Monday, January 29, 2007

A Berkeley Journalism Professor questions Nutrition Science

I wrote (long ago) about the importance of breaking an assumption in doing science. In today's NYT, Berkeley journalism professor Michael Pollan questions the analytical approach to food (aka nutritionism). I found the first sentence in the following excerpt to be especially quote-worthy, and the genesis of this (a tad too long) article. One of the more thought-provoking essays in The Times in recent memory.

In the case of nutritionism, the widely shared but unexamined assumption is that the key to understanding food is indeed the nutrient. From this basic premise flow several others. Since nutrients, as compared with foods, are invisible and therefore slightly mysterious, it falls to the scientists (and to the journalists through whom the scientists speak) to explain the hidden reality of foods to us. To enter a world in which you dine on unseen nutrients, you need lots of expert help.

But expert help to do what, exactly? This brings us to another unexamined assumption: that the whole point of eating is to maintain and promote bodily health. Hippocrates’s famous injunction to “let food be thy medicine” is ritually invoked to support this notion.
Now that I've started blogging again after a year's hiatus, there's no telling where this might lead...