Tuesday, April 06, 2010

In Defense of Food

I don’t know what to eat. I wanted to get some boneless chicken breasts at Farmer Joe on Sunday night, but the packaging leaked chicken juice, so I opted for steak instead. I’m not a big meat-eater, and buying steak still feels weird. In any case, the plan last night was to have steak and taro, but the stove ran out of gas before I could cook either. I got the gas today, but I didn’t thaw the steak. So tonight I had taro and papaya and banana and a glass of milk. Not the squarest of meals, I admit.

Much of this food weirdness springs from the fact I just Michael Pollan’s “In Defense of Food”. In it, he presents three simple rules to eat by: eat food, mostly plants, not too much. His basic thesis is western society has stripped foods of their natural composition and tries to make up for it by fortifying food with only a small handful of nutrients. His solution is to return to the basics by, among other things, eating “food your great-grandmother would recognize.”

The book itself is rather boring. Pollan dives into the minutia of what he calls “the reductive science of food” and “nutritionism”. This makes for some slow going.

On the other hand, he makes a good argument, and it would be a good idea to implement some of his suggestions in my own eating habits. Let’s be honest, my diet of peanut butter and jelly and macaroni and cheese could use a makeover.

And what better place to return to a traditional diet than here living among an indigenous culture which—pre-pisupo—cultivated some pretty healthy eating habits? That pre-pisupo caviat is a big one though. The dreadful Western Diet Pollan talks about so much has crept into Samoa in all the worst ways.

On Saturday afternoon, Phil and I watched 3 kids walk out of a faleoloa in Savai’i, each carrying a bottle of Coke, an ice cream cone, and a bag of Twisties (read: Cheetos). White bread, in all of its refined glory, is ubiquitous. Canned corned beef practically acts as a secondary currency. In the village, Asolima loves to serve me deep-fried fish.

By the time I left America, I had a pretty good handle on eating nutritiously—spinach salads and apples and bananas and a glass of milk with the occasional trip to In-N-Out Burger. A burrito here and there.

Here in Samoa though, there are very very few leafy greens. Farmer Joe sometimes has watercress, and the open-air market often offers bok-choy. It was no coincidence that my first dinner in New Zealand last May was simply a huge bowl of spinach.

But perhaps the westernized diet and the search for leafy greens are just complicating the issue. I guess the plan should be to get some taro, some esi, and some tuna steaks and just kick back. Oh yeah. And some coconuts. Coconuts are good.

I hope you’re eating well. Picture below.

Jazzercize en masse outside the government building this evening.

Two punk rock chicks at the grocery store this afternoon. Those tapered pants have got to be like an oven in this climate.


Anonymous said...

I agree with you about all that crap that is coming from the outside. Consider all the money they could save by planting their own food. Have you even have green esi? It's like squash, but you have to cook it before you eat it. Saute it with some laupele, add fresh fish and you're good to go.

Unknown said...

Were green leafy things a part of the Samoan pre-Westernized diet?

Paul Everett said...

Love the blog Matt. I was in Samoa in 2006 for a few months and struggled with the lack of heathy eating choices available. I'm coming back again in July for six months with my family and was hoping it may have changed a bit.