Daily Archives: December 27, 2010

‘in defense of food’ and lessons for the workplace.

Just finished reading Michael Pollan’s enlightening In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, which will definitely influence what enters my kitchen and my body. But, as an information omnivore, I couldn’t help but notice some of its lessons also could feed our workplace management and communication habits.

Briefly, Pollan argues that the rise of processed foods, our fast-food mentality and nutritionism — the science of breaking food down into its smallest components and drawing isolated conclusions — have had disastrous effects on our national diet. He champions a simple philosophy — Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. — supporting real food, measured portions and healthy options. It’s a great place to start … and it parallels good advice for other parts of our lives:

Tradition is better than fad. There’s a reason, Pollan argues, that cultures can eat the same food for generations, centuries really, and suffer few adverse effects. Switch a nation to fast food and dubious quick-fix diets and health chaos ensues. Not a coincidence. As for traditional wisdom on interpersonal communication, I’ve been subjected to countless management treatises, tomes and texts, but the best advice continues to come from Dale Carnegie’s 1937 book How To Win Friends and Influence People. Advice like: Smile. Be courteous. Treat others the way you’d like to be treated. How much better would the business world be if we followed such simple rules?

Goals and guidelines are better than rules. Pollan offers general guideposts starting with his refrain: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. He adds other suggestions such as not eating anything your grandmother wouldn’t recognize, avoiding food with unpronounceable ingredients and cooking instead of buying pre-packaged meals. Nothing earth-shattering or diet-dictatorial, but easy-to-remember algorithms. It’s common sense for a purpose, the kind of thing that should govern day-to-day business instead of 27-page memos with bulletpoints and sub-sub-subchapters.

Trust your gut. Is eating a fatty grease-laden meal healthy as long as you leave out the carbs, as Atkins Diet cultists claimed? Unlikely. As are any quick-fix claims telling you to merely avoid one thing or another. Similarly, pitches from vendors promising products or services that seem too good to be true usually are. For millenia, we humans survived on logic and gut instinct. With good reason.

Go local. Pollan suggests buying from farmers’ markets or farms as much as possible, or to consider granting a garden. Given the boom in location-based social media (geosocial), we see that our online behaviors increasingly favor the hyperlocal and instantaneous interaction with our local environment. In both cases, the benefits are fresh and immediate.

Enjoy what you do/enjoy what you eat. A central theme is the French Paradox, or how the French traditionally eat foods that would make nutritionists wince, aided by wine, yet remain healthy. But note they also enjoy actual meals — real food, consumed leisurely, with friends … knowing when they are full and not just cramming down super-sized fries in their car. Consider the psychological advantage of enjoying what you eat as an experience, as opposed to spending all your time fretting over every little thing or pursuing fad diets. Which sounds more mentally healthy? But this also should suffuse our lives: When we enjoy what we do, and what we eat, life is so much better.

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