A couple of weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to catch author Michael Pollan on his New Jersey stop of his current speaking tour. Most people haven’t heard of Pollan, but he’s an incredibly popular and successful author, professor, and food activist. In addition to writing for popular newspapers and magazines, giving inspiring TED talks, and lecturing at the University of California, Berkeley, Pollan has penned seven books to date. If I had to summarize his philosophy into one long, run-on sentence, it would be this: He describes the modern industrial food system that has become a cornerstone of human life, he explains how this system evolved and why it is unsustainable, and he aims to educate us all on a different way of living and a better way of eating.
The Rutgers Gymnasium was packed with about 1,500 guests, two-thirds of which were students. There was much anticipation about what Pollan’s topic would be. After all, it’s impossible to cover in detail approximately thirty years of writing and research in an hour and a half. Well, he ended up doing a brief overview of his philosophy and beliefs with specific studies, anecdotes, and facts sprinkled throughout. I thought it was a great route to take. He’s trying to educate as many people as possible, and giving a broad overview helped the majority of the audience to connect.
One of the most memorable parts of his talk was Pollan offering his insight as to why Americans, members of one of the most developed groups of people in history, are so much more overweight and have such poorer health than populations of people from all over the world, including, notably, populations of much less “developed” nations. Think about the French Paradox, for example: The French have a reputation for eating bread, pastry, cheese, foie gras, drinking wine, and smoking cigarettes. Yet they are statistically healthier than Americans, which is to say that they have fewer incidences of heart disease and lower obesity rates. Among other things, the French are able to stay so thin and healthy because they don’t stuff themselves at every meal like most Americans do. The French (and many other cultures throughout the world) actually stop eating when they’ve had enough. They have a phrase for this:
“Je n’ai plus faim”
This translates to, “I no longer have hunger.” Fascinating! Contrast this phrase with what most Americans say: “I’m full.” Pause and think about that for a second. How different are those two simple statements? There’s a huge difference. The French stop eating when they no longer have hunger. Americans eat right through the hunger / no hunger threshold until they can sit back in their chairs and proudly boast, “Whew, I’m stuffed!” Sure, eating until you’re full once in a while isn’t going to kill you. But when this becomes your default way of eating, you’re in trouble.
For the record, the Spanish phrase is very similar: “No tengo hambre” which translates into “I don’t have hunger.”
Think about this next time you’re eating and try to be cognizant of it at every meal. Eat slowly, enjoy your food, and stop when you no longer have hunger ;-).