The Dogma of Nutritionism - Eat Less Meat
- Regina Wilshire
January 31, 2007
The blogosphere has been buzzing the last few days over seven words:
Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.
Those seven little words start Michael Pollan's essay, Unhappy Meals,
in the New York Times magazine (from Sunday). As Pollan sums it up at
the start, "That, more or less, is the short answer to the supposedly
incredibly complicated and confusing question of what we humans should
eat in order to be maximally healthy."
Somehow as he meandered from his brillant assessment on the rise of
"nutritionism" - "an ideology" - influencing nutrition - "the science"
- he too fell for it; fell for the belief that animal protein is a
dietary demon that must be limited, if not eliminated if we are to get
back on track to reach an optimum diet, thus maximize our health.
Intersperced throughout the essay are a number of not-too-subtle
reminders that animal protein, especially meat, is taking up too much
space on our plates.
He tells us we we knew this decades ago when the McGovern Senate
Subcommittee first drafted dietary guidelines that included the
statement to "reduce consumption of meat," that was compromised in an
effort to appease industry to read "Choose meats, poultry and fish
that will reduce saturated-fat intake."
He continues to explain to us that the Gary Taubes article, What if
it's All been a Big Fat Lie, was a "revisionist" accounting of what
really happened in our diet since the implementation of the
compromised dietary recommendations; cites T. Colin Campbell and
Walter Willet as two researchers in agreement with the view that "the
culprit nutrient in meat and dairy is the animal protein itself", thus
we should eat less meat.
He then ties it all neatly up with "But people worried about their
health needn't wait for scientists to settle this question before
deciding that it might be wise to eat more plants and less meat. This
is of course precisely what the McGovern committee was trying to tell
He includes a number of convincing arguements to make the case against
We just heaped a bunch more carbs onto our plates, obscuring perhaps,
but not replacing, the expanding chunk of animal protein squatting in
Of course thanks to the low-fat fad (inspired by the very same
reductionist fat hypothesis), it is entirely possible to reduce your
intake of saturated fat without significantly reducing your
consumption of animal protein: just drink the low-fat milk and order
the skinless chicken breast or the turkey bacon.
Thomas Jefferson was on to something when he advised treating meat
more as a flavoring than a food.
Even the beginner student of nutritionism will immediately spot
several flaws: the focus was on "fat," rather than on any particular
food, like meat or dairy. So women could comply simply by switching to
lower-fat animal products.