By now you've probably heard about Michael Pollan's book, In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto, published this January. In it, Pollan addresses a question that any American consumer might ask when faced with so much variety on supermarket shelves, "What should I eat?"

The first seven words of Pollan's book are - by his own admission - deceivingly simple. "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants," he writes. But this advice isn't so easy, he adds, considering the choices we have, the number of marketing claims we are presented with, and the amount of advice we are given by various government and academic institutions.

Pollan also asserts that American consumers' health actually has an inverse relationship with the amount of attention we give to nutrition. Americans have placed such an emphasis on choosing what to eat based on diet and health concerns that we have lost track of another fundamental reason that humans eat, Pollan says.

"As long as humans have been taking meals together, eating has been as much about culture as it has been about biology," he states in In Defense's introduction. "That eating should be foremost about bodily health is a relatively new and, I think, destructive idea - destructive not just of the pleasure of eating, which would be bad enough, but paradoxically of our health as well."In an interview with National Public Radio, Pollan put his take on the American healthy eating preoccupation this way, "I'm trying to get people to relax a little."

This struck me as an interesting - and somewhat refreshing - perspective. I would hate to live in the melancholy version of the world where food becomes the equivalent of medicine, doled out in dosages to be swallowed, but not necessarily enjoyed.

Pollan's message of (controlled) moderation reminded me of some other advice I'd heard recently about not taking things too seriously. My older brother, who regularly meditates, offered this advice from his favorite Zen teacher, "Work hard. Strive for change. Be diligent. And then go have some pizza and beer."

Sage advice indeed.

Just the facts

Organic household penetration has increased, according to the Natural Marketing Institute (NMI), a Harleysville, Pa.-based marketing and consulting firm. Fifty-nine percent of households have integrated organic products into their lifestyles compared to 57 percent in 2007. Further, households "devoted" to the organic lifestyle grew to 18 percent in 2007, according to NMI's research.
Source: Natural Marketing Institute

A recent study reveals that U.S. consumers are making fewer shopping trips in order to cut back on transportation costs and other economic pressures. While most retail channels saw shopper frequency decline or remain flat - superstores, which allow consumers to combine several shopping trips into one stop - showed growth in shopper frequency.
Source: Nielsen Consumer Panel Services

Consumers think that the U.S. economy currently is experiencing or soon will experience an economic downturn or recession, according to a recent study. Forty-three percent of consumers said that the U.S. economy is currently experiencing a downturn and 36 percent said that the U.S. is heading for one, while 9 percent said they do not expect a recession to occur and 12 percent said they don't know or aren't sure.
Source: The NPD Group

Men eat more meat than women and women eat more vegetables than men, according to a recent study. The Foodborne Disease Active Surveillance Network survey of 15,000 American adults found that 21 percent of males had eaten ham in the past week versus 18 percent of women and 35 percent of women reported eating carrots at least once in the past week, compared with 29 percent of men.
Source: U.S. News and World Report