My friend Rich Shipe proposes a topic: He writes, “Has anyone done anything on Modernism and Post-Modernism and their impact on the food we eat? For food are we still under Modernism or have we moved into post-modern food? Americans generally eat garbage and what we eat is certainly not classical!” He then offers some tasty quotes from Michael Pollan, author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and “In Defense of Food”:
Michael Pollan: Food’s under attack from two quarters. It’s under attack from the food industry, which is taking, you know, perfectly good whole foods and tricking them up into highly processed edible foodlike substances, and from nutritional science, which has over the years convinced us that we shouldn’t be paying attention to food, it’s really the nutrients that matter. And they’re trying to replace foods with antioxidants, you know, cholesterol, saturated fat, omega-3s, and that whole way of looking at food as a collection of nutrients, I think, is very destructive.
Pollan: Nutritionism is the prevailing ideology in the whole world of food. And it’s not a science. It is an ideology. And like most ideologies, it is a set of assumptions about how the world works that we’re totally unaware of. And nutritionism, there’s a few fundamental tenets to it. One is that food is a collection of nutrients, that basically the sum of — you know, food is the sum of the nutrients it contains. The other is that since the nutrient is the key unit and, as ordinary people, we can’t see or taste or feel nutrients, we need experts to help us design our foods and tell us how to eat.
Another assumption of nutritionism is that you can measure these nutrients and you know what they’re doing, that we know what cholesterol is and what it does in our body or what an antioxidant is. And that’s a dubious proposition.
And the last premise of nutritionism is that the whole point of eating is to advance your physical health and that that’s what we go to the store for, that’s what we’re buying. And that’s also a very dubious idea. If you go around the world, people eat for a great many reasons besides, you know, the medicinal reason. I mean, they eat for pleasure, they eat for community and family and identity and all these things. But we’ve put that aside with this obsession with nutrition.
And I basically think it’s a pernicious ideology. I mean, I don’t think it’s really helping us. If there was a trade-off, if looking at food this way made us so much healthier, great. But in fact, since we’ve been looking at food this way, our health has gotten worse and worse.
To shoehorn this into the modern/postmodern explanatory paradigm, this nutritionist mindset would be modernist with all of that scientific reductionism, reducing food to nutritional chemicals and the intangible pleasures of food to good health, as if a meal were really a medicine. There is a postmodern cuisine, which tries to be multicultural, unequally yoking traditional foods from different cultures (e.g., sushi tacos), but the true postmodernist cuisine I think is fast food: It offers a superficially pleasurable taste-sensation, but is bad for us, and is stripped of all family, traditional, and aesthetic meaning, but can be justified because “this is what people like.”