The dietary cure-all

Yesterday, over on HuffPost, Michael Pollan wrote the following, in an article titled “‘Food Rules’: A Completely Different Way To Fix The Health Care Crisis”: “Make no mistake: our health care crisis is in large part a crisis of the American diet — roughly three quarters of the two-trillion plus we spend on health care in this country goes to treat chronic diseases, most of which can be prevented by a change in lifestyle, especially diet.”

My response: I strongly disagree. It is a very a mistaken idea. Pervasive? Yes. Dangerous? Sometimes. Mistaken? Definitely.

Of course we should all eat wisely, and yes, I follow all of your rules, plus more of my own. But I’m still disabled by chronic illness.

You are promoting a myth that is employed to debase, demean and dismiss the many people who are chronically ill due to reasons beyond their control. It is very common for chronically ill people to have to endure repeated lectures from well-intentioned friends and family to the effect that if only they did or didn’t eat this or that, they’d be magically cured.

The snake oil of today isn’t coral calcium or whatever the latest food or supplement fad may be, it’s the idea that we just need to get back to basics to cure every modern malady. I understand that you make your living pedaling this idea, but it is hurtful to the people who may have been irreparably damaged on a genetic or cellular level — either by random mutations or by early or long-term exposure to toxic aspects of “modern living.”

In other words, you aren’t gonna cure the effects of “Love Canal” with a bowl of Kashi.

I’ve spent over twenty years trying to cure myself with diets, exercise, and meditation. All are wonderful, noble things, but they are not a panacea. We need to face up to the fact that some people are just unlucky, genetically or otherwise, and we should treat them with the compassion and regard that we too often reserve for cancer patients and the victims of natural disasters.

For some of us, our chronic illness is a very personal disaster that cannot be averted by clean living.

Reference: Pollan M. “Food Rules”: A Completely Different Way To Fix The Health Care Crisis. The Huffington Post. January 4, 2010.

Copyright © 2010 by Candace L. Van Auken. All rights reserved.

I am a writer and an activist for people who are disabled by chronic illness. I am also interested in issues related to the LGBTQIA community and to women making music.

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Posted in Chronic illness, Nutrition, Public health
3 comments on “The dietary cure-all
  1. Len Levenda says:

    I haven’t read the article you refer to, but I think a case CAN be made for the idea that if everyone stopped doing the things that we all KNOW make them unhealthy, then the health care system would be better able to help, if not cure, those whose conditions are NOT caused by smoking, obesity, etc.
    This does NOT mean I am disputing with your experience of having people write you off as curable if you would only eat more fruit and jog. My feeling is that people would rather blame you for your illness than deal with the fact that innocent people suffer in this world. That would take COMPASSION which would mean they would have to care about other people than themselves.
    I think the other thing we all need to realize is that Health care is an INDUSTRY, and will never cure so many people as to put themselves out of business. If Jesus were alive today randomly making the blind see and the lame walk he would be arrested for unauthorized practice of medicine. Health care is big business, and worse than that, a monopoly run by the AMA.

  2. BarbaraRyan says:

    I love how you break down and analyse issues.

    I think you make some excellent points here. I agree that while following a healthy lifestyle can have benefits; it won’t cure everything. Sometimes our bodies just don’t work right and we need medical care.

    I respectfully disagree with Len on one point. I don’t think people lack compassion. I think that people don’t like not being in control. I think that when people see a situation that is out of their hands, they don’t know what to do. So, they start suggesting things that are controllable (for the most part) and that will help. My family has compassion and they love me, but for years they told me a better diet and more excercise would fix me right up. Is that true – no. But they didn’t do it because they lacked compassion, but they need to find a way to cope and help.

  3. Len Levenda says:

    I have to agree with Barbara that it is not always a case of lacking compassion, so maybe I wrote that comment with too broad a stroke, but I have run into those that would rather blame a whole list of people’s misfortune on the people themselves, partly so they feel justified in NOT feeling sorry for them, and also to reassure themselves that such a calamity would never befall them. It is a case where some people would rather tell themselves whatever it takes to make them feel safer in an unsafe world. I guess I am saying the same thing Barbara said-it is about being in control. Certainly this is less likely to be the case in one’s own family, but I have seen it there too, unfortunately.

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January 2010
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