Escape From American Food Practices



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Kathryn Ibrahim

Professor Charlotte Howe

English 1010-026

October 9, 2013

Escape From American Food Practices

There has been much talk about the rising obesity rates here in America, and what we should, or shouldn’t do, to fix it.

In his article, “Escape from the Western Diet,” Michael Pollan introduces an eating algorithm. “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” In Pollan’s view we should simply, “Stop eating a Western diet.” What exactly is a Western diet? Pollan calls a Western diet extremely processed foods that come about from nutrition science, which he calls reductionist science. This type of science focuses too much on individual nutrients and not enough on whole foods or dietary patterns. The food and medical industries are cashing in on these nutritional theories. They use these theories to create yet more processed foods that are marketed with the latest nutrition fad in mind, and by creating new drugs that alleviate the symptoms of eating these new processed foods. But how do we stop eating a Western diet when we are bombarded by the processed foods that are the Western diet? Pollan quotes Denis Burkitt, an English doctor stationed in Africa during World War II, ‘“The only way we’re going to reduce disease, he said, is to go backwards to the diet and lifestyle of our ancestors.”‘ Yet, even Pollan admits that this is a little extreme, he says, “…The challenge we face today is figuring out how to escape the worst elements of the Western diet and lifestyle without going back to the bush.” Basically, he is saying, how is it possible to stop eating these processed industrialized foods in our modern industrialized world? This is where his eating algorithms come into play. His rules don’t say much about nutrients, specific foods, or even calories. If his rules are followed, not only will they increase your

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bodily health, but will also increase the health of the environment. In his view, the health of the soil, the health of the plants and the health of the animals we eat are just as important as our own health. He also acknowledges that there is more work in following his rules, “In order to eat well we need to invest more time, effort, and resources in providing for our sustenance…than most of us do today.” In other words, we need to take the time to prepare our food, spend more money on quality foods, and take the time to enjoy our food. “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” This is the escape route from our Western diet that Michael Pollan has laid out for us.

Although I agree with Michael Pollan’s algorithms to avoid eating a Western diet, I think he is focusing too much on the obesity aspect of it all. It is true that there are many people who eat a Western diet and are thin, but does that mean they are healthy? I would argue no. We should stop eating a Western diet because all the additives the food industry puts in our food and injects into the animals we eat is bad for our overall health, not just our weight.

There are some 5,000+ additives that the FDA allows in our food, and some studies show that processed food makes up 70% of our diets (Marketplace). In his article, Pollan focuses solely on processed foods, but overlooks the widespread use of hormones and antibiotics that are given to the animals we eat and to dairy cows. These hormones are used to make cows produce more milk, and grow larger, faster, and same with antibiotics in poultry. As a result, we have become accustomed to large plump meat, but at what cost? Some researchers believe that these hormones are causing our children to reach puberty at an earlier age, especially girls. Most of the hormones cows are given come in the form of estrogen, which young girls aren’t producing naturally until puberty. Of course, many will probably disagree that hormones given to animals has an effect on humans that are eating it simply because it hasn’t been conclusively proven. Naturally, I would agree that there is a lack of research that

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is being done to prove, or disprove this fact. However consider this, hormones and additives in our foods are at an all-time high, and the average age kids hit puberty is at an all-time low, the onset of puberty in 1970 averaged 12.6 years of age, compared to 9.86 in 2000 (Brodecki). This statistic challenges those who believe that these hormones are doing the consumer a favor by giving them meat that is plumper and aesthetically pleasing.

It’s not just the hormones that are causing problems, it’s the widespread use of antibiotics administered to animals. The use of antibiotics on farm animals is not only to make them grow faster, but to fight off bacteria that grows due to cramped living quarters. The problem is, that as the antibiotics rid the animals of one bacterium, a new strain of bacteria emerges that is resistant to the drug, and meanwhile, we may carry the bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics, making it harder and harder to effectively fight off an infection. Again, some readers may challenge this view because it hasn’t been conclusively proven, and the FDA is still allowing these practices to continue. After all it is the FDA’s job to keep us safe. Upon doing some research though, I found that in 1977 the FDA did try to ban feeding livestock low doses of antibiotics. According to the FDA, the use of antibiotics, “…Had not been shown safe for widespread, subtheraputic use” (Estabrook). However, politics being what they are, legislators and agribusinesses convinced them to do otherwise. Just recently though, the CDC released reports saying that the widespread use of antibiotics in livestock plays a role in antibiotic resistance and should be “phased out.” According to the CDC, 22 percent of antibiotic-resistant illness in humans is in fact linked to food (CDC). These findings have important implications for the broader question of how to fight off new bacteria and infections in humans.

To further look at how our diet is bad for our overall health, continue to look at practices and ingredients that are allowed here in the United States but are banned in other countries. According to

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Mercola.com, a natural health website, there are ten foods that make the list. Farm raised salmon, genetically engineered papaya, ractopamine-tainted meat, flame retardant drinks, processed foods containing artificial food colors and dyes, arsenic-laced chicken, bread with potassium bromate, Olestra/Olean, preservative BHA and BHT, and milk and dairy products laced with rBGH (Mercola). I would like to focus on ractopamine-tainted meat, because it is the most widely banned. It actually is banned in 160 countries across Europe, Russia, mainland China, and The Republic of China (Taiwan). In fact, Russia has even gone so far as to ban the import of U.S. meat until the U.S. agrees to certify that the meat is ractopamine free. However, the United States doesn’t even test for the presence of this drug in meat sold (Mercola). Ractopamine is used in livestock to alter the fat content of the meat. Consequently it is currently used in almost half of U.S. pigs, one-third of ration-fed cattle, and an unknown amount is used in turkeys. According to veterinarian Michael W. Fox, “Up to 20 percent remains in the meat you buy from the supermarket” (Mercola). Why the big fuss? Ractopamine in animals has been linked to reductions in reproductive function, increase of mastitis in dairy herds, and increased death and disability, but in humans it is known to affect the cardiovascular system, and thought to be responsible for hyperactivity and some scientists believe it may cause chromosomal abnormalities and behavioral changes (Mercola).

My point here that the use of hormones, antibiotics and other additives in our food is the cause for an increase in many illnesses, should interest those who want to eat a more natural diet. Beyond this limited audience, however, my point should speak to anyone who cares about the larger issue of health. Honestly, who doesn’t know someone with diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, and auto-immune deficiency, and even things like autism, ADHD, and depression? All of these common health problems can be linked to the food we eat. Therefore, ultimately what is at stake here is the health of

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all Americans. To sum up something Pollan said, the health of our food is directly linked to our own health. In short, there are just too many additives in our food, that don’t occur naturally. Whether the effects of these additives are large or small, in my opinion, they shouldn’t be in our food. We do need to escape from the Western diet, but not just because it is making us all fat, it is making us sick as well.



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Works Cited

Brodecki, Jo. “Additives and Hormones in Our Food: A Growing Epidemic That Effects Our Children.” (n.d.): n. pag. Yahoo Contributor Network. 09 Feb. 2012. Web. 09 Oct. 2013.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 16 Sept. 2013. Web. 09 Oct. 2013.

Estabrook, Barry. “Antibiotics in Your Food: What’s Causing the Rise in Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria in Our Food Supply and Why You Should Buy Antibiotic-Free Food.” Food and Environment Reporting Network. N.p., 1 May 2013. Web. 09 Oct. 2013.

Mercola, Dr. “10 American Foods That Are Banned in Other Countries.” Mercola.com. N.p., 10 July 2013. Web. 09 Oct. 2013.

“Processed Foods Make up 70 Percent of the U.S. Diet.” Marketplace.org. N.p., 12 Mar. 2013. Web. 09 Oct. 2013.

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