December 22, 2015 – We are bombarded daily with contradictions about what eating healthy should look like: butter is bad, butter is good, drink more milk, drink less milk, eggs are bad, eggs are good, grains are good, too many grains are bad, and gluten is bad—or is it? In the midst of all the marketing mumbo jumbo, it is refreshing to hear a solution ringing clear: that eating well is really quite simple.
The seven word mantra that stemmed from Michael Pollan’s 2008 book “In Defense of Food” sounds simple enough. “Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much.” A film based on the book is set to premiere Wednesday, December 30 at 9pm on PBS television. It tackles the nagging question: What should I eat to be healthy? And while the answer may be simple, the process of arriving there is a fascinating journey around the world through different cultures and traditions.
Carmel Valley’s own Mark Shelley of Sea Studios Foundation and Tassajara Natural Meats has been involved in the project for the past two years. Shelly has long been friends with the film’s director, Michael Schwartz of Kikim Media. He and Schwartz have worked on many projects together over the years. Schwartz asked him to be an advisor on a project, but then he got so excited when he found out it was “In Defense of Food” that he decided to carve himself out a position as Director of Outreach.
His role has been to build relationships with regional and national partners, design materials about the film for outreach and develop middle school curricula—a task that fits well with his work as a member of the board of directors at Mearth environmental education program at Carmel Middle School.
Shelley urges people to take an “eating well pledge,” developed by Lisa Leake, NYT bestselling author of “100 Days of Real Food.” These pledges involve cutting out processed food and eating only whole foods for a limited period of time beginning with just ten days. Whole foods permitted in the challenge include: local and organic fruits and vegetables, dairy products that are organic, unsweetened and pasture-raised, whole wheat and other whole grains, seafood (preferably wild caught), local meats that are raised humanely, natural sweeteners such as honey and maple syrup (in moderation), snacks like dried fruit, seeds, and nuts, and beverages like water, milk, natural juices, coffee, tea, wine and beer.
In addition, Shelley recommends hosting a house party with friends and family for the film premiere. The idea is that people join together to cook, share real food and then view the film. “In Defense of Food” reveals that it’s not just what we’re eating, it’s how we’re eating it. We’re eating mindlessly. We’re eating alone. And we’re eating large portions.
When compared with the French—who have relatively better health—what is seen is that smaller portions are served and people eat more meals together in France. When people eat together, there is more time to savor and enjoy the food. In other words, less is more in the company of others.
As Shelley says, “…With the help of each other, we can eat healthy.” So perhaps it’s time to recreate a culture in which we actually take the time to eat well, and begin sitting down for meals with each other once again.
Elizabeth Hodges is a freelance writer and owner of Verdant California, based in South Santa Cruz County. During her free time, she enjoys keeping chickens, gardening and connecting with the local food community as communications chair for Slow Food Santa Cruz.