quality of soil on which it is raised or grown.  Nor do they talk about the importance of getting a balance of all the nutrients a small farm would provide, including butter and animal products.  Both principles are important not only for our own health but also the return of a strong, dynamic, local economy based on a strong ecosystem.  Small farms work best when they use animals to complete the nutrient cycle.

When we start worrying about things like amount of saturated fat, instead of asking how an animal was raised or how a farm is operated, we are prioritizing Nutritionism over the ideals of local and sustainable.  Large food companies like it this way, because they can always market to Nutritionism: low-carb, low-fat, reduced calorie, etc.  But thinking about these things is not conducive to a healthy relationship with food, and our relationship with food is part and parcel of our relationship with each other, with the land, and with our sense of place.

As we will see in this blog, many of the ideas in Nutritionism, be they low-carb, low-fat, or low-calorie, are really lacking solid scientific evidence.  Once the evidence underlying these ideas is in question, then we really have no choice but to revert to the dietary principles of the non-Westernized cultures that have demonstrated robust health and longevity.

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