How many times have you read an article or advertisement about the best way to diet? Let me answer – too many times! From low-carb to low-sugar to low-fat and back again, we’ve heard about them all (and sampled a lot of them). Our society is obsessed with finding the healthiest diet, and the amount of literature written on eating makes it nearly impossible to pick out the best advice. We know that obesity levels and related health problems are rising at a frightening level, and we are generally accepting of the fact that this trend is our fault.
As a health advocate and staunch supporter of food, I’ve followed the discourse on diet carefully, looking for suggestions that best fit my own likes and lifestyle. I identified especially with Michael Pollan’s latest novel “In Defense of Food.” He excludes refined sugars or factory-made additives and focuses on fruits and vegetables, or what he refers to as "real foods." He recommends buying organic and local; not eating anything our great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.
While the health benefits of his plan seem undeniable to me, I am also aware that this plan is laughably unrealistic and unaffordable. In terms of both time and money, for a huge percentage of the population those who need the makeover the most will not be able to afford the change. I believe Pollan simplifies the topic too much, assuming every person can afford (in time and dollars) to eat these whole foods.
In order to reconcile the discrepancies between a theoretical, idealistic diet and what is actually practical, I did a month-long assessment using myself as a case study. For two weeks I only ate what Michael Pollan advocates – “real food, not too much, mostly plants.” Then, for the next two weeks, I ate the potential diet of someone making minimum wage, spending about $24/week on grocery items (Calculated as 10% of the income generated from a 40-hour work week at 7.25/hour, the average proportion spent on groceries in each household). I kept a food journal and enrolled in an official nutritional analysis database. After the 4 weeks were over, I analyzed my findings to compare nutritional value, cost/convenience, overall well-being, and significant events.
I began my experiment hypothesizing that the monetary and schedule constraints placed on someone with limited income and a full time job would eliminate the potential to follow a holistic, ethically and nutritionally healthy diet (as indicated by Michael Pollan). However, my findings showed that this is only partly true...
Cliff hanger alert!
Stay tuned for a discussion of these findings, the political and economic context of our diets and suggestions for a realistically, healthy compromise.