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Analysis of the Impact of Nutrition on Society As Depicted in the Writings, Western Diet and Food as Thought

The essays, “Escape from the Western Diet” by Michael Pollan, and “Food as Thought: Resisting the Moralization of Eating” by Mary Maxfield could not be more contrasting essays. Pollan writes on his views and feelings towards nutrition, the “Western Diet”, and its repercussions. In response, Maxfield expresses her contrasting feelings and opinions, mainly targeting Pollan’s hypocritical nature and conflicting viewpoints. Maxfield’s opinions and suggestions are more realistic approach for everyday society and its numerous facets.

Michael Pollan is very adamant on his viewpoints on the “Western Diet” and its effects that are caused on society. Pollan strongly believes that the over-processed nature of modern day western based foods are causing a plethora of diseases and harm to humans. He states “People eating a Western diet are prone to a complex of chronic diseases that seldom strike people eating more traditional diets” (Pollan 421). This is all based on research he had conducted and he was able to come to the conclusion “Stop eating a Western diet” (421). Pollan realizes that this is easier said than done, but one of his methods for escaping the Western diet is to “go back in time”. Eating in a way where people eat together, appreciate their food, and take the proper time to prepare their meals is one of the main arguments that Pollan presents. His thesis is simple, Pollan suggests “[…] we would do well to go a little native: backward, or perhaps it is forward, to a time and place where the gathering and preparing and enjoying of food were closer to the center of a well-lived life” (Pollan 426). When society as a whole looks back on the past and its practices, Pollan argues that the Western outlook on food will change, he suggests, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants” (Pollan 426). This includes eating as natural as possible, avoiding overly-processed foods, and avoiding eating excessively.

Mary Maxwell on the other hand, is a heavy believer in the thought that if you want to eat a food, healthy or not, and if it will make you happy, just eat that food. Maxwell’s essay is a very clear rebuttal to Pollan’s essay and thoughts on the Western diet, but she also offers her own views and opinions on how one should go about eating in their lives. The moralization of food is the chief argument in Maxwell’s essay. She believes that, eating “naturally”, as nature was intended, is viewed by society as disgusting and uncivilized, stating that “As a culture, when we imagine eating like animals, we envision a feeding frenzy […] Adult human beings are allowed to eat whatever and however much they want, [and] what people actually hear is ‘Go out and cram your face with Twinkies.’” (Maxwell 446). She believes this to be true and to be the reasoning behind why Western societies are so obsessed with “eating healthily” and avoiding foods traditionally thought of as unhealthy, such as processed, fried, sugary foods. Maxwell writes, “When we attempt to rise above our animal nature through the moralization of food, we unnecessarily complicate the practice of eating. Food– be it french fry or granola bar, Twinkie or brown rice — isn’t moral or immoral” (Maxwell 446). Maxwell’s main point is essentially “Eat the food if you damn well please!”.

Pollan and Maxwell obviously have hugely differing viewpoints. Maxwell attacks Pollan for being hypocritical and essentially preaching what he is fighting against. She believes that Pollan is contributing to the hysteria and preaching for what he is so adamant in fighting. While being the “ideal” and health conscious route, Pollan’s argument is valid for someone with excessive funds and large amounts of free time to prepare meals, not for the everyday person. Maxfield on the other hand is being realistic, she is appealing to the majority of society and takes a more honest approach for people’s day to day lives. This is what makes Maxwell’s argument more legitimate out of the two, she has valid arguments in regards to still remaining healthy, but she focuses more on the fact that food is meant to nourish a person, mind, body, and soul. If eating a Twinkie or cheeseburger feels like the right thing to do, then it should not matter its nutritional value, as long as it is consumed in moderation. Maxwell’s argument will bring about a more positive change in the Western diet because she is not shoving her ideas in your face. She is making reasonable suggestions for the everyday person to make positive changes in their lives, and by doing it in such a manner, it will have a better effect on people and thus, create more positive change.

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