I just finished reading In Defense of Food, by Michael Pollan. Part of my pleasure in reading it was remembering my grandmother, Evelyn Sayre Norton, and meals at her table — the eggs she fried in bacon grease, the lamb fat she savored, and the produce she brought back from local farmers for whom she saved and recycled her shopping bags — long before anyone would give you a nickel credit for such things. Eating this way, she lived into her 90s.

I also appreciated the methodical way in which Pollan justified choices I have made because, well, probably because I am happier eating with the memory of my grandmother — and her local farmer friends — than I am eating at the industrial cafeteria. And because it’s always been cheaper to make (and now grow) it myself.

In any case, the question that occurred to me after reading the book is this:

Is anyone considering (or better, organizing) a class action suit against the purveyors of the western diet (government/agribiz/commercial research)? It seemed to me that the book pretty well laid out the whole case. Did the tobacco suit have any better evidence than what Pollan just published? If current, “near epidemic levels” of diabetes, heart disease, cancer, etc. are all linked so directly to the western diet (and nutritionism), would it really be such a wacky idea? Might it help re-frame the current ag debates?

If this question has already been addressed, I’d love to know (I don’t even try to keep up with all the news, most of which strikes me as even less healthy than trans-fats). In any case, I am keeping a hopeful and curious ear out on this one…

Thanks again to Michael Pollan for his good work.


  1. Part of sustainable living is getting out of the class action lawsuit mindset. Generally, the only ones who benefit are the lawyers. And all that’s accomplished is more government regulation and control. To be a truly sustainable grass-roots people’s movement, we just have to opt-out of the industrial food system and encourage others to do the same. It’s a long-term process (as all sustainability systems are). Joel Salatin’s book “Holy Cows and Hog Heaven” is a good discussion of how and why to do this.

    Stiles J Watson
  2. I agree, wholeheartedly. But I also know that I’m extraordinarily lucky to be able to do so — and know that others who have tried to do the same have been either blocked or prosecuted for “breaking laws” that effectively make “opting out” illegal or worse (Mad Sheep, by Linda Faillace, is just one of the stories out there — most of the ones I’ve heard haven’t been published). In any case, I’m asking the question because the currently deadly connection between diet, health, and industrial agriculture is a rogue elephant in the living room. At some point, someone (probably someone who’s relatively safe from getting trampled) has to state, clearly and unequivocally, in terms that will be understood and respected, that industrial ag. is bad for our collective health. Granted, there are many authors making that statement, but a book is not a boundary. A successful lawsuit can be (and an unsuccessful lawsuit can sometimes work just as well to publicly draw a line in the sand). Pollan is well-placed and relatively safe — and understands the issues. No, a lawsuit is not a solution. But despite our collective skepticism about the law and lawyers, they are both central to our cultural ability to think and talk about how we live.

  3. Well, in a sense, this question is being addressed at the moment, I would say. As far as I can see, there are some radical changes on the way, in the medical and scientific world, regarding our thinking on diet and disease. There are more and more medical doctors and dieticians who are starting to understand the underlying relations, and who are then put this understanding into practice.

    This is largely due to underrated pioneers like T. Colin Campbell, Dean Ornish, Caldwell B. Esselstyn and John McDougall, who forcefully pointed out the contradictions and illusions of our symptom-treating Big Medicine, while also provided striking results with diet alone – like reversing and curing cardiovascular diseases and type-2 diabetes. I am not sure whether you had read The China Study*, but I would definitely recommend that book; it have changed many people’s life. I guess it takes a more open position towards plant-based diet than Pollan, but well, this is what our scientific understanding indicates, if we look beyond the popular superficiality.

    * http://books.google.com/books?id=FIRLLcLjyC8C&printsec=frontcover

    And indeed, this problem shows some similarities with the tobacco case. Quite fascinating, but actually, smoking became popular with the idea that it is a healthy thing to do – like our western way of eating. And there were (smoking) doctors who publicly defended the tobacco companies, even when the scientific research was already rather clear. Tobacco companies of course tried to dilute and obscure the facts, like today’s agriculture and medical businesses. If you are interested, at the following page there are some detailed documents about the tobacco case’s chronology:

    Gabor Barat

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