Science5

Field Notes from a Catastrophe     Elizabeth Kolbert                                Dec 2006
Philosophy in the Flesh                 George Lakoff and Mark Johnson      Nov 2006
The Creation                                 E. O. Wilson                                       Jan 2007
The Omnivore's Dilemma             Michael Pollan                                    Mar 2007
In Defense of Food                       Michael Pollan                                    Aug 2008



Field Notes from a Catastrophe     Elizabeth Kolbert                  Dec 2006

Subtitled: Man, Nature, and Climate Change

Part I: Nature  
C1  Shishmaref, Alaska  Shrichef is a small island five miles off the coast of the Seward Peninsula, directly north of Nome, just off the Bering Straight.  It is 1/4 mile across and 2 1/2 miles long.  The highest point is 22 feet above the sea level.  The only thing on the island is an Inupiat village, Shishmaref.  Starting in about 1990 the ice surrounding the island started changing and in 1997 fall storms started washing away the island.  The island has been there since the end of the Ice Ages about 20,000 years ago.

Much of the land in the arctic is underlaid by zones of permafrost, including much of the lane in Fairbanks, Alaska.  In some places in Russia the permafrost is up to a mile deep and in Alaska it can be up too two thousand feed deep.  In many places in Alaska it is melting.  A permafrost expert at the University of Alaska estimated that the last time the area was ice free was 120,000 years ago.  Many years ago permafrost was coldest at the top and got gradually warmer until it reached the freezing point at the bottom of the permafrost.  Now in most places the coldest point is in the middle and the upper layers are almost at freezing.  Kolbert presents several other types of evidence to show that the Arctic is melting.

C2  A Warmer Sky  In the 1850's the British physicist John Tyndall studied the properties of several gases.  In 1859 he built the first ratio spectrophotometer.  Among the gases he studied was carbon dioxide (CO2) and water vapor.  He found that they were transparent in the visible part of the spectrum but partly opaque in the infrared.  He understood that these gases were largely responsible for determining the planet's climate, what we now call the "natural greenhouse effect."  In 1895 the Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius published a paper describing the calculated results of changing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and how this would change the temperature.  In 1958 a young chemist named Charles David Keeling convinced the U.S. Weather Bureau to use his newly built equipment to measure the amount of CO2 in the air at a new observatory on Mauna Loa in Hawaii.  Levels of CO2 have been continuously been measured there ever since and the resulting data is presented in the widely known "Keeling Curve".  This shows that CO2 levels have been steadily increasing from 316 ppm in 1959 to 378 ppm in 2005.

C3  Under the Glacier  Kolbert discusses research done at Swiss Camp, a research station built in 1990 on the Greenland ice sheet, and on Iceland.

C4  The Butterfly and the Toad  Many European butterflies have the northern end of their range in England.  In the 1970's data was collected on the distribution of many of these species and in 1984 the data was published for the first time.  The data for Polygonia c-album, the Comma butterfly, was almost immediately out of date.  In the 1984 map the northernmost range of the Comma was along the south coast of England from Liverpool in the west to Norfolk in the east.  By the 1990's the range extended to the north of England, near Durham and by 2005 it had been reported in southern Scotland and as far north as the Scottish highlands.  It has been traveling north 50 miles per decade (5 miles per year).

Two evolutionary biologists at the University of Oregon, William Bradshaw and Christina Holzapfel, have been studying Wyemyia smithii, a small mosquito, for many years.  These mosquitoes base much of their activity on the total length of time sunlight is available.  However with global warming, temperatures are such that mosquitoes can be active earlier in the spring and later in the fall.  But to use this additional time the "programming" of the mosquitoes must change.  They were able to show that global warming is starting to drive evolution for this particular species.

The Golden Toad was discovered in the Monteverde Cloud Forest in 1964.  The toad lived at the top of high mountain ridges and laid its eggs in small puddles kept filled by the clouds enveloping the tops of the mountains.  In 1987 a researcher came to study them and counted 1,500 in temporary breeding pools.  However the spring was unusually warm and dry and most of the pools evaporated before the tadpoles in them matured.  The next year 8 males and 2 females were seen and the following year only a single male was found.  None have been seen since.  This is all consistent with reduced rainfall and the raising of the cloud levels.  Kolbert discusses several other species in danger of extinction due to rising temperatures and lowering rainfalls on the tops of mountains due to global warming.

Part II: Man  
C5  The Curse of Akkad  Some 4,300 years ago between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers the world's first empire was established.  The founder was called Sargon of Akkad and he presumably turned it from an independent city-state to an empire by conquering the other city-states in the area.  He supposedly ruled for 56 years, his sons for another 24 years and then a grandson ruled for a short period of time.  According to "The Curse of Akkad" which was written about 4,200 years ago the grandson plundered the temple of the god of wind and storms and the god decided to destroy the grandson and his people by sending a drought to the region.  The author repeats a part of  "The Curse of Akkad" which was assumed to be purely fictional.  Then in 1978 the archaeologist Harvey Weiss a promising looking mound in the area.  After receiving permission he worked for over 10 years on the site.  Everywhere he looked he found a layer of soil about 3 feet thick corresponding to the years between 2,200 and 1,900 B.C.  In 1991 he sent soil samples in to a lab for analysis and they found that around this this time even the earthworms had died out.  This was a drought so severe and so prolonged that it qualified as "climate change."  He published his theory in 1993 and since then many other examples have been discovered that show cultures that have collapsed because of similar changes.  The author lists a number and Jared Diamond's book Collapse details a number.

Kolbert then switches to the present day and interviews with James Hansen, the Director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), a subsidiary of NASA which is located at Columbia University.  Their main mission today is making long term climate forecasts.  Hansen became interested in climate in the mid 1970's.  In 1981 he publicized his model predictions that carbon dioxide based global warming would become important by 2000 and in 1988 he testified before a Senate subcommittee that he was "99 percent" sure that "global warming is affecting our planet now."  His model divides the earth's surface into 3,312 rectangular boxes each duplicated 20 times as the pattern moves up through the atmosphere.  Each box represents 4 degrees of latitude by five degrees of longitude and the height of the boxes depends on the altitude.  Other climate researchers studying ocean cores have collaborated the data discovered by Harvey Weiss relating to the drought in Akkad in 2,200 BC.

C6  Floating Houses  The Dutch have been reclaiming land from the sea for over 100 years.  Recently they have begun to remove protection (dikes) from some areas to all more rapid draining of rivers so that catastrophic flooding will not occur.  Analysis of ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica has shown that the earth is currently as warm as it has been for the last 450,000 years.  With carbon dioxide based global warming increasing the temperature we are moving into climate regimes that modern humans have never experienced.  Meanwhile the Dutch have stated building floating homes and there are plans to build floating roads and greenhouses.

C7  Business as Usual  Robert Socolow, a professor of engineering at Princeton was appointed as a codirector of the Carbon Mitigation Initiative.  He was having a hard time understanding all of the research and literature in the area.  He came up with a measure, he calls it a stabilization wedge, which is the procedure needed to prevent a billion metric tons of carbon per year from being emitted by 2054.  He and a colleague, Stephen Pacula came up with fifteen different wedges, these would theoretically be enough to reduce our carbon emissions to safe levels.  Their findings were published in Science, vol 305 (2004).  There are other methods but these would need huge amounts of research funding, like broadcast energy from satellite solar collectors.

C8  The Day After Kyoto  The Kyoto Protocol went into effect on Feb. 16, 2005.  As it happens, Kolbert had an appointment that day with the Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs, Paula Dobriansky.  Among her duties is explaining the Bush administration's position on global warming to the rest of the world.  Her report of the interview was hilarious.  Dobriansky clearly had an impossible task and she ended up repeating herself over and over.  It was clear that the Bush administration just wanted to duck the issue.  The rest of the chapter is a sorry history of the recent political events surrounding the debate on global warming.

C9  Burlington, Vermont The chapter discusses private and local governmental approaches to reducing carbon emissions.  Burlington, Vermont has perhaps done more than any other city to reduce emissions.
 
C10  Man in the Anthropocene  In 2002, Paul Crutzen, the Nobel Prize winning chemist coined a new term, Anthropocene - an epoch "defined by one creature - man - who had become so dominant that he was capable of altering the planet on a geological scale."  The chapter is a review of the methods by which humans are modifying the climate and what this may mean for human life.

Chronology Three pages of chronology of the significant events in the causes and understanding of global warming and carbon emissions.

The book ends with 9 pages of selected bibliography and notes on the chapters and 6 pages of index.

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Philosophy in the Flesh            George Lakoff and Mark Johnson      Nov 2006

How does one discuss a 600 page book that covers the major philosophies that have shaped western thought for more than 2,500 years, discusses many of the details of the ideas of many of the major philosophers, explains how they have gone wrong in one or more critical points, and offers the beginnings of a philosophy based on scientific facts that attempts to correct these errors and that can be used to used to  create a philosophy based on empirical knowledge.  The answer is very simple -- poorly and by leaving out a great deal.

They begin by stating three major findings of modern cognitive science:
  1. The mind is inherently embodied.
  2. Thought is mostly unconscious.
  3. Abstract concepts are largely metaphorical.
With these findings in mind they begin Part I by discussing the methods and findings of cognitive science and cognitive linguistics.  

Part II uses these methods to evaluate the basic concepts of any philosophy, time, events, causation, the mind, the self, and morality.  

Part III evaluates a number of philosophical viewpoints (pre-Socratic, Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Kant, faculty psychology, analytic philosophy) as well as several modern viewpoints which shape our current thought and policy (contemporary philosophy, linguistics, social science, Anglo-American analytic philosophy, Chomskyan linguistics, and the rational-actor model used in economics and foreign policy).  They explain that even though these philosophies seemed perfectly reasonable to their developers they are based on incorrect ideas (metaphors) that are simply not true for flesh and blood humans.  

Part IV (only one chapter) summarizes the book and shows how a philosophy can be developed based on an empirical understanding that the mind is not disembodied, it is an integral part of the body, it is embodied.  Such a philosophy could be called philosophy in the flesh and takes into account of what we most basically are and can be.  

Selected points in the book that I found to be important.
If you wish an evening of light reading, don't pick up this book.  It covers a lot of ground, it covers it fairly thoroughly, and it doesn't take the time to explain every confusing point.  The book ends with a 14 page Appendix on the Neural Theory of Language Paradigm, 17 pages of references and a 21 page index.

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The Creation                                 E. O. Wilson                                       Jan 2007

Subtitled:  An Appeal to Save Life on Earth

Part I:  The Creation  A call for help and an invitation to visit the embattled natural world in the company of a biologist.

C1  Letter to a Southern Baptist Pastor: Salutation  As the chapter title says, the book is written in the form of a long letter written to Southern Baptist Pastor.  Wilson grew up in Alabama and baptized as a Baptist.  He is writing to someone who could have been his Pastor.  Wilson has since left his church but he increasingly feels that religion and science must work together to prevent the destruction of the earth as we know it by the hand of mankind.  

C2  Ascending to Nature  Wilson believes that our "original sin" if you will was committed around ten thousand years ago when we first created civilization.  The sin was our forgetting the reality that we could live without nature.  Before that all of our food, tools, clothing, etc. came directly from nature by personal effort. After that these requirements for life increasingly came from the hands of other people and most of us forgot that it the origin of all of this was still nature.  Many of us are content in our synthetic ecosystem, but so are cows and chickens in their feedlots.  We need to roam the world again although much of it will be in our minds.  Even in more recent times, say 2000 years ago and less, young people have "gone into the wilderness" to think things out and gain a different perspective on their life.

C3  What is Nature?  Nature is that part of the original environment and its life forms that remains after the human impact.  Nature has no need of us and can stand alone.  Much of our earth bears the specific signs of human impact but still most of it would thrive if humans were to disappear overnight.  Some would not, they became extinct by the hand of man and will never come back.  Man does not have an even hand, the big, the dangerous, and the tasty disappeared early.  The small were harmed less.  Thousands of insects, mites, and bacteria live in an abandoned vacant lot.  We have killed many, but many remain; no more mastodons.  It is possible for some habitats to come back.  He uses the example of the Boston Harbor Islands.  Only recently, in 1985,  Boston Harbor was not much more than a huge sewage lagoon.  In the 1990's it was cleaned up and it is now a national park within easy reach of a major metropolitan area.

C4  Why Care? Nature is not only an objective entity, but vital to our physical and spiritual well-being.  Humans, Homo sapiens, is a species confined to an extremely small niche.   Only a very few humans have traveled as high as the top of the tallest mountains and survived without artificial support, none can swim down more than 100 beneath the sea level and survive.  Anything we do to damage this thin film of biosphere can and probably will make our survival less likely.  Our slow moving biological evolution is being threatened by our rapidly moving cultural evolution.  Wilson predict the dire consequences if a single group, the insects were to vanish.  Be very careful in letting any species become extinct, it may play some critical role that we do not recognize.

C5  Alien Invaders from Planet Earth  Humans have carried many species of plants and animals around the world with them.  This is documented more fully in the Western Hemisphere than anywhere else.  And these invading species have caused many problems.  One of the first was fire ant that caused severe crop devastation in the early 1500's on Hispaniola.  The fire ants protect sap-sucking insects that actually damage the crops.

C6  Two Magnificent Animals  Two of his favorite animals, the Wolverine and the Pitchfork Ant.  "The Creation, whether you believe it was placed on this planet by a single act of God or accept the scientific evidence that it evolved autonomously during billions of years, is the greatest heritage, other than the reasoning mind itself, ever provided to humanity."

C7  Wild Nature and Human Nature  "Biophilia (defined in 1984 by Wilson): the innate tendency to affiliate with life and lifelike processes."  Environmental psychology and conservation psychology both study biophilia and conservation.  Example: researchers all over the world have found that when people can select their own settings for homes and work places they select an environment that combines three features.  They wish to be on a height looking out and down, they wish to scan a parkland with mixed trees and grassland, and to be near a body of water like a lake, river, or sea.  They like a wall or cliff or something solid at the rear, they want a view of fruitful terrain in front, they want large animals scattered about, and they like trees with low horizontal branches and divided leaves.  In short they like to duplicate the savanna of Africa with protection from predators and abundant prey animals.  Water serves as boundaries and an additional food source.  Studies of hospital patients, prisoners, dental patients, and others support this hypothesis.

Part II:  Decline and Redemption  Blinded by ignorance and self-absorption, humanity is destroying the creation.  There is still time to assume the stewardship of the natural world that we owe to future generations.

C8  The Pauperization of Earth  In the last 500 million years the Earth's living species have been devastated 5 times, the most recent being the meteorite that hit the Yucatán peninsula 65 million years ago and caused the extinction of the dinosaurs.  Now humans have started the sixth devastation.  The causes of the decline in biodiversity can be summarized by the initials HIPPO: Habitat loss, Invasive species, Pollution, human overPopulation, and Overharvesting.  Usually two or more factors are responsible when a species declines towards extinction.  He discusses a number of examples from around the world.

C9  Denial and Its Risks  "Dear Pastor, what I fear most is the pervasive combination of religious and secular ideology of a kind that sees little or no harm in the destruction of the Creation."  He calls this a philosophy of exemptionalism, which exempts humans from the laws of nature.  We are not exempt, if nature dies, we die.  He ends the chapter with a homily of his own:  "Save the Creation, save all of it!  No lesser goal is defensible.  However biodiversity arose, it was not put on this planet to be erased by any one species. ... It is true that nonhuman life preceded us on this planet.  Whether by a literal day, according to Genesis, or by more than 3.5 billion years, as the scientific evidence shows, it is still true that we are a latecomer. ... this planet can be paradise.  But only if we also take the rest of life with us."

C10  End Game  "The human hammer haven fallen, the sixth mass extinction has begun. ... We have done it all on our own, and conscious of what was happening.  God's will is not to blame."  The first five spasms of extinction took on an average ten million years to repair by natural evolution.  We won't be around when nature repairs this one, the only solution is to stop it now.  He offers some suggestions.

Part III:  What Science Has Learned  Arguments for saving the rest of life are drawn from both religion and science.  The relevant principles of biology, the key science in this discourse, are explained here.

C11  Biology Is the Study of Nature  "In my opinion, Pastor, the ascent to Nature and the restoration of Eden do not need more spiritual energy. ... Rather, spiritual energy must be more broadly applied, and more exactly guided by an understanding of the human condition."  He defines how science operate and what scientists do, then he tries to determine where biology is headed.

C12  The Fundamental Laws of Biology  There are two fundamental laws of biology, the first is that all the known properties of life are obedient to the laws of physics and chemistry.  The second is that all biological processes, and all the differences that distinguish species, have evolved by natural selection.  He breaks biology into three dimensions, the first is the relationship of organisms to their ecosystem, the second is biodiversity, and the third is evolutionary biology.  Currently we are still studying mostly physics and chemistry, we are starting on the first dimension and the second and third dimensions are primarily speculation.

C13  Exploration of a Little-Known Planet  As a nation, we spend only a tiny portion of our national income on basic biological science, probably only between $150 and $200 million a year.  Over the geological record species probably went extinct at the rate of one species per million species per year.  Right now we are probably at a rate of 100 species per million species per year and we are heading towards 1000.  As mentioned above, for the mass extinctions that occurred in the past, it took approximately 10 million years to recreate the biodiversity that existed before.  It is estimated that between 1.5 and 1.8 million species have been discovered and documented.  Estimates of all species range from 3.6 million to 112 million.  With the recent discovery of SLIMES (Subterranean LIthoautotrophic Microbial EcoSystems) which range from just below our feet to at least two miles deep our knowledge of the extent of life took a huge jump.  Linnaeus, who introduced scientific nomenclature, recommended a complete exploration (and description) of life on earth.  Wilson thinks that we now have the knowledge and technology to build such an Encyclopedia of Life.  It would contain the complete information that we have for every known species.  Note: this has been started at the US National Museum of Natural History.

Part IV:  Teaching the Creation  The only way to save the diversity of life and come to peace with nature is through a widely shared knowledge of biology and what the findings of that science imply for the human condition.

C14  How to Learn Biology and How to Teach It  "The basic ingredient for a love of learning is ... passion for a particular subject. ... Rote learning, in contrast, fades quickly into a jumble of words, facts, and anecdotes."  As examples he uses three teachers of his at the University of Alabama.  He states five examples of successful teaching:
  1. Teach top-down, start with the general and go on to the specific, start with the big questions and go to the small.
  2. Reach outside biology, rapidly expanding fields are branching out and using information from many areas.
  3. Focus on problem solving, the old discipline-oriented studies cannot keep up with modern knowledge.
  4. Cut deep and travel far, pick a particular branch of biology to specialize in and treat the rest as general education.
  5. Commit yourself, when you have found a passion, commit your entire life to it.
C15  How to Raise a Naturalist  The easiest way is to let your child out of the house, early and often.  Take him outdoors, go to zoos and museums.  Have field guides, binoculars, and perhaps even a microscope available.  Provide opportunities for collecting including insects and small live animals.  Ant farms are good.  Seashores and aquariums are wonderful.  With a slightly older child you can go to a zoo but instead of a quick walk through, spend a lot of time with a particular group or species and observe them in depth.

C16  Citizen Science  How can citizens who are not professional scientists get involved and contribute to scientific discovery?  His primary recommendation is an all-species inventory for a limited geographical area.  He discusses several of these, the ATBI for All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the first was at Walden Pond in Massachusetts, one in New York's Central Park, and many others.  One of the activities was to collect mitochondrial DNA samples from 642 species.  A 700-base-pair section from each sample was entered into a "Barcodes of Life" website for later comparisons.

Part V:  Reaching Across  Science and religion are the two most powerful forces of society.  Together they can save the creation.

C17  An Alliance for Life  The foundation of reference for the book has been the culture of science and some of the secularism based on science.  The focus has been on the interaction of three problems that affect everyone: the decline of the living environment, the inadequacy of scientific education, and the moral confusions caused by the exponential growth of biology.  To solve these problems it will be necessary to find common ground on which the forces of religion and science can be joined.  The best place to start is the stewardship of life.  Some have proposed the idea of Intelligent Design as a possible compromise.  It is not, at its best it just puts off the inevitable day of reckoning.  At its worst it would stop scientific progress and move us towards collapse.  But these arguments have little effect on the conduct of our lives.  We can celebrate a reverence for life and work toward sustaining it without compromising our values.  

The book ends with four pages of notes.

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The Omnivore's Dilemma
          Michael Pollan                    Mar 2007
Subtitled: A Natural History of Four Meals  In one very short sentence, this is the book.  The author prepares, to the extent possible, four meals - but first he explores in depth how the food came to be.  The first is a trip to McDonalds with industrial foods.  The second he prepares using so called "organic foods".  The third uses food produced on Polyface farm in Virginia, one of many farms using the principles of sustainable agriculture.  The fourth is prepared using the (modernized) methods of hunter/gatherer food collection.  A remarkably simple premise for such a complex book.

Introduction  Our National Eating Disorder  What should we have for dinner?  That's what this book is all about.   The authors attention was captured when in 2002 carbophobia replaced lipophobia which had been with us since 1977.  Why do we have all of these fads?  

Strict herbivores and carnivores don't have this problem.  They either find the right food or they go hungry.  Omnivores like us, rats, bears, etc. have to make many more choices.  Life is simple for a koala or a panda, if there is a eucalyptus leaf or a bamboo they eat, otherwise they starve.  We omnivores have a more complex life.  If one food isn't available, we can eat something else.  However many potential foods have problems, they may be poisonous, they may need special preparation, etc.  We have to continually make choices.  It is potentially worse for Americans, we don't live in a single culture with predefined answers to most questions.  We need to choose between Midwest, coastal, French, Italian, Chinese, Mexican, etc. food styles.  With this level of confusion built in we find ourselves at the mercy of food scientists and marketers.  Is it any wonder we are well fed, with many choices, and have poor diets, and an epidemic of overweight.

Part I  Industrial  Corn  
C1  The Plant:  Corn's Conquest
 When you enter a supermarket you notice the produce, hundreds of kinds of fruits and vegetables fresh from the farm.  However the farther back you go into the store the more you discover other items that are made partially or completely from one species, corn.  The meat, eggs, milk, and even the fish were raised on corn.  Many of the processed foods contain corn, syrup, starch, and many other chemicals derived from corn.  Why?  Corn is remarkably efficient in converting sunlight into carbohydrates.  You can get more food per acre of corn than from almost anything else - unfortunately it is greedy, it requires vast amounts of water and fertilizer.

C2  The Farm  The author spends several days with a corn farmer in Greene County, Iowa.  He describes the process, biology, the economics, and the politics of raising corn.

C3  The Elevator  The farmers corn it taken to the local elevator where it is combined with corn from many other farmers and it becomes a commodity. Pollan's original plan was to follow the corn from the field to the plate.  Unfortunately for his plan the step beyond the elevator enters the realm of the corn giants, Cargill and ADM.  Neither company sells directly to consumers and they have no interest in talking to journalists.  He couldn't follow the farmers grain, but he could follow the commodity.

C4  The Feedlot:  Making Meat  Much of the corn, 3/5, is literally consumed by feed lots that fatten beef.  This story really begins on a cow-calf operation outside of Sturgis, South Dakota.  The author purchased a steer from the cattle ranch and followed its life from birth, being on pasture with his mother, branding and castration, and shipping to the feedlot.  He goes into detail about the coevolution of grass and cattle, how they both benefit the other.  In the past overgrazing harmed rangelands but now with proper management many ecologists believe that range is healthier with cattle grazing on it.

Pollan compares a feedlot with a premodern city, "teeming and filthy and stinking, with open sewers, unpaved roads, and choking air rendered visible by dust."  Why aren't feedlots as plague-ridden or pestilential like medieval human cities - simple, modern antibiotics.  The animals are raised in manure, dust in the summer and slop in the winter.  They are fed huge amounts of grain, mostly corn, many chemicals and byproducts of industrial processes, and they evolved on grass.  Even with large amounts of antibiotics they can only survive for slightly more than 150 days, the average length of time in feedlots.  Even then between 15% and 30% have abscessed livers and in some pens up to 70%.  Most of the antibiotics sold in America end up in animal feed.  According to most experts (outside of agriculture) this has produced antibiotic-resistant superbugs.  One of these bacteria bred by the huge changes that this artificial diet makes in cattle is the strain of E. coli known as 0157:H7.  It was unknown before 1980 and is now endemic in feedlot cattle with 40% carrying it in their gut and manure.  

The direct costs of this method of producing beef make it very cost-effective but the indirect costs of human infections, waste processing, damage to ecosystems far downstream, and the costs of petroleum ( 1/5 of America's oil use is for transportation and production of food) make this a very expensive steak.

C5  The Processing Plant:  Making Complex Foods  Since neither Cargill nor ADM would allow him to look at the processing of corn he visited the campus of Iowa State University in Ames Iowa to see their experimental processing facility.  Corn is "wet" milled in a process resembling digestion to produce the many industrial chemicals from corn.  Then these chemicals are either added to other foods or put together in new ways to create new marketable food products.  A recent advance is the creation of a totally indigestible starch.  This when included with indigestible sugars and fats would create the perfect fast food.  Eat all you want and never gain weight.  

C6  The Consumer:  A Republic of Fat  In the early 1800's corn was easy to grow and difficult to transport, the solution - make corn whiskey.  This had the easily predictable result.  In the 1970's with a cheap food policy (thank you Earl Butz) the price of food declined rapidly.  The result - the population gained weight.  The cheapest food is corn, and corn prices dropped and corn by-products began entering hundreds of foods.  The low price along with marketing strategies (supersized meals) have fueled the boom in overweight Americans.

C7  The Meal:  Fast Food The meal at the end of this food chain was prepared by McDonald's and eaten in a moving car.  His 11 year old son was happy with his, he ordered Chicken McNuggets, shake, and large fries followed by freeze dried ice cream pellets.  His wife was not.  She had the $3.99 Cobb salad, the most expensive item on the menu.  The author had classic cheeseburger, and a large coke (32 oz, thanks to supersizing it only cost 30 cents more than the 16 oz size).  Many choices for all the demographics of a household and marketed for each.  He spends about 2 pages describing the nugget, all 38 ingredients.  The most interesting was the tertiary butylhydroquinone or TBHQ.  The FDA allows no more than 0.02% of the oil to be TBHQ.  Probably a good thing since 1 gram can cause a number of serious symptoms and 5 grams can kill an adult.  One additive that sounded good was dimethylpolysiloxene which is a suspected carcinogen and an established mutagen, tumorigen, and reproductive effect which is also flammable.  He reported that it tasted like chicken bouillon flavored salt.  

The authors cheeseburger had only six ingredients, all fairly reasonable except the "grill seasoning".  He reported that the condiments tasted pretty good but the gray patty was mostly tasteless.  The processed corn content of the foods ranged from 100% (soda), 78% (milk shake), 78% (chicken nuggets) down to only 23% (fries).  The three of them consumed 4,510 calories.  All in all a lot of food for very little direct cost.  The indirect costs include obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.  The costs to society include soil fertility, water quality, community health (lack of people), biodiversity, and the health of all creatures living on or downstream of the corn field.

Part II  Pastoral  Grass  
C8  All Flesh Is Grass  Pollan spent a week at Polyface Farm in Virginia.  This farm is documented by the owner/operator Joel Salatin in several books.  On 100 acres of pasture plus another 450 acres of woodland Salatin raises chicken, beef, turkeys, eggs, rabbits, pigs, tomatoes, sweet corn, and berries using a complex rotational schedule.  Pollan describes the farm in rapturous detail.

C9  Big Organic
 The author enjoys shopping at Whole Foods, an organic food store near his home.  It is also a literary experience.  The food is generally of high quality but the evocative prose describing each item makes it really special.  He calls it "cutting-edge grocery lit." The more he shopped at Whole Foods the more he thought that this was a place where the skills of a literary critic might come in handy.  Most non-organic markets label foods on a single basis, price.  The more time he spent looking at packaging in organic markets the more cynical he became.  The question, "Just how well does Supermarket Pastoral hold up under close reading and journalistic scrutiny?"

Most of the $11 billion dollar organic industry doesn't hold up all that well.  Most organic milk comes from cows fed on dry lots eating organic grain.  Much of the milk is "ultrapasturized" to keep it unspoiled while shipping it it long distances.  Most organic food is processed in the same manner as "normal" food except only certified organic feeds are used.  Rosie, the organic free range chicken is raised in a standard chicken pen, fed organic feed, and a door is opened to a mowed lawn for the last two weeks of her life but she never goes out.  

The organic movement is traced from 17th century England with the Diggers to the publication Organic Gardening and Farming in the 1940's to Peoples Park in Berkley in 1969.  Many of the founders of the current organic movement were at Peoples Park or directly influenced by them.  It would appear that the only difference between normal and organic foods is in the type of fertilizers used, only organic inputs are allowed, and hormones and antibiotics are not used.  The rest is pretty much the same.  Is it better?  Yes.  Is it a lot better?  No.

My Organic Industrial Meal  He did all the shopping for his Organic Industrial Meal at Whole Foods Market.  He had roast chicken (Rosie) with roasted vegetables (yellow potatoes, purple kale, and red winter squash from Cal-Organics), steamed asparagus (air lifted in from Argentina), and a spring mix salad from Earthbound Farm.  Dessert was organic ice cream from Stonyfield Farm toped with organic blackberries from Mexico.

He had earlier decided that his Cascadian Farm organic TV dinner wasn't quite up to prime time.  Compared to other TV dinners it wasn't too bad.  The creamy sauce was probably xanthan gum or possibly carrageenan since no dairy products were listed on the ingredients.  It looked and tasted a lot like airline food.  Rosie and the vegetables were quite good.  Neither Cal-Organics nor their owner Grimmway Farms were originally organic.  They were started by conventional growers who were worried that California might ban certain key insecticides and they wanted to be ready.

His $6 per pound asparagus that was airlifted 6,000 miles tasted like damp cardboard.  The salad  as with the vegetables was very good.  It was suggested that produce raised without excess nitrogen fertilizer grows slower, has thicker cell walls, and looses less water.  Slow growth coupled with less water concentrates the flavors more.

Was it better than conventionally grown food?  It was fairly pricey, $34 for a family of three for 2 meals.  The taste was good but some of that was attributable to freshness.  As far as healthy goes, remarkably little research has been done regarding continued exposure to low levels of pesticides and hormones on children.  (Perhaps General Foods doesn't want this research done?)  The USDA used to test for nutrient quality of foods by region but when Florida carrot growers routinely were surpassed by Michigan carrot growers somehow the USDA stopped doing this testing.  Recent research done at the state level suggests that some organically grown foods have higher levels of micronutrients than conventionally grown foods but there presumably is no USDA research.  As far as farm laborers, fossil fuel usage (other than fertilizers and pesticides) there seems to be no difference.

C10  Grass:  Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Pasture
 What is Polyface Farm?  Joel Salatin is a grass farmer.  He raises grass, animals are just his harvesting devices.  Grass grows following an "S" curve.  If grass and associated forb species are harvested at the rising top of the curve they stop for a few days and start again.  If they not harvested they get woody, if they are harvested again before they are well into a new growth cycle they start to die.  This requires intensive management.  Using this technique Salatin has been able to increase the production on his acreage by more than a factor of 5.  This level of management is totally beyond current industrial farming.

Salatin bases his pasturing technique on the wild herbivore populations.  They are tightly packed because of predators and they continually move because they run out of food in their small area.  They continually move off their own manure.  He uses portable electric fences to mark off small pasture areas and changes them every day.  Pasture managed in this way uses a higher percentage of the solar energy than corn and it is all useful instead of just the seeds.  It is just not as profitable to the (military)-industrial complex.  

C11  The Animals:  Practicing Complexity
 

Chickens  70 chickens are housed in 50 10x12 ft pens for a day, then they are moved 10 feet to new pasture.  These are the broilers.  The Eggmobile is a rickety covered wagon holding 400 laying hens providing perching for the night and nests for eggs.  The whole assortment is towed each morning to a new cattle pasture.  The pasture has been vacant for 3 to 4 days and by now the fly larvae are now fat, tasty (to chickens) grubs almost ready to hatch.  The chickens convert them to eggs instead of flys.  His customers pay a premium for high protein eggs.  If he had more chickens they would produce more waste (fertilizer) than the pasture could use.

Rabbits  They are either in a pasture in portable hutches or in cages suspended over wood chips.  Earthworms grow in the wood chips and chickens scatter and eat the earthworms.

Turkeys  Turkeys are raised around a Gobbledy-Go.  This is a  portable shade device which keeps them cool under it and to roost on at night.  Turkeys eat grass and bugs and work very well in orchards and around grape vines.  Each can only be stocked at 70% but you get two crops.

Cattle and Pigs  Cattle are wintered in a barn.  The manure is left in place and every few days a layer of straw or wood chips and corn is spread over the manure.  This generates heat warming the cows.  In the spring after the cows are on pasture pigs come in.  They love 40 proof corn and the "pigaerators" turn and aerate the compost.  The anaerobic decomposition turns aerobic, heats up speeding the process and killing all pathogens.  In a few weeks it is ready to spread on fields.

All of this takes careful monitoring.  "Part of the problem is, you've got a lot of D students left on the farm today." "The guidance counselors encourage all the A students to leave home and go to college.  There's been a tremendous brain drain in rural America.

Polyface is a very productive farm of 550 acres, 450 of which is woodlot.  In a year it produces 30,000 dozen eggs, 10,000 broilers, 800 stewing hens, 25,000 pounds of beef (50 beeves), 25,000 pounds of pork (250 hogs), 1,000 turkeys, and 500 rabbits.  It is very healthy, no medications and no harsh fertilizers.  

C12  Slaughter:  In a Glass Abattoir  Killing chickens:  If you have done this before, I have - just not every task, you will smile a little at his big-city queasiness but agree that it is a smelly, messy job that has to be done before fried chicken.  Collecting eggs is not so messy but sometimes the hens take exception.  For precise details, see the book.  To me the main points are political.  Done in small numbers, butchering animals can be very clean and result in much less potential for disease.  Entirely justifiably safety considerations have been bastardized by the meat industry and the USDA to attempt to outlaw any interference from any other than huge industrial operations.  They want to make it illegal for any small operators to prepare and sell any food.  If it was strictly for safety I would agree, but almost all studies show that careful small operations produce much cleaner and safer food than large industrial plants.  If you want arguments to use for discussing farm policy, I highly recommend this chapter.  

C13  The Market:  "Greetings from the Non-Barcode People  Another political chapter.  Pollan follows the products from Polyface farm to the consumers.  Many people travel directly to the farm to by their meat and eggs.  The farm participates in farmers markets, metropolitan buying clubs, and a few small shops in a nearby town.  The final way is weekly deliveries to area restaurants.  A problem is educating people to want good, safe, and locally prepared food.  The other half of that equation is to keep government regulators from designing regulations which only allow industrial processors.

C14  The Meal:  Grass-Fed  At the end of his week at Polyface, Pollan took with him two chickens, a dozen ears of sweet corn, and a dozen eggs.  He purchased some locally grown salad, a bottle of Virginia wine, and some Belgian chocolate.  He prepared these for dinner at the home of some friends.  With the minor difficulty that one of his friends children had become a vegetarian the meal was a complete success.  He mentioned that the source of the fat in a meal makes a big difference.  Seeds produce omega-6 fats and leaves produce omega-3 fats.  Animals eating these pass them on - therefore animals eating seeds produce more omega-6 (bad unless balanced with -3), animals eating leaves pass on omega-3 - good stuff.  Corn, wheat, barley = bad.

Part III  Personal  The Forest  
C15  The Forager  He wanted his last meal to be one that he had gathered, foraged for, and hunted himself.  He found someone who could be his guide (he was a New Englander recently transported to Berkeley) and set up a tentative date for foraging and hunting.  Just this act alone got him noticing more about the world around him.  Where would pigs live, is that a berry bush, could I find a mushroom around here.  He became much more aware.  Then he found his first edible mushroom (maybe?).

C16  The Omnivore's Dilemma  One of the most elemental facts about human eating: is it good?  is it dangerous?  Species that eat only one kind of food don't have to think about it.  There is evidence that suggests that koala's once had a more varied diet, and their brains no longer fill their brain cavity.  Our ancestors used a lot of brain power in learning and remembering just which foods were good and which were not.  Is this the reason humans now have a big brain?  Americans tend to obsess about their food causing much stress and large number of food fads.

C17  The Ethics of Eating Animals  Pollan devotes a number of pages discussing the morality of killing animals.  Probably a worthwhile discussion but I have already made my decision, besides I grew up on a cattle ranch and we butchered our own meat.  I understand the problem, I have come to terms with my solution.

C18  Hunting:  The Meat  After agonizing on whether or not to kill, he finds walking through the woods with a rifle thrilling.  Ain't it the truth!  Again he spends a whole chapter agonizing over his decision, describing his feelings, and comparing them to he-man hunters like Hemingway.  Again, I was raised this way, not a dedicated hunter, but animals are for eating.  It all strikes me as very East-Coastie.

C19  Gathering:  The Fungi  Again, big city boy comes to the country.  He is absolutely right about the secretiveness of mushroom (and berry and gold) hunters.  A good location or patch or claim is something to be defended from all except close kin and perhaps (just maybe) very good friends.  Here in the inland northwest you do not tell or ask where a Huckleberry patch is, you just admire and compare bear stories.  We know that the Worlds Best Berry is hiding in our hills, and we will share our huckleberry pancakes.  I am not much of a mushroom hunter but the fanatics are just that.  I noticed that he didn't tell where his spot was, he's learning.  Meat hunters are much more open.

C20  The Perfect Meal  The meal was excellent.  A few planned items didn't turn out.  It is sometimes possible to collect salt at the south end of San Francisco Bay, not that year.  The abalone was very difficult to collect and he didn't get enough to serve.  He had help with many items including the cherries that were hanging over a fence.  The cooking, serving, and dining went extremely well.  There are too many people and not enough wild to do this as a regular thing but it is worth doing at least once.  The flavor of many items cannot be matched by the most caring farming techniques and the knowledge of how the food was found, hunted, and prepared adds a whole new element to what might have been a very good but average dinner.  

The book ends with 19 pages of sources arranged by chapter and 14 pages of index.  My only complaint about the book was the lack of an overall bibliography and the completeness of the index.  If I wasn't sure of the chapter it was difficult to find a source and the index just wasn't complete.  It took me a long time to check a reference to Hemingway.  He was mentioned in the book but did not appear in the sources or the index.  Many others were, but he wasn't although a reference did appear in the book - Chapter 18.

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In Defense of Food                       Michael Pollan                                    Aug 2008
       Subtitle: An Eater's Manifesto        7 Words:  Eat food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants.

Intro:  An Eater's Manifesto  Eat food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants.  A little meat is OK but approach it as a side dish not a main dish.  Eat whole fresh foods rather than processed food products.  It used to be that food was all that you could eat, now there are thousands of edible foodlike substances in the supermarket.  A symptom of our modern condition is that we now feel that we need to consult a journalist, a nutritionist, a doctor, or a government food pyramid to determine what we should eat.  In the past we had culture (a fancy word for mother) to tell us what to eat.  We ate what our mothers ate - or at least we did until the age of our mothers, grandmothers, or great-grandmothers.  We no longer do.  Why not?

One reason is the thirty-two-billion-dollar food-marketing machine that thrives on change for its own sake.  Another is the constantly shifting ground of nutrition science.  Unfortunately the level of "science" in this endeavor started somewhere between the level of alchemy and astrology and still isn't much farther than 1750's chemistry.  We are finding out new things but unfortunately much of what we are learning is how wrong our earlier ideas were.  Our main problems today, at least in westernized society, is that we are that we are eating too much, over nutrition, and much of our food is nothing that our ancestors would have recognized as food.  

We are in the grip of Nutritional Industrial Complex whose goal is to sell us more foodlike substances.  Traditionally eating was as much a complex activity, pleasure, community, family and spirituality, our relationship with the natural world, and our identity.  The Nutritional Industrial Complex would have us believe that eating is about nutrition (the Restaurant industry sells many of these other things).  Americans worry more about the health consequences of our food than any other peoples.  We are becoming a nation of orthorexics:  people with an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating.  This is not yet a formal mental disorder but academic investigation is ongoing.  

Four of the top ten causes of death are chronic diseases with well-established links to diet: coronary heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and cancer.  These changes are primarily due to the industrialization of food: highly processed foods and refined grains, use of chemicals to raise crops and animals in huge monocultures, superabundance of cheap calories of sugar and fat, and the narrowing of biological diversity of the human diet.  The human animal is well adapted to a great many different diets, the Western diet is not among them.

Pollan's goal is to give us a fuller understanding of the Western diet, understanding it physiologically and also historically and ecologically so that we can find a way out of our dilemma.  Human diets have been healthy while eating a great many different foods and we can escape the damage to our food and health caused by the Western diet.  He does not do this by expanding nutritionism but by including common sense, tradition, testimony of our senses, and the wisdom of our mothers and grandmothers.  

By the late 1960's it had become almost impossible to maintain traditional ways of eating.  Now we are entering a postindustrial era of food.  With many options, farmers markets, organic foods, and others new possibilities are opening up.  

Part I:  The Age of Nutritionism
 
C1  From Foods to Nutrients
 In the 1980's food started disappearing from supermarket shelves.  It was replaced by "nutrients" (cholesterol, fiber, and saturated fat).  If you avoided some and ate lots of others you would magically live longer, avoid chronic diseases, and lose weight.  

Starting in the 19th Century with the discovery of protein, fat, and carbohydrates and then the discovery of the importance of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (N, P, K).  Many thought that this answered the mystery of life.  When foodlike substances were concocted using just these three babies, sailors, etc. didn't thrive.  Then in 1912 Casimir Funk discovered he first set of micro nutrients which he named "vitamins".  These cured many illnesses such as scurvy or beriberi and quickly came into vogue.  The next major step in this line was the report of the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs in January 1977.  This committee, chaired by Sen. George McGovern, released a report recommending a prudent diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol from animal products.  The beef and dairy industry immediately jumped on this and the report was re-written to "choose meats, poultry, and fish that will reduce saturated fat intake."  The staffers on this committee learned a lesson that has never been violated in congressional action, "Speak no more of foods, only nutrients."  Pretty much from that day on American industry sold nutrients, not food.

C2  Nutritionism Defined
  A term coined in 2002 by sociologist Gyorgy Scrinis.  He characterized margarine as the ultimate nutritionist product, able to shift its identity from no cholesterol! one year to no trans fats! the next.  By giving it a name, the -ism, he defines it as an ideology.  Nutrients, unlike foods, are invisible and require scientists to explain the hidden reality.  It is quasireligious suggesting that the visible world is not the one that really matters which implies the need for a priesthood.  He even traces it back to Hippocrates, "Let food be thy medicine."  Like most religions it even invites the need for healthy (good) and unhealthy (bad) nutrients.  And nutritionists have been selling this difference since Leibig in the 19th century.  He pushed proteins.  Then Kellogg pushed carbo's, then bad fats, etc.  It turns into a dualism where for every good nutrient you need a bad nutrient to excoriate.

He uses "nutritionally complete" baby formula's as a prime example.  No matter what the formula is, babies thrive better on mothers milk.  

C3  Nutritionism Comes to Market
 Margarine was the first important synthetic food.  It is also the best example because no matter how you criticize it, it could be redesigned to meet the criticism.  There was resistance.  In the late 1800's several states required that "oleomargarine" be dyed pink until the Supreme Court struck down these laws in 1898.  In 1938 the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act imposed rules on "imitation" food products.  These were tossed out by the FDA in 1973 due to industry pressure.  Pollen takes this to be the date when the FDA was completely taken over by the imitation food industry.

C4  Food Science's Golden Age
  Following the 1977 Dietary Goals and the 1982 Nat. Acad. of Sci. report on diet and cancer the processed foods industry took off.  New words like low-fat, no-cholesterol, and high-fiber mushroomed and multiple ingredients exploded.  1988 became the Year of Eating Oat Bran.  Animal scientists began manipulating beef, pork, chickens, etc. to be more "nutritious".   It seems to be more difficult to redesign plants (especially trees).  However processed foods based on plants can be easily and quickly be redesigned, and they are at every fad to hit the market.  There is also considerable question about the independents of food science academics and the processed food industry.

C5  The Melting of the Lipid Hypothesis
 Nutritionism is good for the food business.  But is it good for us?  Probably not!  For 30 years fats (lipids for the purists) have been bad for our health (heart disease, cancer, and fat).  It would seem that it was all a mistake.  The only fat that has been consistently associated with disease has been trans fats - the stable replacements for "evil" fats.

C6  Eat Right, Get Fatter
  The main result of the low-fat fad is that Americans have been gaining weight.

C7  Beyond the Pleasure Principle
 The main beneficiaries of nutritionism seem to be food producers.  One of the problems is that Americans seem to be morally opposed to taking pleasure in eating.  The end result has been the idea that food is fuel to be stuffed into us as rapidly as possible.  This all but guarantees that we will eat more than we need - the natural signals that tell us when we have consumed enough don't have time to work properly.  He uses many examples from social reformers and moralists.

C8  The Proof in the Low-Fat Pudding
 The proponents of low carbohydrate diets seem to be using the same "proofs" as their earlier low fat predecessors did.  They have learned some things (fats are not all bad) but their logic in pushing low carbo diets is the same as the low fat diet proponents.

C9  Bad Science
 The science of nutrition is much harder than many "food scientists" are willing to admit.  Nutrition is a very complex phenomena, it is definitely not a simple sum of the parts.  The sciences like chemistry and physics have been very successful in developing as they have as reductionist sciences.  They isolate one variable at a time and study it.  They also have the ability to completely control their experiments.  Many sciences - including nutrition - cannot do this.  Imagine a study in which people are fed a diet of zero calories, 100 calories, 200 calories, ... up to 5000 calories per day and continuing this for 1 year.  Somehow our society would complain about starving men, women, boys, girls, etc. as our experimental subjects.  You would gain knowledge but some experiments just can't be done.  

We also know that interactions among foods, differences between people, and individual responses between different cultures towards foods are very complex.  Even if scientists could understand all of these, the population as a whole seemingly cannot understand the complex relationships and dependencies among all of these variables.  Many people have difficulties with complex causality.

C10  Nutritionism's Children
  There has been so much confusion (and totally incorrect statements from food companies) that many people have no idea about what foods are valuable and healthy and what foods are not.  It has been seriously proposed that a disease, orthorexia nervosa, be accepted as an eating disorder, it could be defined as "an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating."  "Thirty years of nutritional advice have left us fatter, sicker, and more poorly nourished."

Part II:  The Western Diet and the Diseases of Civilization
 
C1  The Aborigine in All of Us
  In 1982 a group of ten middle-aged, over-weight, and diabetic Aboriginies living near Derby, Western Australia agreed to participate in an experiment.  They had all moved to town from the bush, developed type 2 diabetes, showed signs of insulin resistance, and elevated levels of triglycerides in the body.  They agreed to rely exclusively on foods they hunted and gathered themselves.  The researcher went with them to record their diet and monitor their health.  

At the end of seven weeks they had all lost weight (average of 17.9 lbs), their blood pressure dropped, triglycerides dropped to normal, omega-3 fatty acids increased, and symptoms of diabetes were either reduced greatly or disappeared.  Other similar studies with Native Americans and native Hawaiians have shown similar results.  

C2  The Elephant in the Room
  Studies of people consuming a "Western Diet" show that simple manipulation of the diet doesn't change much in the way of health.  It has been observed all over the world where native peoples start eating the Western Diet their health goes down rapidly.  An early study comparing dental health of many peoples of the world in the 1930's showed the same thing, the "aboriginal" diet was associated with much better dental health.  Most of these studies have been ignored because they run counter to the widespread feeling that technology must be better than pre-technology in terms of everything including food.  

C3  The Industrialization of Eating:
  What We Do Know The most important we know about food species and consumer species is their relationship of interdependence.  I'll feed you if you spread around my genes.  Over many generations plants that have edible parts evolve so that animals seek them out and spread their seeds.  Carnivore-prey relationships are a little more complicated but in both the producer-consumer species tend to evolve together.  For some groups there is only one producer-consumer relationship but for others such as omnivors like man there are a great many relationships.  These relationships are between species, not between individuals and nutrients or chemicals.  The real problem here is how modern humans can thrive without going back to the bush and becoming a hunter-gatherer.
  1. From Whole Foods to Refined  Processing and refining removes much of the food value of foods.  The example given is the removal of bran and wheat germ from refined wheat.  The removed nutrients could of course be put back in but how do we know what to put in?  The simplest solution is not to remove it in the first place.  Also, almost all refined foods contain much more glucose and fructose than their unrefined sources because simple carbohydrates and sugars are very cheap to include.
  2. From Complexity to Simplicity  The advent of modern fertilizers (NPK) has resulted in much less complex soils.  This in turn leads to chemically simplified plants.  Plants are bread for production, not nutrition, insect attacks result in more complex plant chemistry.  Our food plants have been reduced dramatically to mainly processed corn, soybeans, rice, and wheat.
  3. From Quality to Quality  We have tremendously increased our ability to produce calories from farmland.  Unfortunately this has been matched in an even greater reduction in the amout of many nutrients.  There are two basic reasons for this.  Plants grown with industrial fertilizers are nutritionally inferior (perhaps because they grow faster and perhaps because the soils are of poorer quality.  The second is that organically grown crops contain more phyto-chemicals which plants produce to defend themselves from pests and diseases (and perform the same type of services to the animals [us] that consume the plants.  Another reason is that "improvements" in plants and animals have increased yield but reduced nutrients.  This seems to have resulted in humans that are both overfed and undernurished at the same time.  
  4. From Leaves to Seeds  Most of the crops that we grow for food store their energy in seeds which are easily stored.  Unfortunately seeds contain mainly omega-6 fatty acids and leaves contain mostly omega-3 fatty acids.  By eating primarily seeds we get overdosed on the omega-6 fats and not enough of the omega-3 fats.  We need a much better balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fats although the "proper" balance is still unknown.
  5. From Food Culture to Food Science  We used to gain most of our dietary information from our mothers and grandmothers.  Now "food science" is taking over this process.  Unfortunately there is not nearly enough "science" in food science.  The advise we are getting is just not accurate, and even if it was, the financial interests of the food processors pushes us to purchase food because of the profit margins of the companies, not the value of the food in supporting human life.
Part III:  Getting Over Nutritionism   
C1  Escape from the Western Diet  
  All of the theories of nutrition, low fat, high carbo, omega-3 cult, etc. are supported by specific groups of self designated "experts" on food.  It is Pollen's opinion that the simplest solution is to Stop eating a Western diet.  The problem is how can we do this?  Many of our foods have been so modified as to make this quite difficult.  This part of the book is devoted to his original seven words and three rules, "Eat food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants."  

C2  Eat Food:  Food Defined
  Pollen distinguishes between natural food and foodlike substitutes.  Since there is no simple rule to tell which is which he offers several rules of thumb.

Don't eat anything your great grandmother wouldn't recognize as food.  He specifies you great grandmother because quite possibly your mother and grandmother were themselves confused.  Some have suggested going back much further, the Neolithic Diet but that is perhaps excessive.   A subsidiary rule would be Don't eat anything incapable of rotting.  

Avoid food products containing ingredients that are A) Unfamiliar, B) Unpronounceable, C) More than five in number, or that include D) High-fructose corn syrup.  None of these characteristics are inherently bad but they are reliable markers for highly processed food products.  He singles out bread as an example.  Bread is made from flour, yeast, water, and a little salt.  Then he lists the ingredients of Sara Lee's Soft & Smooth Whole Grain White Bread.  There are 49 separate ingredients.  Draw your own conclusions.

Avoid food products that make health claims.  To make a health claim, the food product must first have a box - bad sign.  He evaluates several of these claims.

Shop the peripheries of the supermarket and stay out of the middle.  Processed food products dominate the center isles while (hopefully) fresh food typically line the walls.

Get out of the supermarket whenever possible.  Shop at farmers markets', CSA (community-supported agriculture) and similar outlets.  A subsidiary rule is Shake the hand that feeds you.  You can talk to him(her) and find out how the produce was treated.  This takes accountability for food from a regulation or legal issue to a relationship.  

C3  Mostly Plants:  What to Eat
  Humans can survive quite well eating a huge number of different foods.  Most traditional diets contain a large number of different foods.

Eat mostly plants, especially leaves.  Eat as many different types of plants as possible because they all contain different antioxidants.  Many animal species can produce their own vitamin C.  Our ancestors ate so many vitamin C rich leaves that they didn't need to produce their own, now we can't produce it.  Plant foods with the exception of seeds are not very energy dense so we have to eat a lot before we gain weight - a good thing.  One of the main problems with meat and seeds is that since they are so energy rich we eat more than we need and thus gain weight.

You are what what you eat eats too.  The diet of the animals we eat are a part of our diet.  Meat and eggs of animals fed primarily seeds tend to be deficient of omega-3s, vitamins, and antioxidants.  Meat and eggs of animals fed on grass are much more healthy.  

If you have the space, buy a freezer.  Freezers allow you to buy in bulk, at the peak of the season, and they do not diminish the nutritional value of produce.  

Eat like an omnivore.  Eat as many different types of foods as possible.  Biodiversity in the diet means mor biodiversity in the fields.

Eat well-grown food from healthy soils.  He could have said "eat organic" but many farmers for one reason or another do not take the time and money to have their produce certified as organic.  Also many organic foods are not much better than their conventional counterparts.  

Eat wild foods when you can.  There are many very nutritious wild plants.  Wild animals or grass-fed beef are much better nutritionally.  Wild fish, when they can be environmentally harvested, are excellent.

Be the kind of person who takes supplements.  Supplements, especially vitamins, become more and more important as we age.  

Eat more like the French, or the Italians, or the Japanese, or the Indians, or the Greeks.  Many traditional diets are better than the modern Western diet.  These diets are not that wonderful but they have nourished their populations for thousands of years.  They must have something going for them.

Regard nontraditional foods with skepticism.  They may be valuable additions, they may not.  You don't always have to be the first to try out new things.  Some of them may be dangerous.

Don't look for the magic bullet in the traditional diet.  There is seldom any one food that is uniquely valuable.  The main benefit is probably in the variety of the whole diet.

Have a glass of wine with dinner.  Both the moderate amount of alcohol and the other ingredients of wine (polyphenols in red wine) protect against heart disease.  The social aspect probably helps.  The maximum benefit seems to be in drinking between 1 and 2 glasses per day.

C4  Not Too Much:  How to Eat
  Nutritionism looks at the French diet and sees saturated fat washed down with wine.  It fails to see people with a different relationship to food.

Pay more, eat less.  The American food system has been focused on quantity and price for over a century.  Quality has not been much of an issue.  When you buy expensive food you tend to eat it slower, and the slower you eat the less likely you are to overeat.  Conversly, the faster you eat the more likely you are to eat too much.

Eat meals.  Do all your eating at a table.  Don't get your fuel from the same place your car does.  Try not to eat alone.  Consult your gut.  Open yourself to more cues about the status of your hunger and fullness.   Eat slowly.  Cook and, if you can, plant a garden.  

The book has 23 pages of sources, 2 pages of resources including a number of books and web sites, and a 14 page index.

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