Monday, May 05, 2008

Hot Dogs and Milk Chocolate

On last evening’s flight back from Minneapolis, where I was attending the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s annual conference and exhibition, I grabbed my barely opened copy of In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan. I had 3 ½ hours of uninterrupted time (for the most part) to read his latest on eating in America. With my pen handy to mark those tidbits of information I might find useful, I came across one that I have since revisited several times.
In Chapter 10, Pollan notes a recent study by Paul Rozin, a psychologist, who presented Americans with a statement: “Assuming you are alone on a desert island for one year and you can have water and one other food. Pick the food that you think would be best for your health.”
The choices he offered were corn, alfalfa sprouts, hot dogs, spinach, peaches, bananas and milk chocolate. What the Americans surveyed chose was :
42% bananas
27% spinach
12% corn
7% alfalfa sprouts
5% peaches
4 % hot dogs
3% milk chocolate

As Pollan also notes, “only 7 percent of the participants chose one of the two foods that would in fact best support survival: hot dogs and milk chocolate.” The point he follows up with is that we are so obsessed with eating the right foods – or rather, the foods that media and research deem to be healthy – that we cannot decipher what is truly best for ourselves. Bottom line, we’re confused.
I, too, would not have chosen hotdogs or milk chocolate - although I did pause for a moment to consider (seriously consider) chocolate. Instead I glanced at each, trying to make a careful assessment. Spinach, hmm, a source of iron, might be a good choice; Sprouts nope, I can’t stomach them; bananas, I will need potassium . . . and so on down the list.
When I turned the page to find out what the two foods that would best support survival, I was initially upset that I couldn’t pass the ‘test’ After all, I think I know something about healthful eating.
My next thought was my children. With the exception of sprouts, I feed my children all of those foods. And, what is it that they are drawn to? You guessed it, hot dogs and milk chocolate. Perhaps they’re telling us something? I do remember having a discussion with my pediatrician a while back about my daughter’s obsession with pasta, crackers and bread. I worried that she would be eating too many carbs: Would she be setting herself up to fight this obsession later in life? And, was she missing out on other nutrients in her daily intake? As he pointed out, children eat their nutrients over a period of time, so he asked me to take a look at the foods she ate over a week. Did she get a broad range of other foods? Also, he did tell me that kids will eat what they need – she was eating lots of carbs because she was growing and very active. When she desired fruit, -- or rather, he body craved it, she would eat it. This simple advice from the pediatrician brought me back to reality when it comes to eating. My worries were a result of my media-driven belief that too many carbs are not healthy. And, in order to consume the correct nutrients – vitamins, minerals, etc., you must focus on nutrients found in specific foods . . . much like my mind roamed as I tried to figure out which food I was to choose for my life on a desert island.
Perhaps nutritionists should stop studying adults and their eating habits, and look to children, specifically toddlers, and what foods they crave. Because it appears as if my children would last much longer on the desert island (having chosen hot dogs or milk chocolate), than I would with my leaves of spinach.