I always say I refuse to write about the latest health-related press release about coffee. Sure enough, last week, I wrote about the so-called new positive news about coffee’s affect on your health. A couple months earlier, I wrote about the folly of drinking coffee or tea primarily as a biochemical or epidemiological decision. But this week, I read an article that perhaps best expresses my skepticism over how science, marketing, and media have all come together in an unholy stew to drive much of the public health debate today.
This past Sunday, the New York Times Magazine ran a cover story by The Omnivore’s Dilemma author, Michael Pollan: Unhappy Meals – Michael Pollan – New York Times. It’s an excellent article reviewing the paradox of why we have more detailed scientific information about nutrition than we’ve ever had previously, and more access to food science, and yet Americans are as unhealthy — and as paranoid about the health merits of their food — as ever.
The crux of his argument is that, in the past few decades, eating healthy foods in moderation has been upstaged by the deconstructionist science of nutritionism (i.e., presuming that the good or bad health effects of foods can be explained by their minute compositions in deconstructed isolation), food lobbyists who have shaped government policy through political influence, food marketers who have shaped consumer tastes through new “food product” introduction, and a much more powerful media market for health (dis-)information and consumer influence.
Coffee As Food
It’s with this backdrop that I read another article published today on the genetically engineered future of Brazilian coffee stocks, taking a different form of the deconstructionist approach towards consumables: Brazil – Brazzil Magazine – Tomorrow’s Coffee Is Being Invented and Grown in Brazil’s Labs. But this isn’t a Luddite rant against genetic engineering. Note how its last few paragraphs qualify coffee as a functional food — and trace coffee’s original bad health rap to twenty-year-old scientific studies of caffeine tested in isolation. This deconstructionist approach of examining caffeine projected false assumptions about consuming coffee as a whole.
One of the major recommendations Michael Pollan makes in his article is to stand by unsexy, health-fad-unfriendly staples that mankind has thrived upon for centuries. Maybe coffee isn’t an anti-oxidant-laden power beverage, but it just might be a functional food. It has certainly withstood the test of time.
A couple weeks ago, they were passing out free samples of this vile Life Force V drink on Market & Montgomery. Not only did it violate every one of Pollan’s warnings about food bearing health claims. (It was a long list on the label, including, and I’m not making this up, “No banned substances”. What the…?) But tasting it made me look up the number for poison control (it’s 1-800-222-1222, btw). Then I ordered the nearest decent espresso I could find.
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