The author Michael Pollan offers a definition and explanation of the term "nutritionism" in his book In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto . The third chapter is titled "Nutritionism Defined." In it, Pollan explains that the term was coined not by him but by an Australian sociologist of science...
The author Michael Pollan offers a definition and explanation of the term "nutritionism" in his book In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto. The third chapter is titled "Nutritionism Defined." In it, Pollan explains that the term was coined not by him but by an Australian sociologist of science named Gyorgy Scrinis in an essay called "Sorry Marge" that appeared in Meanjin, an Australian literary journal. The article dealt with margarine and its shifting identity depending upon which of its ingredients was most important in prevailing dietary opinion. In defining nutritionism, Pollan quotes Scrinis:
We should understand and engage with the food and our bodies in terms of their nutritional and chemical constituents and requirements—the assumption being that this is all we need to understand.
Pollan goes on to explain that "this reductionist way of thinking about food had been pointed out and criticized before"—and he mentions various scientists as examples—"but it had never before been given a proper name."
In other words, nutritionism is the perception of food in terms of its various components or nutrients. Pollan goes on to explain that nutritionism does not mean the same thing as nutrition. Nutritionism, he writes, is not a science but rather an ideology, a way "of organizing large swaths of life and experience under a set of shared but unexamined assumptions."
Pollan explains that nutritionism implies that food is not what it appears to be, and therefore a "priesthood" composed of scientists and journalists is needed to explain food to laypeople. It also implies that nutrients have to be divided into those that are healthy or unhealthy, good or bad, but the perceptions that influence these decisions are continually changing. In various eras, attention has focused on different nutrients such as proteins, carbohydrates, and fats, each of them at times assuming importance as a sort of "master nutrient." There are also ongoing debates about "carbohydrates versus fiber, animal protein versus plant protein, saturated fats versus polyunsaturated fats," and so on.
In the intense focus of nutritionism on nutrients, it loses sight of the "qualitative distinctions among foods," argues Pollan. As an example, he gives baby formula. Although manufacturers have continued to add what they consider the most essential ingredients to artificial formula, no formula devised can come close to the completeness and overall nutritional value of mother's milk.