Real Food, Real Answers: 8 Questions with Michael Pollan
Michael answers the most frequently asked questions about how to reduce the amount of processed food in your diet and start incorporating fresh foods into your daily life.
A: Just because something is called "healthy" doesn't mean it is. I would go vegetarian on prepared foods like this if there is no alternative. Amy's Organics has some good items. But is it really so hard to grill or sauté a chicken breast and serve it with some frozen peas or spinach? In the amount of time it takes to microwave a TV dinner, you can put something much tastier on the table, I promise.
Q: I don't cook, so what should I feed my child?
A: If you don't cook, you should look for the simplest, most wholesome prepared and packaged foods: a short list of ingredients (five, say, and definitely less than 10), and all ingredients you've heard of or that you can picture in their natural state or that normal people have in their cupboard. (See the rules in my book Food Rules.) There is nothing wrong—and much right—about frozen vegetables, and they're a great deal, so consider these as an options.
And ask yourself, why don't you cook? You don't know how? You don't have time? Maybe by adjusting your priorities or taking a class, you could learn some of the basics. It's really not hard to put a wholesome meal on the table in a half hour—and the rewards are incredible.
A: Eat all the junk food you want—as long as you cook it yourself. That way, it'll be less junky and you won't eat it every day because it's a lot of work. Our big problem is that high-calorie, special occasion foods like cakes, fried foods, etc. have become so cheap and easy that we eat them every day. Make them special again by cooking them yourself. You won't do it every day, I promise.
Q: I was at the airport last week, and at the food court, I saw nothing but fast food. What do you do?
A: I had this problem right after taping The Oprah Show, when I found myself in Midway Airport very hungry because I hadn't had lunch. Here's what I did: There's almost always a Mexican place at the airport. I got a rice and bean burrito. It did the trick.
A: I don't know where you live, but check out EatWild.com, a website that lists people raising pastured chickens, and other animals, by region. Also, EatWellGuide.org will direct you to good farmers in your area; just type in your zip code. Look also for the logo of the Humane Society, which certifies meat, egg and dairy producers who follow humane practices.
Q: What food is in season when?
A: Ask a friend who gardens, or go to a farmer's market and see what's for sale. It all depends on where you live. In general, though, the winter is dominated by root crops and hardy greens like kale and cabbage. Spring: lettuces, strawberries, peas, spinach; summer: all the berries, tomatoes, melons, summer squash (note the name!), cucumbers, peaches, string beans, herbs; fall: broccoli, cabbage, winter squash, hardy greens, grapes, apples, pears.
A: The problem with subsidizing fruits and vegetables is that subsidies lead to overproduction, and you can't store things like broccoli and lettuce the way you can store corn and soybeans, which can last five years or so. What do you do with all that broccoli? But you can subsidize demand for fruits and veggies in several ways. What if you offered people receiving food stamps coupons to buy produce? Or added more fruits and vegetables to the school lunch program? Or subsidized retailers like Wal-Mart to reduce the price of produce? All these things would increase demand, and farmers would respond by growing more—but not too much more.
Q: What would healthy foods/organics cost if they were subsidized like corn?
A: They would cost less than they do now, but they would still probably cost a little more, because organic production is more labor intensive. Basically, farm chemicals are labor-saving devices, and farmers who don't use them—weed killers especially—have to work harder or hire more help.
Michael with more on where our food really comes from