Polyface Farm (you'll have to read Omnivore's Dilemma to know)
I've gotten really into Michael Pollen this past year. Future Farm House directed me to one of his talks which can be found at the Philadelphia Free Library Podcast, I heard him a couple times on NPR, his books kept coming up in conversation with friends, and I also really enjoyed the essay he wrote for the New York Time's Sunday Magazine several weeks ago.
Not sure what took me so long with all this exposure to Pollen, but I finally picked up Omnivore's Dilemma. I'm about one-fourth of the way through and enjoying it a lot so far. I don't know exactly what I expected (I mostly heard him speak about his follow-up book, In Defense of Food), but I'm loving the way Pollen weaves in history and science throughout his narrative.
While I was riding home from work the other day on the trolley, I read one particular passage that plucked something inside of me:
One might think that people would stop eating and drinking gargantuan portions as soon as they felt full, but it turns out hunger doesn't work that way. Researchers have found that people (and animals) presented with larger portions will eat up to 30 percent more than they would otherwise. Human appetite, it turns out, is surprising elastic, which makes excellent evolutionary sense: It behooved our hunter-gather ancestors to feast whenever the opportunity presented itself, allowing them to build up reserves of fat against future famine.
The power of food science lies in its ability to break food down into their nutrient parts and then reassemble them in specific ways that, in effect, push our evolutionary buttons, fooling the omnivore's inherited food selection system. Add fat or sugar to anything and it's going to taste better on the tongue of an animal that natural selection has wired to seek out energy-dense foods. Animal studies proves the point: Rats presented with solutions of pure sucrose or tubs of lard---goodies they seldom encounter in nature---will gorge themselves sick. Whatever nutritional wisdom the rats are born with breaks down when faced with sugars and fats in unnatural concentrations...Food systems can cheat by exaggerating their energy density, tricking a sensory apparatus that evolved to deal with markedly less dense whole foods.
The feeling that welled up inside of me as I read this two paragraphs was: relief. It was not my fault that I want to eat all the time and I want to pick junk food (or even just bread and cheese) over lettuce. It is in my genes; it is how I am engineered.
In thinking about the powerful sense of relief I felt upon reading that human beings are hardwired to seek out energy-dense food, I realized that that relief is carried upon the back of a much larger feeling inside of me, namely, shame. When I eat certain foods or certain portions, I feel like I'm doing something "bad" or "wrong." The relief I felt depends upon the idea of shifting blame off of my conscious self and onto my genetics.
This blame-game is so deep inside of in my thinking that sometimes I can mistake it for relief, gratitude, or even a sense of accomplishment. All of these emotions can mask ideas that I have about what I do and don't deserve, ideas about my value as a person.
As a middle class American, what I eat does say something about me as a person and my political choices (I think Pollen would agree). As conscious decisions, based on my true value system about who I want to be, these choices are distinct from the voice inside of me that tells me "bread, bad; lettuce, good." My true value system tells me to make my eating choices balancing my realistic desires with what's best for the environment and also best for the animals involved. Valuing thinness over fatness, that's not my value system; it's ingrained in me, as my reaction to this Pollen passage demonstrated, but it's not mine.