Michael Pollan writes:
But the biggest threat to the meal-as-we-knew-it is surely the snack, and snacking in recent years has colonized whole new parts of our day and places in our lives. Work, for example, used to be a more or less food-free stretch of time between meals, but no longer. Offices now typically have well-stocked kitchens, and it is apparently considered gauche at a business meeting or conference if a spread of bagels, muffins, pastries and soft drinks is not provided at frequent intervals. Attending a recent conference on nutrition and health, of all things, I was astounded to see that in addition to the copious buffet at breakfast, lunch and dinner, our hosts wheeled out a copious buffet halfway between breakfast and lunch and then again halfway between lunch and dinner, evidently worried that we would not be able to survive the long crossing from one meal to the next without a between-meal meal.
I may be showing my age, but didn’t there used to be at least a mild social taboo against the between-meal snack? Well, it is gone. Americans today mark time all day long with nibbles of food and sips of soft drinks, which must be constantly at their sides, lest they expire during the haul between breakfast and lunch.(The snack food and beverage industry has surely been the great beneficiary of the new social taboo against smoking which used to perform much the same time-marking function). We have engineered our cars to accommodate our snacks, adding bigger cup holders and even refrigerated glove compartments, and we’ve reengineered food to be more easily eaten in the car. According to the Harvard economists’ calculations, the bulk of the calories we’ve added to our diet over the past 20 years have come in the form of snacks.
His book In Defense of Food talks more about the social aspects of eating. Fascinating read.
BILL MOYERS: I will make a confession that will show you how hard this is because there is so much human nature at play here. I mean, I like to take my grandkids to McDonald’s because it enables me to cheat a little, right. So how do you convince us that we’re contributing to climate change, we’re contributing to a precarious national security, we’re contributing to bad health? What do you say to us that moves us?
MICHAEL POLLAN: Well, the first thing I would say is, I’m not a, you know, I’m not a Puritan about food. And I’m not a zealot about it. And there is something called special occasion food that we have in our house. And it’s kind of understood that sometimes you go, you enjoy your fast food. You have your Twinkie, whatever it is. People have done this for thousands of years. There’s nothing wrong with doing it. Our problem is we’ve made special occasion food everyday food and that one in three American children are at a fast-food outlet every single day. And that’s where you get into trouble.
Fun fact: Michael Pollan used to be an editor at Harpers.
The interview covers a lot of things, including school lunch programs. It just so happens that a month ago I heard about an amazing nonprofit called Recipe for Success that helps elementary schools around Houston start gardens to grow vegetables. Then they invite chefs from restaurants to give guest lectures about preparing fresh vegetables. What a great idea! (I saw their outreach coordinator give a talk about their group, and saw some amazing videos about what they’re doing.