How does Michael Pollan define the term nutritionism?

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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...

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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.

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Micheal Pollan defines nutritionism in his article "Unhappy Meals" as an unchallenged ideology that judges food solely on its nutrients. In other words, it's an ideology that assumes the only purpose of consuming food is for its nutritional value.

He describes this nutrition-based ideology as one that has developed gradually over time. Instead of traditional "breakfast cereal" at the grocery store, our attention has slowly been drawn to terms such as "fibers" and "cholesterol." Pollan argues that since most people know nothing about these nutrients themselves, we are forced to rely on nutritional scientists to tell us what's good or bad. Pollan compares these scientists to priests in a religion. Only, instead of interpreting the will of a deity, they translate terms like fiber and cholesterol to the general public. They tout or decry the effectiveness of new and restrictive diets.

Pollan argues these nutritional experts do more harm than good because our collective understanding of nutritional science is incomplete. One day, a new study says that a low-fat diet will prevent breast cancer. The next day, a newer study says that it won't. As proponents of nutritionism, nutritionists lead people to focus on the nutrients in food, not the food itself. One inherent problem with this focus, Pollan argues, is that we don't know if the isolated nutrient is healthy within itself or only healthy within the actual food. Food manufacturers will add trending miracle nutrients to their food products and claim the benefit of the miracle without knowing for sure.

Pollan clearly opposes nutritionism and states that a food's value is "more than the sum of its parts." Diet and culture are two major factors that nutritionism does not account for. What works for one person within the context of their diet and lifestyle might not even be healthy for another. As a result, his advice is simple: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." In other words, stick to whole foods and don't overeat.

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Michael Pollan defines the term differently from the prevailing consensus. According to his conversation with Amy Goodman, the current definition of nutritionism is as follows:

1)Food is essentially made up of a collection of nutrients. Since we can't taste nutrients, we must trust experts to tell us what to consume.

2)An assumption of nutritionism is that all the nutrients we consume are measurable. Michael Pollan states that this is a dubious assumption.

3)The main purpose of eating, according to the experts, is to maintain proper physical health. All other reasons for eating (such as for personal enjoyment or as part of a bonding activity during a social gathering) are ignored in the obsessive concern with the nutrient content of food.

This is how Michael Pollan defines nutritionism:

1) Good nutrition is about consuming unprocessed, natural foods such as whole grain breads and raw fruits and vegetables.

2) One of the best ways to eat well is to purchase more local farm products. Michael Pollan asserts that local produce is going to be more nutritious because it is fresher and hasn't endured long transit periods from the producer to the consumer.

3) Growing food without chemicals may not be as efficient as the global model, but it can be more sustainable. Foods are more nutritious if they are grown without the use of harmful pesticides and not genetically modified.

4) The healthiest and most nutritious diets are traditional diets such as the Mediterranean diet or the Japanese diet, where the emphasis is on unprocessed and natural foods.

So, to Michael Pollan, nutritionism should be an ideology that proposes a whole foods diet, sustained by produce from local farmers.

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