The 10 best foods you aren't eating -- and other similar claims

Lately, I have noticed the proliferation of articles listing all the superfoods that we should be eating but presumably aren't.

Take Tara Parker-Pope's "The 11 Best Foods You Aren't Eating." Or a recent article by Selene Yeager for Bicycling magazine about "The New Superfoods." There's Dr. Perricone's 10 superfoods, featured on Oprah, and Best Life's "8 Foods You Should Eat Every Day."

(There's also a Women's Health's feature on the 125 best packaged foods for women -- as if we need to be eating more packaged foods).

I have mixed feelings about these features. On the one hand, it is great to see some less-commonly consumed foods get media attention, like pumpkin seeds, lentils, turmeric, and açaí (even if the last one is only readily available in Brazil). If articles like these can encourage ordinary Americans to look beyond coldcuts and fried chicken for food choices, so much the better. But these kinds of articles practice what Michael Pollan would call "nutritionism" -- lauding an individual food's presumed nutritional benefits over any understanding of where this food fits into a food culture, or even a meal.

Take açaí, for example: this tiny berry is found fresh only in tropical rain forests, and forms an important part of the diet of some Amazon-dwellers. Outside these regions, however, it is hard to conceive of the fresh fruit as being a regular item in anyone's diet. So why list it as a "super-food" if it is inaccessible to the majority of Americans? What is super about the amount of petroleum that goes towards importing, frozen, a tiny berry from the South to the North?

Instead of creating lists of must-eat foods (must eat? when? where? how much?), how about a list of how to eat.

My suggestions:

1. Eat food you like.

2. Make your own food when possible. This solves a lot of concerns regarding freshness, contents, healthfulness, portion size, etc.

3. Take time to savor your food -- turn off all appliances and remove yourself from other distractions when it is mealtime.

4. Eat food with others. Share!

5. Cultivate gratitude for your food, in any way or faith you have.

6. Slow down. This can mean chewing more slowly, eating locally grown food, joining a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) group, or growing your own food. Take time to think about where your food comes from.

7. Read cookbooks for fun. Ask other people to share their favorite recipes with you. Make food preparation a hobby.

8. Try to eat foods in their most "natural" state -- the way food was meant to be. This includes produce grown without pesticides or synthetic fertilizers; pasture-raised meats; whole fat dairy products; and whole grains.

9. Know when to stop eating; learn to recognize when you're full, and find ways to mark the transition from "meal time" to "life time."


Jennifer said...

Hi there I really enjoy reading your blog. i'm also a big fan of Michael Pollan and his theories on real food, I agree that at any point in time there's always a easy-peasy-diet/magic nutrient and fatty scapegoat. I guess society encourage moderation instead of generating mythical cures.

I'm also trying to recover from an eating disorder and I use my blog to just thrash out my feelings sometimes...otherwise I'm just an average media/art student heh.

You have a really radical approach to food and health (often in food blogs only "healthy" food is good or only immaculately prepared food is gourmet...etc.)and you seem really connected with your body and hunger/fullness cues.

Keep it up!

Ai Lu said...

Thanks for checking in, Jennifer.

I'm flattered that you think my blog is "radical" in terms of how I view food! I feel that I have strong opinions about food and I want to convey them, but I wasn't sure if I was doing so -- or if I was going too far.

What I am trying to do here, on this blog, is create a space where people who struggle with food/body issues can also begin to feel some of the magic, the joy, that can come from food. I'm also aware that my approach may be considered a bit unorthodox within the recovery community, because so often the emphasis, during treatment, is getting the patient to focus on something other than food for a change. In my case, uncovering the hidden motives surrounding my (unhealthy) obsessions with food was an essential first step to recovery. Once I was able to stop using food as a distraction from my emotional distress, I could begin to look at it in other ways. That's when food began to take up other, more joyful meanings in my life. Instead of turning away from food, I have turned towards it. I am far enough into my recovery right now that I know that this is not a healthy obsession, but a real method (or path) that has worked for me.

And you? How you do feel about food right now?

Ai Lu said...


Do you have a blog that I might read? I think you mentioned it but your name isn't linked up to a blogger profile, so I don't know what your address is.

If you prefer, you may email it to me at: avidalegria@gmail.com

jenninat0r said...

Food became a coping mechanism for me when I was bored or lonely at university. I really abused my body in overeating and then, undereating... and a lot of stuff in between. Using art to explore the strange relationships people have with food helps take my mind off my weight/body.

I also found the ED blogroll to be helpful and it's always interesting reading the feelings around food and society. As a raging pro-sex feminist in my highschool days, I love reading the F-word.Reading a lot of female-authored literature on body politics and representation also helped in my decision to recover.

I have noticed in the EDrecovery community and also have been told "it's not about food", but I suppose when an ED is severe everything is about it. and in many ways we have to deal with it and change the way we look at it to enjoy eating again.

My blog is at: http://die-ting.blogspot.com/

Right now I'm trying to take care of myself. I have good days and bad days. I still [irrationally] fear certain foods I don't consider "healthy" I try to eat nutrient dense foods and obtain adequate nutrition everyday through foods I would like to have. I have not been diagnosed with an ED and my insurance wouldn't cover treatment so I should reconnect with myself as I'm tired of neurotic fixation on food and weight. When I eat appropriately I find I can do a lot more anyway :)