Those who know me know that I’m a basketball girl, not a football girl. Maybe that’s why at a Super Bowl XLI party in 2007 I found myself enthralled by a New York Times Magazine article instead of watching the game.
As my friends ate chili and drank beers I devoured Michael Pollan’s landmark essay “Unhappy Meals.” I don’t remember who won the game, but after that day I never looked at food or nutrition the same.
That afternoon was the first time I’d encountered the term of nutritionism, an ideology based on the concept that we can understand the healthfulness of a food if we understand what nutrients it contains. In nutritionism calcium = healthy bones. Omega-3 = healthy brains. Saturated fat = unhealthy hearts. The delivery mechanism of the nutrients is irrelevant, all that matters is the molecules.
As a scientist and life-long dieter, I had swallowed the nutritionism ideology hook, line and sinker. But as I sat on my friend’s sofa reading Pollan’s words, my understanding of nutrition––and in many ways my whole universe––underwent a monumental and irrevocable shift.
Over a span of 30 minutes all the inconsistencies, contradictions, and frustrations that I had enc…