Skip to content

You are what you eat eats, too: Why all egg yolks are not created equal

June 19, 2013

This is a clever phrase in Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food, an “eater’s manifesto” about the modern food system. His point? We as industrial consumers might not think our diets have changed much in the past several decades (we still eat meat and eggs, we still drink milk) but in reality, they have changed enormously. Why? Because the diet of the animals that yield our meat and eggs has changed. Unless you’re eating purely pastured animals (which you probably aren’t), you’re eating the meat and eggs and drinking the milk of animals who no longer eat grass but rather grain. Not only do grass and grain provide a very different set of nutrients to animals, but the whole food system within which grass-fed and grain-fed animals are raised also differs substantially, with mostly negative impacts for our health and for the health of the environment.

Pollan also cautions that what we eat really isn’t food anymore—it’s a set of highly processed “food products” that merely resemble traditional foods. If you’ve ever read the ingredients list on a package of so-called “food” in the grocery store, you’ll know what he’s talking about. Did your great-grandmother ever cook with high fructose corn syrup, maltodextrin, or any of the others in the long list of unpronounceable ingredients? Of course not. Why? Because great-grandma actually cooked from scratch, not from products that require a long shelf life in order not to spoil on the truck from factory to food store and then in the aisles of your local grocer until you buy them.

Processed food products certainly have their advantages: they’re cheap to buy, easy to prepare, and come tasty without tinkering (anyone who cooks a lot knows that it takes quite a bit of trial and error to nail down a recipe so it tastes just right—but with a few artificial additives, the food industry can get it right every time). They also liberate mom (or dad) from hours in the kitchen.

Unfortunately, as economists like to say, there’s no such thing as a free (or even cheap) lunch. Everything comes at a cost, and when it comes to our modern ways of eating, that cost is our health. According to Pollan’s research, in 1960 we spent 17.5 percent of our income on food and 5.2 percent the national income on healthcare; now, we spend 9.9 percent on food and 16 percent on healthcare. Coincidence? I think not.

When we’re willing to spend large sums of money on our vehicles, homes, and countless luxury items but expect to spend little on the food that sustains us, something is seriously wrong—at least I think so, and the statistic above seems to support my hunch. It boggles my mind that Americans, who are rightly suspicious of big government and big corporations, would put something in their bodies made by big corporations and regulated by big government. Companies thrive on food fads like low-fat, low-carb, high-fiber, high-this, low-that (which are bogus) because it enables them to make money off of items that nature makes very differently. And since Americans thrive on convenience, we fall for these “easy” fixes to our diet and health problems.

But didn’t your great-grandfather tell you that nothing worth doing is ever easy?

If you agree that eating is worth doing (as you should, lest you wish to waste away), then you should agree that eating shouldn’t be easy. It should take effort and time to select and prepare the appropriate ingredients for a healthful diet. It took me a lot of emails and phone calls to identify a person in my area who sells pastured eggs and fresh milk—and my milk and eggs cost me twice as much as store-bought milk and eggs. But I can tell by the yolks that I’m getting my money’s worth: they’re bright orange as opposed to the dull yellow of store-bought (a.k.a. caged) eggs, and the milk is even creamier and more delicious than store-bought whole milk.  I’m saving money in other ways, though:  because I eat a healthy diet, I rarely get sick and my hair, nails, and skin are healthy, meaning I don’t need to spend a lot of money on doctor’s visits, cold medicine, or beauty products.

The reason most traditional cultures devote significant amounts of time to food preparation is because quality food isn’t easy to prepare. Beans, nuts, and grains must be soaked; yoghurt, cheese, and wine fermented. Age-old methods of food preparation such as these were developed to maximize the nutrients (and minimize the anti-nutrients) in whole foods—they are not merely great-grandma’s “quaint” way of doing things.

Even those of use who eat healthy probably aren’t really eating healthy. Do you have a whole-grain diet? Good, but not so good if you don’t soak your whole grains first. Do you drink a lot of high-antioxidant juices like grape, blueberry, pomegranate, and acai? Good, but not so good if they’re from concentrate (which most are) considering the extremely high and damaging temperatures at which they’re prepared. The truth is, unless you’re cooking your own meals from scratch using organic and preferably local ingredients, you’re probably not eating as healthy as you think you are. The food industry has duped you.

Don’t have time to cook? If health is a priority, you’ll make time. You may have to cut out some Internet or TV time, or reduce the amount of overtime you work, but if there’s a will, there’s a way. I suppose the sad fact is that a lot of Americans have simply lost the will.

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: