James McWilliams, writing at the nytimes, makes the point that the idealizing the diets of generations past has been going on for at least 150 years. Michael Pollan’s rule: “Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food” loses some of its effectiveness when you picture all four* of your great grandmothers (who were probably alive in the era of the world wars) idealizing the diets of diet of civil war era american, and so on.
h/t to Greed, Green, and Grains.
GG&G is well worth checking out in its own right. On this particular subject Michael Roberts, the blog’s author, makes the point that just because nostalgia for the foods of the past isn’t a new development, doesn’t mean there aren’t real problems with the food we eat today.
There are real problems with the ways we produce and consume food in this country. (And a whole separate set of problems in other parts of the world.) But by over-idealizing the food our great grandparents ate we’re looking for the answers to today’s problems in the past, when the real answers to the problems we face can be found (you guessed it) in the future.
Which is not to say we can’t learn from the mistakes and successes of the past. I just don’t think it’d be a good trade to exchange my diet for that of my great grandmother (any of the four).
*Four great-grandmothers (eight great-grandparents!), but consider that if we go back ten generations (perhaps an average of 250 years) we’re each descended from over 1000 people. (1024 assuming your family tree was completely free of inter-marriage).